Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Abuse of the legal system in Finland

It is my understanding that in the United States (at least in most states), if you win a case, your attorney fees will not be automatically paid by the losing party. Instead, if you want them to pay, you have to file a separate motion for that.

In Finland the system is different: The losing party automatically pays the attorney fees of the winning party.

The rationale sounds very reasonable: If you are innocent, you shouldn't be punished in any way. No consequences should be bestowed upon you, such as monetary loss, if you have done nothing wrong. This deters abusing the judiciary system to bully innocent people and causing them monetary loss by spuriously suing them. If your claim was spurious, and you lose, then you pay their attorney fees; they don't have to pay anything. Moreover, if you are the victim, and you are the one suing the other party because of a crime committed against you, and the that other party is found guilty, you shouldn't have to be paying anything to anybody; after all, you are the victim, not the guilty party here. Victims shouldn't be punished in any way, if a crime has indeed been committed against them.

This sounds like it deters abuse of the judiciary system to bully people and cause them excessive monetary harm. And in many ways that's true. However, it's not completely free of abuse (as no judiciary system can probably be).

Recently a man in Finland was convicted as guilty of distributing a movie over the internet. The court found the crime worthy of a 100€ compensation. On this day and age that actually sounds surprisingly reasonable. It's something that almost anybody can afford.

The kicker? Because of the abovementioned Finnish judiciary system, the man is forced to pay the plaintiff's attorney fees. How much, you might ask? 33000€.

That's right, a man convicted of a crime worth a 100€ compensation is forced to pay 33100€. That's over two orders of magnitude more than the severity of the crime, and well beyond what the average person could reasonably pay.

Is that an abuse of the system? Let's analyze that number:

It is my understanding that lawyers seldom work full day on one single case. Lawyers generally have several cases (perhaps even dozens of them at a time), and they only allocate a fraction of their time every day on one of them.

But let's assume that, for whatever reason, in this case the lawyer, or lawyers, worked full day on nothing else than this one case. 8 hours a day, 40 hours a week. What is the monthly salary of a lawyer? It depends, and I don't have much knowledge about it, but let's be extremely generous and say 5000€ a month. That's one hefty monthly salary, but let's assume it's in the ballpark. (These are, after all, Finnish lawyers, not some American corporate lawyers with million-dollar salaries.)

That means that the lawyer worked for over 6 months, full day, doing nothing else than this one single case. Or if there were two lawyers, 3 months each, both doing nothing else than this case.

Maybe it's just me, but I find that highly, highly unlikely. I highly doubt that lawyers would effectively work 6 months full day on one single case, especially a case like this (which was just some random dude sharing a movie on the internet; not exactly a high profile murder mystery or billion-dollar fraud).

Is that 33000€ figure deliberately inflated? Who knows, but I can't help but suspect that it is, for the purposes of punishing the guy for a crime that the court found worthy of a 100€ compensation.

I strongly believe that the judiciary system is being abused. A law that exists for fairness is being unfairly abused to overly punish people for misdemeanors.

Monday, September 18, 2017

VR headsets are quite impractical

In my years-long saga in this blog of ranting about the current VR headsets, their characteristics and flaws, and the games (or lack thereof), and the reasons why I think they are pretty much effectively a failure, one thing I haven't touched much is how outright impractical they turned out to be. Much more so than was expected.

Prior to launch (mainly during the Oculus Rift Development Kit years), many people were envisioning using VR headsets as an alternative display. Perhaps even their main display.

That's right. Many people actually envisioned even playing normal non-VR games with the headset, and watching movies and videos, and other such things (perhaps even browse the internet). The idea was that the VR headset allows the illusion of watching the game or movie on a giant cinema screen, rather than a tiny monitor on your desk. It would be like sitting in a movie theater with a giant screen, rather than at your home watching a small monitor. Just imagine playing your favorite first-person shooter in a movie theater, with the game being projected on that giant screen. How awesome would that be! Well, with VR it becomes perfectly possible, without having to leave your home!

Except it turned out that VR headsets, at least as they currently are, are not very practical for that.

Firstly, the pixel resolution of current VR headsets is very low, and causes images to be very visibly pixelated. Yes, even the 2160x1200 pixels of the PC VR headsets, while it sounds high, is not even nearly enough. The problem is that those pixels are effectively extended to a very wide area; it's like you took a monitor of that resolution and extended it to be 5 meters wide (while still looking at it from the same distance as you normally would). The individual pixels become large and visible. (It is my understanding that the effect is even worse due to the fact that pixels at the center are scaled larger than pixels at the edges of the display, due to how the lenses work.)

So yeah, you can get that giant cinema screen effect... but it will look like its resolution is something like 640x360 pixels. And that's no exaggeration. It may be surprising to somebody who has never tried a VR headset, but knows the specs, but it really looks that bad. Live action videos will not look horrendously pixelated (due to their natural antialiasing), but it will look like you are watching an old CRT TV, rather than a crisp HD display. BluRay resolutions go pretty much to waste with VR. (DVD resolutions might be on the ballpark, barely.)

The effectively low resolution of VR headsets, even those that were finally published, was quite a surprise to many people (including myself).

Secondly, both major PC VR headsets suffer from a relatively strong "screen-door effect". This makes it look like you are looking the scenery through a fine screen-door. The reason for this is that the pixels in the display are not perfectly adjacent to each other, and thus there are tiny gaps between them. Normally these gaps don't matter much in normal computer monitors because they are so small, but as mentioned above, in VR the pixels are blown to a rather large size, and thus these gaps become much more visible.

So, in effect, watching a movie or playing a (non-VR) game using a VR headset is like doing so in a movie theater with a giant screen... with the image being of CRT TV resolution (often with heavy aliasing if talking about a video game), and as though you had a screen-door in front of your eyes. Not exactly the best possible movie-going experience.

The PSVR is much better in this second regard (although about 10% worse in the first regard), as it uses a better type of display where there are virtually no gaps between the pixels. There is still a visible pattern caused by such gaps, but it's more randomized (it almost looks like a cloth rather than a screen-door) and significantly fainter, often pretty much unnoticeable. This makes the experience significantly better, but of course still doesn't help with the low resolution.

There exists already at least one VR headset that uses a 4k display. This would probably fix many of these problems. However, currently this is quite infeasible for playing VR games because a 4k resolution at 90 Hz is so demanding on the hardware that probably not even a $2000 top-of-the-line PC would be capable of it. Maybe in 5 to 10 years, but not currently. It might be usable for watching movies in relatively high quality, though.

I do not know how it is on the PC side, but at least on the PSVR side there is also the problem of the headset tracking constantly veering off to the side, requiring re-centering, often within minutes. (This might be much better with the PC headsets because they use a different form of tracking, but I can't say for sure, without trying myself.) I don't really understand why the system can't just keep the picture centered, but it just tends to veer off to the side. Incidentally, and luckily, this seldom matters within actual VR games because they work well regardless of how the headset is positioned and how much the tracking has "veered off" to the side; but it does matter when in "cinema mode" (ie. when watching non-VR content on a simulated flat screen; the screen will often start veering off to the side.) This also detracts from the experience of eg. watching a movie on a "giant screen".

In addition to the severe image quality issues (which pretty much effectively mean that VR headsets are not currently a viable alternative to regular displays), there are also other practical, physical issues.

One would think that starting using a VR headset, once the system has been set up, is very simple: Just put the goggles on your head, and that's it. And while that sounds like it's the case, in practice it's slightly more inconvenient. It's hard to explain it with words; you really have to experience yourself. Grabbing the headset, managing the cables, putting on the headphones, adjusting the headset... When you have to go to the bathroom, or whatever else, you have to take it off, and then do it all over again. As said, when said like this it sounds like it isn't such a hassle, but as said, you really have to start doing it yourself to really experience how it becomes a nuisance. All the small things add up to a moderate nuisance, which you are not looking forward to do, especially if you need to do it again and again. (Of course personally I only have experience with the PSVR, but I wouldn't be surprised if the PS VR headsets weren't similar in this regard.)

The VR headset, and all of its cables, can also be in the way when not in use.

VR also requires its space. The HTC Vive is especially bad in this regard, but the same is true to a lesser extent with the Oculus Rift and the PSVR.

And of course, and not very surprisingly, a VR headset is not something you will be using for many hours on end. It's not especially straining to the eyes (although it depends on the person), and it may not cause any sort of nausea (again, depending on the person), but having such goggles strapped onto your face inevitably becomes uncomfortable over time. Luckily they are extremely light, but on the other hand they can be warm, and become more and more uncomfortable for each passing hour.

All of these, which alone sound like small things, together add to the inconvenience level.

