Conflicting Genius

Musings on everything past, present, and future

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Opinionated List of Good, Modern TV Shows

Caveat: The following is strictly my opinion. You’ll likely disagree, and I don’t mind. If I did, it’d be like forcing someone to change their favorite food.

There’s not a lot of new, good TV shows these days. Most seem to fall into one or more of the following categories:

  1. Promote the current agenda of those in power. Three words: Gay Space Rocks.
  2. Are bog-standard remakes or retreads of previous material with minimal effort made towards the execution. CSI: Cyber and its reliance on CSI’s incompetence with cyber-anything for its appeal come to mind.
  3. Actively teaching madness. There’s a show where the devil is portrayed as a good guy now….

Thankfully, I’ve found there’s a couple of shows out there which defy this and are actually pretty good. They’re not great, but they’re still well worth the watch.

  • Gravity Falls

Two siblings, one a serious boy who wants to be older, and the other a hyperactive girl whose love for others and adventure know no boundaries, are scurried away to their Grunkle (great-uncle) Stan’s tourist trap in a middle-of-nowhere town. Except it really shouldn’t be – the town’s home to myths, legends, and the supernatural, all very real and most wanting you dead. This is the setting for one of the most imaginative good-vs-evil stories I’ve encountered. Plus, it teaches great lessons on manhood, family, and why you should fear demons. Seriously – this show has a legit demon in it, and the show is very clear that he spews nothing but lies and half-truths, and will always come out on top if you try and take him on. (Unless, of course, you can find his series-ending weakness, but this is a godless secular show, so that’s an unfortunate given.) [Available on iTunes and the Disney 😄 website (cable subscription required).]

  • Person of Interest

If you’ve heard of this show, you’ve likely heard it portrayed as “a police procedural meets Minority Report”. These days, it’s more “a ragtag team of anti-heroes and their benevolent AI god battle the forces of a malevolent AI god, while saving innocents on the side.” (Or, for the gamers and geeks out there, “Deus Ex if it were grounded in real-world technologies.”) It’s a brilliant show which blends action, sci-fi, and subtle Twilight Zone values and philosophies into an incredible whole. Oh, and all the weird tech the heroes and villains use, like Wi-Fi based radar and a supercomputer built from PS3’s? It exists. It would seem the writers have realized truth is stranger than fiction. [Seasons 1-4 on Netflix, Season 5 is airing]

  • Granite Flats

What do a meteorite, a young boy’s deceased soldier-father, and the Utah town he’s moved into have in common? Quite a lot, actually. This series is remarkable for two very good reasons: first, it’s a great mashup of the detective and spy genres; second, it’s a show with wholesome 5o’s values and modern writing. You and your family will love as the young boy and his fast friends plunge the town of Granite Flats into a rabbit hole of secrets and Cold War-era sypcraft – and end up growing up into fine young adults in the process. [Full series on Netflix.]

  • Danger Mouse (2016)

A fast-paced re-imagining of the classic, quick-witted 1980’s animated series. Swapping the wit for more generic humor but keeping the legendary fourth-wall breaking, this madcap series stars the world’s foremost expert on fighting crime in the most dangerous way possible, Danger Mouse, and his not-so-bright assistant, Penfold. Together, they face an absurd rouge’s gallery, try their best not to annoy their resident world’s-greatest-genius Professor Squackandcluck (that’s her literal full name, BTW), and occasionally team up with the world’s most serious secret agent, the female American Jeopardy Mouse. [Available on Netflix stateside.]

  • Thunderbirds Are Go

Another re-imaging of another classic, Thunderbirds Are Go sees the professional world-saving antics of International Rescue, a private search-and-rescue company owned by the Tracy family. Aided by their engineer and scientist Brain, their security chief Kao, and special agent Lady Penelope and her assistant Milford, they travel the world saving lives, fighting the evil machinations of The Hood, and investigating their father’s mysterious disappearance. If this sounds like yet another action-adventure series for young kids, it isn’t – the Tracys work as an actual team, use legitimate and clever improvisation when things go wrong, and handle their work and interactions with others very professionally. Plus, their rescue machines, the Thunderbirds, are so filled with accurate details and minutiae, you’d swear they were real machines.

Jeff Minter’s TxK – Legal FAIL

Yesterday, I read about Atari suing Tempest creator Jeff Minter and his company Llamasoft regarding his new Tempest-esque game TxK. Initially, I thought it to be incredibly stupid since, y’know, the man created Tempest and its sequel Tempest 2000. Of course, why would Atari, recently resurrected from its bankruptcy, want to control something they clearly don’t?

Well, there’s the little case of Mr. Minter’s new game looking and playing remarkably like his previous works – so much so, you’d swear you were looking at Tempest! Furthermore, it would seem by his statements that Mr. Minter thinks since he created Tempest, he owns the rights to it automatically. Just ask Wally Amos how that went when he tried to use the word “Amos” in what ultimately became known as NoName Cookies. That combined with how similar TxK looks and plays to the game its supposedly just ‘based’ off of, and you’ve got yourself an excellent, well-defensible reason to sue somebody.

Oh, and the fact that Atari never sued Mr. Minter. And actually started trying to resolve things when they said they did.

In short, Jeff Minter seems like an otherwise well-meaning fellow who’s convinced himself into believing a lie and is refusing to think otherwise. I hope he shakes himself loose – because if he doesn’t, he’s gonna be sued profusely. And not by Douglas TenNapel.

Mass Dummy File Creator – BAT Edition

Those who’ve read my blog recently will remember my Mass Dummy File Creator. However, some of you might have been wondering, “Why did you create an entire application to do what could be done in the Windows Command Line?” To that, I would say, “I didn’t know I could until I looked!” Therefore, I’ve create a separate repository for a version which uses the Windows Command Line via a Batch file to create dummy files, backup files, and/or restore created backups. It does almost everything the original does, with two differences: there’s no way to backup then dummy out files (easily added), and only files with a single extension are supported (not so easily added). In an attempt to fix the latter, I will be recreating the Mass Dummy File Creator – yet again! – into Windows PowerShell, which I hear is significantly more powerful than a Batch file.

Mass Dummy File Creator v1.1

I just updated my Mass Dummy File Creator to version 1.1! Aside from some improvements, such as threading the file dummier, I also optimized the program so it only holds onto as much information about the files in the directory as needed – namely, the files with the user-specified