VR, as it currently is, is not very practical as an alternative display, nor for watching movies, or playing regular games on a "giant screen". Its use is in fact quite niche, mostly to play actual VR games (which aren't exactly aplenty).

Poland is the only EU country with some balls

Angela Merkel, the dictator eh... chancellor of Germany since 2005, pretty much single-handedly decided on her own to take over a million migrants in the last couple of years into the country. And because Germany is in the middle of the EU, and pretty much runs it, that means that the EU has decided to share the burden with the entirety of the EU countries. Merkel is the elected leader of Germany, not the entirety of the EU. Nobody in any other country elected her as the dictator of the EU. But it seems that whatever she does, the EU supports her, and extorts all the other countries to obey.

That's right. Extorts. That's not hyperbole. If an EU country refuses to take a share of the burden, the EU will fine that country. Even if that country was always against taking the millions of migrants into Europe, and never agreed to it.

Well, Poland seems to be the only EU country that has some balls, because they have said "no, we won't be taking any migrants; Angela Merkel does not rule us."

The EU mafia, of course, is now threatening Poland with fines because of this.

Poland's response? "Hey, Merkel, Germany actually never recompensed us for all the damages when you invaded us during World War 2. It's time to pay up. We demand a trillion dollars in reparations."

That requires some real balls. It's time at least one country stands up to the tyranny of the EU in general, and Angela Merkel in particular. I wish more countries were like that.

I really have to wonder what the EU intends to do if Poland refuses to pay the fines. Invade Poland?

At this point, wouldn't even surprise me.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Criminal negligence by the US police

I wrote in a previous blog post, "Crimes that appear to be legal in the US if protesting", how in many places in the United States the police will simply watch, doing nothing, while people are committing clear crimes, or people are being harassed and even assaulted.

Here are a couple of examples.

A man is being harassed and physically assaulted by punches and pulls, in full view of the police, who are doing nothing more than watching the events happening, without intervening. This has been going on for a while.

The man verbally pleads to the police to intervene. They do nothing other than just watch.

The man gets kicked in the back of his knee, he is dragged to the ground, and the assaulters start kicking him.

Only then does the police intervene. But only then. The assault had been going on for a good while, in full view of the police, and the victim even pleaded the police to intervene, and they did absolutely nothing but just watch.

Two guys are being harassed, chased, and throw objects at by a mob of violent people.

The two guys are retreating, with their hands up, showing no sign of violence. The angry mob still chases them and throws objects at them.

The two guys retreat to a group of police officers, who are in full riot gear, and one of them pleads the police to intervene.

Rather than intervening, or doing something, the police officers on the contrary just stop the two guys and in fact physically push them towards the assaulters. The harassment continues for a good while, in full view of the police, and the police officers do absolutely nothing to stop it. They only watch.

And these are just two examples of many. This absolutely sickens me. These police officers are directly witnessing a crime being committed, right in front of them, and they are just watching, doing nothing. They are allowing the harassment and violence to happen. They are not performing their duty to stop it.

Those police forces are corrupted, criminal, and belong in jail. They have no place in safeguarding people and upholding the law. They are no better than the Mafia. It's like a police state, where instead of the police committing violence against innocent people, they allow gangs of terrorist criminals to do the violence, while they just watch doing nothing to intervene. This is in no way better than organized crime having bought the police with bribes, making the police look the other way while crimes are being committed.

Moreover, the government of the United States isn't doing anything about this. No investigations, no prosecutions, nothing. People are being harassed, assaulted and beaten on the streets, and all kinds of other crimes are being committed as well (such as destruction of property), and the police is not doing anything to stop it, and the government is not doing anything about it either. This means that for all intents and purposes the government itself is also corrupted. The government is not doing their duty of seeing that laws are being enforced, peace and order kept, and corrupt police officers investigated and prosecuted. (Which baffles the mind, really, given that the US government is currently pretty much run by the Republican Party. One would think that it would be in their policy to make sure that law and order is maintained. But apparently not.)

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Giving puberty-blocking hormones to children is child abuse

The current social justice cult is such a virulent dangerous sickness of the mind, that it's actually scary. School after school, institution after institution, government after government, and person after person are being infected with it. It's especially scary and dangerous when governments are infected by it, and start passing laws to enforce these ideas onto people.

It becomes especially heinous when these ideas are being enacted onto impressionable children. It's a form of child abuse that may in many cases prove extremely harmful to the children involved.

Recently there was an episode of the show 60 Minutes of Australia, where they interview a 14-year-old boy, who was born a boy, but started "transitioning" to be a girl a couple of years prior, and is now in the process of "transitioning" back. And in this case "transitioning" meant taking hormone blockers and estrogen pills. Now that he's a couple of years older, he wants to reverse the process, but is facing legal problems. According to Australian law he shouldn't have been given any hormone-blocking medication in the first place, but he effectively blackmailed his own mother to give them to him. Now he regrets the decision. (The legal problems he's now facing is that according to the letter of the law he's not allowed to be given hormone therapy to reverse the process, until he's 17.)

Confusing young teens and children, even very young children, about their own gender is becoming more and more prevalent in the west. School after school, in country after country, is starting to do this.

What's scarier is that some countries are already pushing to make it legal to give puberty blockers to children. In Australia it's still illegal. The legal status of this is being debated in many other countries, and in a few of them it might in fact already be legal.

There are two facts that make this scary, and a form of serious child abuse:

Firstly, these puberty blockers, and hormone therapy, make the person infertile, and increases the risk of several types of cancer. Once the person has taken enough of these drugs, they can never have children of their own, and their average life expectancy may have been severely lowered. This is a process that cannot be reversed in any way. The damage is permanent.

Secondly, according to DSM-5, as many as 98% of gender confused boys and 88% of gender confused girls eventually accept their biological sex as their gender, after going through normal puberty. In other words, by far the vast majority of gender confusion in young people is normal but temporary.

However, the current social justice cult ideology wants to hurry to put all these gender-confused children (who are even more confused now than ever because of all the SJW brainwashing) to hormone blockers. And that's not an exaggeration. There's a very strong push in many countries to do this.

This is a very severe form of child abuse. If this agenda gets passed, all these children will become infertile and will have a lower life expectancy. Most of them will also likely regret it later in life, and will be unable to do anything, because the damage is irreversible.

In my very strong opinion, not only should the current laws restricting the use of hormone blockers on children be kept, they should on the contrary made stronger, and enforced to the full extent of the law. And if it were up to me, brainwashing children into becoming gender-confused should be banned from schools. If a few children are genuinely gender-dysphoric, then it can be dealt with as they grow up; however, impressionable children should not be deliberately confused with deliberate propaganda. This propaganda, and especially using these drugs on confused children, is a heinous crime against humanity. I can't even understand how some people can't see this.

Why is The Hobbit trilogy a disappointment?


When somewhere around 1999-2000 it was announced that they were making a new movie adaptation of Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings, people were in general quite skeptical about how good it could be made. When they announced that the director would be Peter Jackson, of Bad Taste fame, people were even more skeptical. Peter Jackson was not exactly known for making epic larger-than-life movies. He was known for comedy splatter movies. Many people were understandably predicting an utter failure.

It turned out, however, that not only was the choice of director almost perfect, but the movie trilogy turned out to be one of the best pieces of cinematography ever made, gaining accolades, sweeping the Oscars, and gaining copious amounts of praise and adulation both from film critics and the public. Most critics agree that the movie trilogy is up there with the best of the best of film history. It's most certainly the best movie (trilogy) of the fantasy genre.

After the amazing success of the movie trilogy, almost immediately talks began about adapting Tolkien's The Hobbit.

The skepticism of the public arose once again when it was announced that the adaptation would not be directed by Peter Jackson (the reasons for which were complicated, full with executive meddling, rights to the work, and all kinds of corporate-political drama). It was also unclear whether this would be one single movie, perhaps two movies, or an entire trilogy. When at some point it was confirmed that it would be an entire trilogy, just like the LotR adaptation, this only raised skepticism. (The Lord of the Rings was itself a book trilogy, so it made sense to also make it a movie trilogy. The Hobbit, however, is one single book, shorter than any of the three books of the LotR. Expanding it to an entire trilogy felt completely artificial, and probably going well beyond the source material.)

Many years later, quite late in the production of the film trilogy, it was announced that Peter Jackson had been taken to direct the project after all. People rejoiced, although only with very cautious optimism.

It turned out that the caution in the optimism was somewhat warranted. The new movie trilogy turned out to be... ok. Not bad by any measure. But just... ok. There was clearly a ton of effort put into the movies, and lots of things were better than in the first trilogy (such as computer graphics), but otherwise it was... just ok.

Needless to say, being just ok was quite a disappointment for many. Expectations were high due to the previous trilogy, and the new one did not fulfill those expectations, which caused disappointment. Even Peter Jackson himself admitted that the trilogy turned out to be a disappointment (blaming primarily the fact that he was brought in very late in the pre-production process, which didn't give him even nearly as much time to polish the work as he did with the LotR trilogy.)

I am a huge fan of the LotR trilogy. I own the extended edition DVDs (and have actually been thinking about getting the BluRays for better quality), and have watched the entire trilogy like a dozen of times.

When I saw the Hobbit movies in the movie theatre, I liked them (I even went to see the first one twice). I had to admit, however, that they didn't leave me such a good impression as the LotR movies did, although I really couldn't put my finger on the reason. The movies looked a lot like LotR, and felt a lot like LotR... but there was something that made them not as good as LotR, although I couldn't figure out what.

I recently purchased the trilogy in BluRay and watched it again. I think I figured out one of the major reasons why The Hobbit just doesn't feel as good as The Lord of the Rings.

The Lord of the Rings

In The Lord of the Rings, most of the main characters are very memorable and with good characterization. In fact, many of the actors were launched to international fame by their role in this trilogy.

Prior to the trilogy, Viggo Mortensen was a relatively unknown actor. He had many major roles in previous films, but he wasn't exactly world-famous. However, his portrayal of Aragorn launched him to world-fame, and he became an immediate celebrity.

During the early stages of pre-production of LotR it was announced that Sean Connery had been offered the role of Gandalf, but he had refused it (or otherwise couldn't take it). This was a disappointment to many, since most people thought he would have been the absolutely perfect choice for the role. Most people were highly skeptical of Ian McKellen being chosen, given that not many people knew him, nor was he especially renowned as an actor among the general public (unlike Connery). But, once again, the movie trilogy launched him to absolute stardom, and today Gandalf is pretty much seen in the public eye as looking like McKellen. Ian McKellen is Gandalf, period.

And who can forget the absolutely brilliant role of Gollum. In the books Gollum was somewhat of a main character, but he was just... some more or less minor semi-antagonist. The movie trilogy launched the character to fame. Everybody was repeating the expression "my precious" in Gollum's (well, Andy Serkis's) voice. Definitely one of the most memorable characters in the trilogy.

While Gollum was very prominent in the books, Legolas certainly wasn't. He was mostly a minor secondary character in the books, without much influence. But, once again, the movies launched both the character and his actor (Orlando Bloom) to world fame. Legolas became quite a badass, and adulated by many fans.

The same can be said to be true, to some extent, for many of the other main characters, such as Frodo, Sam, Saruman, Elrond, Gimli, and so on. Even the Eye of Sauron gets a memorable role in the trilogy, even though it doesn't do much.

If there is one singular main character to the entire trilogy, one central character throughout the entire saga, it's of course Frodo Baggins. Regardless of what you thought of Frodo's characterization (personally I thought it was great), it can't be denied that it was memorable: He was vulnerable, he was flawed, and he was more and more in pain as the trilogy progressed. It helps a lot that his actor, Elijah Wood, has such expressive eyes and facial features, that convey emotion and pain so vividly.

The Hobbit

The Hobbit, however, seems to conspicuously lack this kind of memorable characterization for any of its characters, and I think this is one of the major reasons why the movie trilogy overall is so meh.

How many dwarves are there in the main cast? Was it something like 12 or 13? How many of their names do you remember? How many of their personalities, or other characteristics do you remember? Did any of them stand out as especially badass, or vulnerable, or wise, or otherwise memorable?

Perhaps the only one of them that barely qualifies is their leader, Thorin Oakenshield, due to his role. (Then there was that one dwarf who got injured by an arrow and fell in love with that Elf... What were their names again?)

The trilogy introduced some characters simply because they were so famous from the previous trilogy. Most prominently Legolas appears in the movies, even though he doesn't in the original book. Gollum of course appears in the book (and is one of the most memorable characters in it), and his appearance is stretched in the first movie as much as it reasonably could be. Gandalf's role is greatly extended in the movies.

But even these established characters felt a bit flat in The Hobbit. They had to live in the shadow of their appearance in the first trilogy. Ironically, they didn't really stand out, because they were quite clearly trying to capitalize on their previous fame. Legolas's antics didn't feel as much badass as they felt artificially shoved in. Gandalf didn't feel as empathetic as he did in the first trilogy.

Like Frodo was the main character of the LotR, Bilbo is the main character here. But Bilbo doesn't feel even nearly as deep and relatable as Frodo did. Bilbo acts more like a court jester of sorts, rather than a person forced to endure a burden tasked onto him due to circumstances, which causes him enormous amounts of suffering.

I'm not saying that Bilbo should have been a clone of Frodo. Of course not. He isn't in the book either. However, my point is that the movie trilogy fails to make him especially memorable, fails to give him deep characterization, like the original trilogy did with so many of its characters.

Perhaps the only memorable character in the entire trilogy is Azog the Defiler. Curiously, and perhaps ironically, he doesn't actually appear in the source material (he is mentioned once by name, but does not appear). If the most memorable character in the entire trilogy is one that doesn't even make an appearance in the source material, what does this tell us?

The Lord of the Rings movie trilogy did a great job at character development, giving depth to its main (and even many secondary) characters. The Hobbit movie trilogy fails in this to a very large extent. I think this is one of the main reasons why the latter does not stand up to its predecessor, and why it just doesn't feel as good and memorable.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

The social justice cult is dangerous, even deadly, to its own people

Suppose that a car plunges at great speed into a crowd of people near you. For all you know it's a terrorist attack. The car is starting to go in reverse. What is your first instinct?

a) Run to safety, away from the car.
b) Run towards the back of the car, to block its path.

I think that if you are a normal, rational person, you would obviously choose to run away from the car. Or, at the very least, not run towards it.

However, the latter is exactly what happened. For a half dozen or so people.

Needless to say, many of these people who deliberately ran towards the reversing car got injured, one of them extremely seriously. (It is my understanding that the person who died in this incident was precisely one of those that ran towards the car after it had plunged into the crowd, although I can't corroborate this.)

What exactly caused this quasi-suicidal behavior from those people?

This is my conjecture, but I think it's very reasonable: These professional protesters have been indoctrinated into believing that they can stop cars by simply standing in their path. The idea has been inculcated deeply into their brains that just standing in the path of a car will make the driver stop, and thus there is no danger. So deeply inculcated that this became their very first instinct even though they just witnessed the car not stopping and running over people. Even against the very concrete evidence that the driver does not stop to avoid hitting people, their instinct was still to try to block the path of the car, without thinking.

And many of those people who ran towards the car were injured, at least one of them extremely seriously (because she got caught between the moving car and a parked one.) One of them might have even died.

Of course this doesn't excuse the driver (even if he did it in a panic, as some have suggested, rather than a deliberate terror attack), but I put part of the blame in the ideology that implanted this instinct into these people's heads. It put these people in serious danger by changing their natural instinct of running away from danger.

For another example, take Eric Clanton, a college professor who is facing up to 40 years in jail for multiple assaults with a deadly weapon.

Needless to say, if he gets even half of that time, his entire life will be over, completely ruined. He had a career, he's young, and he could have lived a fulfilling life as a teacher and academic. Instead, he's probably going to jail for effectively life. Unless a miracle happens, it's over for him.

In this case I, of course, blame him. But only partially. I also blame the exact same ideology, which implanted in this man's head that it's justified and good to assault people you disagree with with a deadly weapon.

The modern social justice cult is not only dangerous for the entire society, and our basic rights and freedoms, but it can be especially dangerous for its own members. It brainwashes its members to act irresponsibly and ruin their own lives, sometimes even get killed.

VR is a failure; the major reasons

Today I read this month's issue of the Finnish Pelit gaming magazine. The main editorial article in the magazine is about the failure of VR.

It seems that, finally, even the gaming press has awakened to the harsh reality. HTC has announced that they might be selling off their VR department (undoubtedly because of poor sales, which have been dropping like a lead balloon). The library of triple-A VR games is ridiculously small. Almost no game developer company is showing any sort of interest in VR games, which is creating a vicious cycle (it's not economically feasible to make triple-A games for a system with abysmal adoption rates; a lack of triple-A games ensures that the adoption rates remain abysmal.)

In the upcoming months there might be a bit of a resurgence, perhaps hope, because three triple-A VR games based on famous existing games will be published: Doom, Fallout 4 and Skyrim. However, even the writer of the editorial doesn't seem to show much enthusiasm and optimism about it (especially since none of the three is a free upgrade for people who already own the games, but are full-priced independent releases.) The writer predicts that if these games fail in reviving interest in VR, that may well signify the death of the entire platform (at least on the PC side), since other developer companies will take it as a sign that VR is a failure and it's simply not profitable to make anything for it.

(Personally I doubt they will be very successful, especially if the developers have stayed with their original plans of making them "room-scale" and using the teleportation mechanic. Skyrim might see a bit of success if it uses the same controls as eg. Resident Evil 7.)

So why did VR fail?

* Firstly, and by far most importantly: Price!

The VR goggles are way, way too expensive. Even after a year and a half, the prices have not come down one iota (which is yet another entry in the long list of failed predictions that people had about VR.) People are not going to make such expensive purchases for such a niche application. When the VR goggles are more expensive than their entire PC (or even console), they aren't exactly eager to spend that money on an unproven technology.

I guarantee with absolute certainty that if they had priced the goggles at $200 apiece, there would right now be tens of millions of units sold (and most probably dozens of triple-A games for them). I don't know nor care how they would have managed to drop the price that low, but that's what was needed, and they failed.

Tellingly, can you guess which of the existing VR platforms is the most sold one, by a long shot? The mobile phone ones. Why? Because everybody has a smartphone, and you can get VR goggles for them starting from something like $10. Even the official Samsung Gear VR is priced at something like $50. That's why they have sold like hotcakes: Because people can afford them. (Again, I don't care how much more expensive the PC VR goggles are due to having to have a display of their own. That doesn't change the fact that being too expensive has killed them.)

* Secondly, not concentrating enough on sit-down game mechanics, and emphasizing "room-scale" VR way too much. So much so that the HTC Vive was pretty much designed for "room-scale" VR, sit-down VR being just an ancillary secondary form of possible use.

I think especially Valve dropped the ball completely with this one. By concentrating so much on advertising the "room-scale" features, they essentially made the whole VR platform a gimmick. A technology demo. A circus act. Something to awe random people for 10 minutes, who will then praise the experience like it had been a religious one... but then shrugging it off. People got impressed about it, but deep inside they weren't impressed enough to actually go and buy one themselves. You might be impressed by a laser show, or an aquarium, or a 3D movie, but that doesn't mean you will rush to the store to buy yourself one. It's a one-time experience, just like a circus act or an aquarium.

Add to that the space requirements for "room-scale" VR, which was always one of the major reasons cited for not purchasing the system. (Space requirements that a sit-down VR system does not have.)

"Room-scale" VR didn't convince the most important segment of the public: Gamers. (Even though, quite ironically, large part of this segment maintained how great VR must be, and that VR is the future, and might even obsolete normal traditional gaming. Yet they themselves didn't believe their own rhetoric enough to go and buy it.) I seriously think that Valve pretty much single-handedly killed interest in VR.

* Thirdly, completely dissing the idea of upgrading existing games, or making dual games.

There are literally hundreds of thousands of triple-A games in existence that use 3D graphics. Of course not all of them (not even a majority of them) use game mechanics that would be easy to transfer to the limited VR control system. However, quite many of them could be adapted for VR gameplay with moderate effort (especially since PSVR quite clearly demonstrated that you don't need a stupid "teleportation" mechanic to move).

Even if only 1% of all existing triple-A games that use 3D graphics use a form of game mechanics that could be adapted for VR, that would mean literally thousands of triple-A games for VR, right there. Sure, many of them would be relatively old games, but better old games than no games at all.

Some existing vehicle simulators did this (because VR support is a very natural extension to them), but other than those, I am aware of only one single old triple-A game which the developers adapted for VR (Serious Sam). Just one. From the literally hundreds of thousands of existing triple-A games. (There might have been a few others, but I'm not aware of any.) Curiously, and sadly, during the Oculus Rift Development Kit years many developers had announced that they would be adding VR support to some of their existing games, but pretty much all of them later abandoned the idea.

I think (as described earlier) Valve played a big role in this. (Even Valve themselves initially planned on adding VR support to their existing games. In fact, Half-Life 2 was playable in VR during the OR DK era. Valve later disabled the support, for reasons known only to them. Nowadays you can only re-enable it via modding. They have absolutely no plans to add support to any of their existing games anymore.)

Also, it seems that game developers have completely dismissed the idea of adding VR support to new triple-A titles intended for normal gameplay. The only exception I'm aware of is Resident Evil 7 (which beautifully demonstrates how a game can support both VR and non-VR playing. A lesson that few other developer companies seem to want to learn.)

So, in summary: Make the VR systems cost about $200 (I don't know nor care how), forget the whole "room-scale" thing, and add support to a sizeable portion of existing and new games (so that there would be literally thousands of triple-A VR games out there), and I guarantee that VR would be much more of a success. Also, drop those stupid VR controllers; they are as much a gimmick as "room-scale" VR. (Dropping them would also lower the price, so there.)

I think Resident Evil 7 is the perfect example of how VR games should be like: Support VR and non-VR playing, sit-down experience, no stupid VR controller gimmicks (it's controlled with the regular gamepad in the normal way, without any motion tracking).

Sunday, September 3, 2017

HDMI 2.0 switcher/splitter purchasing guide

If you own a PS4 Pro and an HDMI 2.0 capable 4k display, especially if said display has only one HDMI in port, you may soon find yourself in need of an HDMI switcher. If you are additionally using a PSVR with your PS4 Pro, you might also find yourself in need of an HDMI splitter, or switcher/splitter combo (for reasons detailed in this blog post.)

Due to the different versions that exist of the HDMI standard, this is prone to cause confusion, and for people to purchase a switcher that won't work properly with their PS4 Pro. So here is a guide that describes in detail what to look for.

Terminology and HDMI versions

An HDMI switcher is a device that has two or more HDMI inputs and one HDMI output, and is capable of redirecting one of those inputs to the output. This allows several HDMI sources (such as game consoles, a digital TV box, and a PC) to be connected to one single display.

An HDMI splitter is a device that has one HDMI input and two or more HDMI outputs. It allows for the image of a single HDMI source device to be redirected to several displays (possibly simultaneously).

Some devices are both, having multiple inputs and outputs. This is often denoted as (although the notation is not standardized) for example "3x1" for switchers (3 inputs, one output), "1x3" for splitters (one input, three outputs), and eg. "6x2" for devices supporting both (6 inputs, 2 outputs). Usually the latter allows for any two of the inputs to be redirected to the two outputs simultaneously. (Note that in some cases the "3x1" form may also be used for splitters. The notation is not always consistent.) Other devices are bi-directional, which means that they can be used as a switcher or a splitter (but not both at the same time, since they have only one port that functions as an input or an output, the others functioning as the opposite).

HDMI 1.3 and older only supports Full-HD resolutions, in other words, 1920x1080 pixels. It's completely unusable for 4k material.

HDMI 1.4 supports Full-HD video at 120 Hz, as well as 4k video (3840x2160) at 30 Hz. It has a bandwidth of 10.2 Gbps.

HDMI 2.0 supports 4k video at 60 Hz. It has a bandwidth of 18 Gbps.

Note that the PS4 Pro supports displaying 4k video at 60 Hz over an HDMI 1.4 connection, but only in YUV420 mode rather than RGB mode (if the display supports this). However, as far as I understand, this is a non-standard extension. YUV420 compromises image quality by reducing color information (in order to be able for the image to be transmitted at 10.2 Gbps.) RGB mode has no such compromise.

What to look for when purchasing an HDMI switcher/splitter

As of writing this post, switchers and splitters having full HDMI 2.0 support are still a rarity, and a user may be fooled into buying a device with no such support, only to find out that the PS4 Pro has switched to YUV420 mode or, in the worst case scenario, can't display an image at all (which is sadly common). Thus a potential buyer needs to be very careful when purchasing such a device.

Important note: Even if a switcher/splitter mentions "HDMI 2.0" support, this is not a guarantee that it will work properly with the PS4 Pro!

There are some such devices out there that mention such support, but still internally have a bandwidth of 10.2 Gbps (ie. the one from HDMI 1.4). If you try to use this kind of switcher/splitter with the PS4 Pro, you'll probably find out that the console will be limited to YUV420 mode (or, possibly, not being able to display anything at all)! I do not know how these manufacturers can make the claim of HDMI 2.0 support for these devices, but I'm assuming they support everything else in the standard except for the 18 Gbps bandwidth.

It's more important to look in the specifications of the device for a mention of support for 4k resolutions at 60 Hz. This may be expressed for example as "3840x2160@60Hz", or sometimes as "4Kx2K@60Hz".

If the specs for the device say "3820x2160@30Hz", or "4Kx2K@30Hz", or explicitly "HDMI 1.4" (often "HDMI 1.4b"), then it does not have HDMI 2.0 support. Avoid these.

Be wary of switchers/splitters that do not mention at all a refresh rate for the 4k resolution, nor a HDMI version. A mention of "4k" alone is not enough, and lacking the refresh rate is an almost sure sign that it's an HDMI 1.4 device.

Also, as mentioned, be careful with devices that do mention "HDMI 2.0" but not a refresh rate for the 4k resolution. These might or might not support the necessary bandwidth of 18 Gbps.

"How do I know if the PS4 Pro is using RGB or YUV420 mode?"

The PS4 system might not always make it completely clear which mode is being currently used, and whether 2160p RGB is supported. However, if you go to the system settings, choose "display and sound", and from there "video output settings" and "resolution", the "2160p - RGB (Unsupported)" line will be grayed out if using HDMI 1.4.

Crimes that appear to be legal in the US if "protesting"

I wrote in a previous blog post how I consider the actions, or more precisely the inaction, of the police the main reason why the situation has escalated so much in the United States: Rather than stopping "protesters" from committing clear crimes, rather than having a zero tolerance policy, they are allowing people to commit these crimes, without stopping them, as long as they are "protesting".

I simply cannot comprehend why "protesters" seem to be above the law in the United States, exempt from the same laws that apply to everybody else. Like there were some kind of special exception in the law for people who are engaging in a "protest". I'm not aware of such a law existing anywhere in the United States, but it looks like there is one, apparently. At least deducing from the actions of the police.

From the numerous YouTube videos I have watched, it seems that at least these things, which would normally cause a person to be arrested and prosecuted, seem to be allowed, with complete impunity, even if done in direct close view of the police, who will just stand there doing absolutely nothing to stop it, as long as it's a "protest". These are all examples of people doing these things clearly in the direct view of police officers, and these officers doing absolutely nothing about it, without any clear reason why. (Note that this is not true everywhere in the United States, but apparently it is in some places, deducing from those videos.)

* If you were to start pestering, harassing, shouting at, insulting, calling names, and blocking the path of a random person on the street, and kept doing this for tens of minutes, if that person were to call the police, you would probably get arrested. At a very minimum the police would order you to stop and give you a warning, if they are being lenient. Except if, it seems, you are part of a group of people engaging in a "protest".

* If you took a megaphone and starting making very loud noises on the street, in a densely populated area, disturbing the peace, and kept doing this for hours, if somebody were to call the police, you would likewise be arrested, or at the very least ordered to stop and given a warning. Except if you are in a group engaging in a "protest".

* Intentionally blocking traffic is explicitly illegal in most (or all) of the United States. If you were to do that, you would get quickly arrested and removed from the roadway. Except, it seems, if you are in a group of people engaging in a "protest".

* If you were to try to damage and take down a fence surrounding the premises of a prison, and get in, you would normally be arrested and prosecuted in the blink of an eye. It might even cause alarms, and special forces to be dispatched. Even in the mildest possible of cases you would probably be at the very least prosecuted for destruction of private or state property (depending on the prison), and trespassing. Except, it seems, if you are in a group of people engaging in a "protest", in which case the police will simply come when they have the time, and just stand there between the fence and the "protesters" doing nothing to them.

* If you were to deface and damage a statue owned by the government, you would be arrested and prosecuted, at the very least for vandalism and destruction of state property. Except if you are "protesting".

* This one made me absolutely sick when I saw it: A guy is just standing on the street, doing nothing, and people are harassing him, and a woman is even physically assaulting him by repeatedly hitting him. Something like a dozen of police officers, in full riot gear, are just standing about 10 meters away, watching this happening. The guy, who is being physically assaulted, is directly asking the police officers to intervene. The officers do absolutely nothing, but just stand there. Only when the guy was dragged to the ground, and several people assaulting him started literally kicking him when he was on the ground, did the police officers finally intervene. But only then. The harassment and physical assaults had started quite a time prior to that, in full view of the police. The video does not show the police officers actually arresting the assailants (although I do not know if they did arrest anybody).

Friday, September 1, 2017

Trump issues a presidential pardon, the left goes crazy, of course

Recently Donald Trump issued a constitutional presidential pardon on a former sheriff who was convicted for contempt of court. Naturally the leftists in the US, like always, went completely crazy about it, as if Trump had made a heinous crime against society by pardoning a convicted criminal.

But here's some perspective:

Firstly, presidential pardons are always issued for convicted criminals, by the very constitutional definition. Such pardons do not apply to anybody else. So it's not like it was somehow highly unusual for him to pardon a convicted criminal.

Secondly, and most importantly, presidential pardons in the United States are extremely common!

Gerald Ford issued 382 presidential pardons.
Jimmy Carter issued 534.
Ronald Reagan issued 393.
George H.W. Bush issued 94.
Bill Clinton issued 396.
George W. Bush issued 189.
Barack Obama issued 212.

Can you guess how many presidential pardons Trump has issued so far?


And of course the regressive left went crazy, as if this were extremely unusual, a complete abuse of power, and some kind of crime against humanity.

And it's not like this pardon was somehow for an especially heinous criminal. As mentioned, the former sheriff, who's 85 years old, was convicted for contempt of court. A crime, for sure, but not especially heinous nor against humanity. Among those other pardons I listed above by other presidents is at least one self-confessed terrorist convicted of several terrorist attacks (Oscar Rivera, pardoned by Barack Obama.)

It really doesn't matter what Trump does, even if he does the exact same thing that all presidents before him have done. When Trump does it, it's immediately somehow a crime against humanity, abuse of power, and a sign that he's going to create a totalitarian regime. He could literally read out loud the US Constitution, and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, verbatim, and the leftists would interpret that as a crime against humanity and a sign that he's going to exterminate all muslims and mexicans (and the reporters of CNN.)

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Truth is becoming unimportant

In my previous blog post about postmodernism I explained how in modernism a big emphasis was put into scientific accuracy, facts, evidence-based testable reasoning, and repeatable experimentation (as well as, on the political side, equal rights and the dismantling of royalty, nobility and all forms of inherited leadership, in favor of representative democracy). I also explained how postmodernism is a completely insane new ideology that makes no sense and pretty much discards all that in favor of, what effectively amounts to, superstitious beliefs about truths and facts being relative, and being whatever we want them to be (one concrete, practical and very widespread example of this being that "gender" is whatever the person wants it to be, and scientific testing has absolutely nothing to do with it.)

In some sense, in some contexts, however, it might be more accurate to say that in postmodernist ideology it's not so much that truth is relative, as much as truth being irrelevant. As in, it's not important what the actual facts are, but what kind of effect they have (in whatever social matter is the subject of discussion). In other words, it doesn't matter whether something is factually accurate or not, it only matters how it affects some sociopolitical issue being discussed.

For example, if examining the writings of some philosopher (or even scientist) from 200 years ago, the modernist approach would be to examine how factually accurate these writings are. All that matters is the writing itself, what claims it makes, and whether those claims can be verified as correct and accurate. Moreover, the claims are examined and valued on their own merit, regardless of who wrote them. If these claims can be scientifically verified to be accurate, they can be taken into account and added to our pool of knowledge.

The postmodernist approach, however, doesn't care if the claims made in these writings are factual and accurate. It only cares what effect these claims have in our society. Moreover, and even beyond that, it cares who wrote them. Postmodernism looks as much, if not even more, at the person making the claims, as the claims themselves. For instance, it will look if the author was a white man, or for example a black woman, and assign importance of the writing based on that factor alone.

Even if the claims can be scientifically demonstrated as factually correct and accurate, that doesn't matter if they have some kind of negative impact (real or perceived) in whatever postmodernist political agenda is at play currently. If it goes against the narrative, it will be discarded (and even heavily opposed) regardless of its accuracy. Likewise if the claims are conformant with and support the political agenda, they will be favorably received completely regardless of their factual accuracy.

Likewise current scientific teaching and research is seen as relevant only if it supports the postmodernist agenda currently being promoted, else it will be considered unimportant, or even opposed if it's deemed as being contrary to the agenda. And "being contrary to the agenda" may be judged by completely irrelevant things, such as what the skin color of the majority of teachers, students and/or researchers is. Just the skin color of the majority of people engaging in that field is enough for the postmodernist ideology to determine whether it has a "positive" or "negative" impact on the political agenda being pushed. The relevance and factual accuracy of the field in question is of no importance.

The scary thing is that this form of postmodernism is creeping into more and more universities, especially in the United States and the United Kingdom. "Social studies" and "humanities" departments, who fully embrace exactly this kind of postmodernist thinking, are gaining more and more power in these universities, while STEM (Science/Technology/Engineering/Math) field departments are losing their power, and in an increasing manner shunned and shoved aside (even to the point that at some colleges they are already even hindering students from enrolling into STEM classes.) In many of these universities the boards of directors, the people at the very top, the ones who are in charge of all decisions pertaining to the university, is almost completely overtaken by these postmodernists who value political agendas more than science. And they are the ones in charge of assigning budgets to the different departments, and deciding which classes are mandatory and which aren't.

If this is not stopped, it will potentially have a devastating effect in our society. "Social studies" and "humanities" courses have no usefulness in building one's career, and they do not contribute to our scientific and technical knowledge. If a future generation of people is mostly illiterate when it comes to science and technology, it will cause a societal collapse. And this isn't even going into the fact of how totalitarian, oppressive and anti-human-rights the current postmodernist regressive leftist ideology is.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Has Steam completely stifled Valve?

During the 90's and the first decade of the 2000's, Valve was one of the biggest and most famous game developer corporations.

Their first game ever, Half-Life, was not only hugely popular, but extremely innovative, influential, and a trend-setter. It was one of those fundamental games that does something new, in a manner that really works, and thus influences and defines how similar games are developed in the future. (For instance, while perhaps not the very first one, it was the first highly popular and highly influential game that used interactive cutscenes, ie. cutscenes where the player is still in full control of the playable character. It was also one of the first first-person shooters with a heavy emphasis on storytelling.)

Counter-Strike, based on the Half-Life engine, was, again, one of the most influential games of that genre (ie. online "arena-style" multiplayer first-person shooter). Not the first one, of course, but one of the most influential ones, and which once again presented new ideas that defined the industry and game development.

After numerous spinoffs of both games, Valve only went stronger than ever before. Half-Life 2 is one of the best-rated and most liked games in video gaming history, often appearing in top 10 lists of best games in existence, and almost perfect scores even after 13 years. It took what Half-Life did right, and turned it up to eleven, and did it really well. It was, once again, a trend-setter and a great influence in video game development.

After a few spin-offs and sequels, Valve showed once again that they have absolutely no shortage of gaming innovation prowess, and created one of the absolute crown jewels of video gaming: Portal. If there was ever a game that rivals or even surpasses the influence of Half-Life in video games, it was this one. Team Fortress 2, published about the same time, was also very well received.

Valve tried with something slightly different with Left 4 Dead and its sequel soon after, and while not negatively received, most people's reaction was rather indifferent. But this was only a temporary misstep.

Portal 2 expanded the simpler idea of Portal into an even more full-fledged game, and once again did it extremely well, and was very well received.

Then... it just kind of stopped. They developed Dota 2, which like Left 4 Dead is not exactly negatively received, but not many people discuss it. Again, indifference from the most part.

And that's about it. Their last game with a huge impact, Portal 2, was released in 2011, a bit over six years ago. Since then, nothing of any prominence.

Valve has tried their hands on completely different venues, with very poor success. They tried to create the "Steam machines" as a competitor to game consoles. It failed miserably. They created a new game controller, which tried to be innovative, and while at first somewhat positively received, over the years it has been more or less forgotten, and not many people care much about it. Not many people even know what a Steam Link is.

Valve really tried to hit the jackpot with the HTC Vive, and while many people still pretend that it's a huge success, the numbers say otherwise: Less than a half million units sold in over a year after release, which by any possible standard of measurement is an utter commercial failure for gaming hardware. (For example, in comparison, if a game console sells less than 10 million units, it's generally considered a commercial failure.) Also, the library of triple-A games for the system is absolutely abysmal, another sign of a complete commercial failure.

It seems that Valve has forgotten what they are good at: Making innovative video games. They have pretty much stopped making them, even though there's a huge amount of demand. (Half-Life 3 is, possibly, the most anticipated game in history. Yet Valve simply refuses to make it. At this point it's almost certain that they will never make it.)

Why did Valve stop making games? Why have they stop being one of the video gaming giants, and seemingly become a corporation that produces almost nothing?

My hypothesis is that the culprit is Steam. It's a cash cow, and Valve has stopped having the need to do anything else. They have no motivation to create and innovate anymore. Even if they did develop a new game, their profits from it would probably be but a small fraction of what Steam earns them.

Of course I don't know what goes inside Valve, but I wouldn't be surprised if they did at some point have a development team for Half-Life 3, and possibly other games, but growing disinterest in the project, especially from the managers and higher-ups, made the project drag out more and more over time, with less and less resources put into it. Developers put into other unrelated projects, not many resources allocated for that project, not much oversight nor supervision over the project, no deadlines, a very lax attitude from the higher-ups... Probably something like that.

I'm certain that deep within the digital vaults of Valve there is some kind of half-developed alpha version of Half-Life 3, and possibly other projects, which have pretty much been abandoned due to lack of interest, in an eternal state of "maybe we'll continue developing it some day".

So, my guess is that Steam killed Half-Life 3, and all other Valve games. Without Steam we would probably have had it many years ago.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Even feminists don't understand what "mansplaining" means

At some point some feminist academic (or other type of author of feminist literature) came up with the term "mansplaining". It referred to one particular behavior: The kind where, in a conversation with several people, if there's a woman present, and some kind of technical or less-than-trivial term is used, one of the men will proceed, unprompted, to explain to the woman what the term means, because he assumes that she doesn't understand the term because she's a woman, and women don't understand technical subjects, or whatever the subject of the discussion is.

It might also happen in an one-to-one conversation, with a man and a woman, where the man likewise simply assumes that the woman doesn't understand eg. technical terms because she's a woman, and proceeds to explain them when he uses them, in a rather patronizing manner. (This may be especially egregious if the woman is eg. working in the exact same field as the man, and the conversation is about that field.)

The term is, of course, a portmanteau of "man" and "explaining", referring to the man explaining terminology and concepts to a woman because he assumes that she doesn't understand the meaning otherwise, just because she's a woman, and women don't understand complicated technical stuff.

Personally I don't have a problem with pointing out that kind of patronizing behavior, because it does happen. There really are men out there that are morons. The only objection I have to it is its alleged frequency: Feminists imply that it happens all the time, and is pretty much a daily occurrence everywhere. I would contend that while it does indeed happen, it's much, much rarer than the feminists are implying.

Anyway, while the term itself may have a reasonable basis in reality, the major problem is that feminists themselves don't actually know that meaning, and are using it (like they always do with basically any term used to criticize men) as a generic insult.

They will use the term, as an accusation, if a man simply disagrees with a woman on something, even though the meaning of the term has absolutely nothing to do with disagreements or arguments. If a man presents a differing opinion, or a counterpoint, or a refutation, or in any other way does not fully agree with a woman, that's somehow "mansplaining".

In fact, if you ever encounter the term being used out there, chances are that it's not being used with its original meaning. Very good chances. In fact, I don't remember witnessing a single use (eg. in a blog post, or a YouTube video, or any sort of televised event) of the term that was accurate. It's always used to just try to dismiss what a man is saying, without actually refuting his arguments.

Ironically, that in itself could be called "feminisplaining": Feminists throwing insults in a patronizing manner at men who simply disagree with them, dismissing the argument without actually addressing or refuting it.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

One danger with self-learning AI's

There are different approaches to creating an artificial intelligence. Two different approaches are what I would call "the chess engine method" and "the AlphaGo method". This is, obviously, the difference in approach between chess engines and AlphaGo, currently the strongest Go engine.

Their difference is that the latter uses a self-learning neural network, while the former use explicitly programmed algorithms.

Self-learning neural networks have of course been tried many times with chess engines, but they simply are too slow compared to manually coded highly optimized chess algorithms. Something like the current top 100 or so chess engines in the world are manually programmed, rather than using any sort of neural network. This means that every single aspect of how the engine functions has been specifically and intentionally programmed in, and manually optimized for speed and efficiency. Position evaluation, every search tree pruning rule, every search priority rule, lookup tables... every single detail has been manually programmed and optimized.

This approach, however, has never worked very well for Go, due to how much more strategically complicated the game is. AlphaGo uses a combination of hand-crafted algorithms and a very large self-learning neural network (mostly for position evaluation). The neural network has been generated by making the program play millions of games against itself, using variation and selection.

One fundamental difference between these two things is that nobody controls, or even knows, how or why exactly AlphaGo prefers one move over another. Even though top chess engines are stronger than any human, any move they do can still be understood and traced to a specific piece of code that was manually written by a human, implementing a specific algorithm. Moves are extremely strong, sometimes much stronger than any human could come up with, but they aren't surprising once examined (at least not by the people who have developed the chess engine.)

Many of AlphaGo's choices, however, are mysterious even to the creators of the program, and to top Go players, because the reasoning for preferring certain positions, the algorithms by which certain positions are preferred and chosen, has been automatically generated, without the explicit intervention of a human programmer. It's the product of countless billions of iterations of random variation, with the best variations selected due to their playing strength. These variations, these "neural connections", were not programmed by a human, but automatically generated. Thus no human really controlled how the neural network turned out to be.

This has created extremely interesting results, especially among top Go professionals. AlphaGo's playing style is somewhat different than that of top human players, and it often prefers moves and positions that human players previously considered sub-optimal (yet AlphaGo has proven that assumption incorrect, by proceeding to win the game, with the human opponent finding himself unable to take advantage of this assumed "sub-optimal" playing stye.) This has already changed Go theory among top professionals, and many have started trying similar techniques themselves.

(This is quite different from chess. Chess engines do not really come up with new innovative tactics. They only do what they have been explicitly programmed to do by a human programmer. They play extremely strongly because they can read ahead by sheer brute force, but they don't exactly out-maneuver their human opponent with unusual and new strategy. They simply make no mistakes and punish even the tiniest of their opponent's mistakes, which fallible humans tend to do.)

Google has already used the same self-learning neural network technique for other completely unrelated applications. For instance, they reduced electricity consumption by up to 30% in their server halls by optimizing ventilation. This optimization was created by a self-learning AI similar to the one used in AlphaGo.

But I see a looming danger in self-learning AI.

The world is going more and more into the direction that, like above, self-learning AI is being used in practical applications. Today it's being used to optimize electricity consumption in a server room. Tomorrow it may be used for even more crucial practical applications. Perhaps even some where human lives might be at stake (no matter how indirectly).

The problem is what I mentioned earlier: Nobody knows the internal workings of the neural network, because nobody explicitly programmed it. It was automatically generated. And it's way, way too complicated for anybody to decipher and understand. Essentially it "works in mysterious ways". It consists of countless billions of "neural connections", forming such an intricate mesh that no human could ever even hope to decipher how or why it works like it does. (Perhaps if a team of a thousand people were to study it for decades, mapping it and documenting everything it does, they could eventually come up with the exact algorithm of why and how it works, but nobody has the resources nor the willingness to do that.)

I think there is a real danger in automatically generated functionality that has little to no human supervision: What stops this automatic generation, this self-learning process, from introducing rare but fatal "bugs" into the neural network? What if by pure chance, after running for ten years, the "bug" in the neural network is triggered, it spawns into action, and makes, let's say, the server room overheat, causing all the servers to break? What if instead of servers there are human lives at stake (no matter how indirectly)?

Sure, in this particular example safeguards can be put into place. For instance, independent sensors can be put into the servers that if they heat up too much, the AI is automatically cut off and regular old ventilation is returned until the problem is figured out.

However, not every situation where an AI is controlling something might be so easy to safeguard. The problems can be much subtler than that, and almost impossible to predict. Every programmer and every engineer who has been involved in very large projects is more than aware of this. Oftentimes problems are just impossible to predict, and safeguard against, prior to them happening and revealing themselves. That's why planes sometimes crash and rockets explode even though every single precaution is taken to avoid it, and it's not always just a physical failure, but a subtle failure in design or programming.

What happens if an AI is controlling a car, for instance, and one day an unpredictable part of its neural network kicks in, and causes it to collide with other cars? (Or, perhaps, it suddenly decides that something is horribly wrong, goes essentially into panic mode, and stops the car as fast as possible to avoid collisions... only to have the cars behind it collide into it, for example.) Since the neural network was automatically created, without human supervision, what safeguards against this?

Is it finally time to consider VR a commercial failure?

The current generation of modern VR has now been around for over a year. Yet it has very little to show for it.

Sales figures are absolutely abysmal. As I commented in a previous blog post, both PC VR headsets combined have sold in one year less units than a typical game console sells in its first week after launch.

In fact, consider for example consoles like the Sega Dreamcast, or the PlayStation Vita. The former sold over 9 million units, and the latter about 10 million units. Yet both are generally considered commercial failures. The Wii U, at about 13 million units, is also considered at least a borderline commercial failure due to that number (especially considering that the Wii sold over 100 million units).

Both PC VR headsets combined have so far sold but a small fraction of that, far less than 1 million units in total. In fact, you can throw in the PSVR sales into the sum as well, and it would still fall short by a long margin (even though the PSVR has so far sold more units than both PC headsets combined, and even though it has been on the market for less time.)

These abysmal sales figures can be seen in the library of triple-A games for the systems. As in, it's virtually (hah!) empty.

How many triple-A VR games can you mention? The list is really short.

[ As a side note, the term "triple-A game" is a bit vague and up to interpretation, but I think a reasonable distinction can be made between triple-A games, medium-sized games, small indie-games, and tech demos.

A triple-A game has a very sizeable budget, at least in the tens of millions, very high production values, and a massive amount of content. Usually, although not necessarily always, this is reflected in the length of the game in a typical first-time casual playthrough, most typically in the 20-50 hours range (sometimes more, sometimes less). Games like GTA5, Witcher 3 and Bloodborne are quintessential examples.

A medium-sized game has still notable production values, but is significantly smaller in budget and content. A typical first-time playthrough may be in the 2-20 hours range (most often the lower half of that scale). I would consider games like Portal, Journey, and Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons, as examples. Of course the line is sometimes blurred with small indie games, which typically also have similar length, although often lower production values (usually due to being developed by a very small team of people with very low budgets, sometimes even one single person). ]

The "health" of a gaming system can be measured by the amount of triple-A titles for it. Or even the "medium-sized" ones. So, how many such games are there for VR so far?

Very few. Aside from ancillary VR support in a few big-name racing and vehicle simulation games, and perhaps Resident Evil 7, I can't name anything off the top of my head. There are a few what I would call medium-sized games for the PSVR (such as Farpoint, and Robinson: The Journey), and there are likewise perhaps a few for the PC VR headsets, but that's about it.

By far the vast majority of the rest is comprised almost exclusively of tech demos and very short games (which oftentimes could even be considered tech demos themselves, rather than full-fledged games). Indie games abound, especially on the PC side, but they tend to be low-budget and short. Often all of these games concentrate on the visual effects that stereoscopic imagery allows, rather than actual deep engaging story-driven gameplay. Even those that do have a story to them, a narrative, tend to be very short (in the 2-5 hours range). Some games are just medium-sized "sandbox" games without much story.

Prior to the launch of the PC VR headsets, and the PSVR, many market analysts and video game commentators were predicting massive sales numbers, and a revolution in video gaming. Some people were even saying things that the old style games that you just play on a regular screen would become obsolete, and that the future is VR. Even the more pragmatic among them were predicting that VR gaming would become as big as regular traditional gaming, existing side by side.

It's quite clear that those predictions were completely wrong. VR did not become an overnight ginormous success. VR headsets did not sell but a small fraction of what was predicted. VR did not revolutionize video gaming as we know it. Heck, it isn't even competing with traditional video games. It's on the contrary struggling to get any attention at all from game developers, and most gamers alike. The development of traditional-style video games is as strong as ever, while VR development seems to have been relegated by most companies to a secondary side project at best; completely dismissed at worst.

VR did not revolutionize video gaming. It didn't even make a dent. It's struggling. Its sales figures are abysmal, and its library of triple-A games even more so.

So, is it finally time to consider VR a commercial failure?

(Note that I don't want VR to become a failure and come crashing down. I own a PSVR. I want games for it. I eagerly browse the PSVR section of PSN for new interesting games. I just can't deny reality: It's a struggling system which has fallen far, far below expectations. Something that I predicted over a year ago.)

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Who is to blame for the riots in the US? The police!

This is not the case everywhere in the United States (as it probably depends on the state and perhaps even the city), but at too many places the police is incomprehensibly lenient when it comes to "protests".

At most places (probably everywhere in the country), deliberately obstructing traffic is a crime, and will have you at the very least detained, perhaps even prosecuted. Except, it seems, if it's a group of people engaging in a "protest". Somehow that seems to elevate them above the law, and the police will not do anything to them. (YouTube is full of videos of people obstructing traffic, and the police just watching, doing nothing. At the very most they are perhaps calmly trying to solve the situation, but not detaining anybody. Not at all places, as said, but way too many.)

If somebody were to disturb somebody's peace on the street, yelling at them, calling them names, following them, obstructing their path, and kept doing this for an hour, if the police is called, they would surely detain the harasser, and perhaps prosecute him, at least if the victim is willing to. Except if, you guessed, the people doing the harassment are "protesting". Once again they seem to be above the law, and free to harass anybody they don't like, and the police will do little or even nothing at all. There are even videos out there of "protesters" outright assaulting people, hitting them, dragging them and so on, in full view of the police, and the police does absolutely nothing about it.

More egregiously, there have been several cases of outright brawls between people on the street, with the police explicitly having been told not to intervene. That's right, people being assaulted, beaten, and injured, and the police does absolutely nothing to stop it. Sometimes you can see in the videos this happening in the full view of the police, and they still do nothing. Sometimes the police aren't even there, even though they fully well know what's happening. (In one particular video a person asks the police why they aren't stopping the violence, and the answer was "ask the police chief". They were told by their police chief not to intervene. This is, as far as I understand, highly illegal, and deep corruption. To my knowledge no investigation has been done, and the police chief, or anybody else, has not been prosecuted for this.)

If a person, or group of people, were trying to break into the premises of a prison, it would normally raise huge alarms, and the police would very quickly be called. The people trying to break in would be very quickly apprehended with force if needed, arrested and prosecuted.

Except... you guessed it, if the people trying to break into the premises of the prison are "protesters". Then, suddenly, for an inexplicable reason, they are above the law, and untouchable. I'm not even kidding. There are videos of this on YouTube. These people were bringing down a fence for like an hour or more before the police showed up. And once they showed up they did absolutely nothing to the "protesters" who were trying to break in (and some of which had already succeeded in it). The police just stood there in front of the fence, doing pretty much nothing. Nobody in the video was seen being arrested or anything.

It is completely incomprehensible to me why it seems that in many parts of the US people seem to be above the law as long as they use the excuse of engaging in a "protest". They can literally break the law, and get away with it. They are getting away with unambiguous crimes that in any other situation would have them quickly arrested and probably prosecuted.

This is almost like the exact opposite of a police state (whatever that might be called, if it even has a name). Rather than the police being overly abusive and roughing up people for even the smallest of excuses, they are acting exactly the opposite: Even people who are clearly and unambiguously breaking the law in their full view, are being let do that with complete impunity. Oftentimes the police doesn't even intervene, and in many cases when the police does intervene there are zero repercussions to the perpetrators. Only if somebody is being physically injured will they intervene... perhaps. Not always even then (as described earlier).

It's a complete travesty. I simply cannot believe my eyes when I see YouTube videos of people harassing and literally assaulting other people in full view of the police, and the police just standing there doing absolutely nothing to stop it. It doesn't happen everywhere, and at some places it seems that the police is more eager to intervene, but it happens way too often, in way too many places.

Well, this is one of the major the reasons why the situation has escalated so much in the United States at this moment: Rather than putting a stop to the violence and the crime, the police is doing very little to stop it. Rather than immediately arresting people who are breaking the law, they are just letting them go, with no punishment of any kind. Often even without any sort of warning.

And no, it's not a question of not having the resources. Once again: People are committing clear unambiguous crimes in full view of the police, and the police officers are just standing there, doing nothing about it. Often they don't even approach the people.

If I were the president of the United States, I would command a full investigation of this behavior, and for stern measures to be taken to weed it out. A "protest" is not an excuse to be able to commit crimes with impunity. Being in a "protest" does not elevate people above the law.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Valve tries to get rid of asset-flippers, only makes matters worse


In the beginning Steam was a product created by Valve to distribute their own games. After it turned out to be surprisingly popular (being pretty much the first viable online store application for the purchase and digital distribution of video games), they opened the platform for other game developer companies to sell and distribute their games. Steam became an absolutely enormous success, and to this day it's still by far the biggest such distribution platform on PC, regardless of all the competition that has spawned once this form of distribution of games turned out to be a very well working model.

The problem with Steam, from the perspective of tons of game developers, especially indie ones, was that it was only open to certain manually-picked big corporations. Indie devs had no chance of getting their games sold on Steam. This was a big grievance for years.

Thus Valve created the so-called Greenlight system, which opened Steam for anybody. In order to avoid the platform being flooded with junk, spam, malware, vandalism and so on, the system required for developers to submit a proposal for their game for people to vote (ie. "greenlight" it). If a proposal got enough user votes, it would be accepted to be published.

At first this worked like marvel. Most indie games published in this manner were of surprisingly high quality, even the worst ones being, at the very worst, mediocre but acceptable.

The problem

But, like with everything else, of course less scrupulous people started finding out ways to game the system. They would submit proposals that were edited to look much better than they really were, and dupe people into greenlighting them, and then in actuality doing the absolutely minimum effort in the actual game, which turned out to be absolute unplayable junk that cannot be even considered a "game" at all.

And, of course, and as always, hackers started developing automated bot voters that would automatically greenlight their submissions, no matter what they were, thus bypassing the hurdle of having to have a big number of users accept their submission in the first place.

Thus were born the so-called "asset flippers". And Steam got absolutely flooded with them. These are really simplistic crappy games with the absolute minimum effort put into them, and copied multiple times as "different" games, with just some game assets (graphics, models, sounds...) changed to make screenshots look different enough (ie. an "asset flip"). Thus you could have the exact same crappy game published a dozen times on Steam, just with some changed graphics and sounds.

It became infinitely worse when Valve implemented trading cards into Steam. Every game can have a set of trading cards which users would earn by playing the game. These trading cards can be sold on the Steam market. (The price of these trading cards is based purely on a supply-and-demand economy, with people people offering the cards at a given price, and other people perhaps buying them, with the cheapest ones being more likely sold more easily. Prices for these cards typically range from less than 5 cents to even over 20 cents. Some really rare and sought after foil cards may be bought at over 2€ and even more.) Trading cards can also be converted into "gems", which are a generic "currency" that can also be sold, or used for other purposes, such as creating booster packs (which can themselves of course also be sold.)

The problem with this system is that the hackers also figured out a way to game the system, and get free money from people with their asset-flipping "games": Have a game published, assign the allowed amount of trading cards to it, give Steam keys for the game to a couple thousand bots, have those bots "buy" the game using those keys, fool Steam to think that they are playing the game, get the cards, and either put those cards on sale or, more likely, convert them to gems, and sell those gems, or create booster packs of a completely different game with those gems, and sell those. This costs pretty much nothing for the hacker, but he receives free money from users who are buying those gems or booster packs.

The "solution"

This went for many years. Recently Valve tried to solve this problem by getting rid of the "Greenlight" system and replacing it with something entirely different: Now in order to submit your game on Steam, you have to pay $100. You get this money back after your game sells one thousand copies.

At first glance this does sound indeed like a solution to the problem. No longer can these hackers just use bots to bypass the system and have their games published. Now they would need to pay actual money, which they might never get back, and nobody would do that, would they? If you think that, you are as naive as Valve was.

You see, the problem has only gotten worse with that change. With Greenlight there was a mandatory voting period for something to be accepted into Steam. Now that voting period is gone. Anybody can have any game of theirs immediately accepted into Steam, by simply paying that $100. Nobody will check it, nobody will vote on it, there's absolutely no oversight.

Did I mention the thousands of bots that the hackers are using to "purchase" the game using Steam keys? That's right. The hackers can just keep doing what they did before, and they will get their money reimbursed once a thousand bots have "purchased" the game. And now there are even less hurdles to overcome, and it can be done much faster.

This is not just theoretical. It's actually happening. Many commentators and reviewers are pointing out the sheer amount of asset flips that are flooding Steam.

So, when trying to "fix" the problem of asset flippers gaming the system, Valve has only made it easier for them to do that, not harder. They have made the problem worse.

Does this affect me?

"I don't buy Steam trading cards, nor do I buy these asset-flips. Does this really affect me?"

Yes, it does. It affects Steam as a content distribution platform, and it affects legitimate indie developers even more, and thus it affects you.

Some of the greatest and most appreciated games out there are made by very small indie developer teams, sometimes even just individual people. The game Undertale is the perfect example. It's considered by many to be the best indie game of 2015, and even one of the top 10 games of that year period. And it was developed by one single person.

It didn't have any big advertisement campaigns on newspapers, TV and online. Its fame came mostly by word of mouth.

Now imagine if the game had been buried under hundreds of crappy asset-flip scamming "games", and would thus have gone completely unnoticed. Currently there isn't even a Greenlight system on Steam to have people notice the game and spread knowledge of it. Under the current system it would have just appeared one day on Steam out of nowhere, and probably just buried under all the junk, and not many would have noticed it.

(Granted, big part of the fame came from the fact that the game was crowdfunded, which spread the word of mouth in itself, but not all indie games, even the great ones, are developed like that.)

The scamming asset-flippers are hurting the platform and legitimate indie developers, which in the end hurts you as a gamer.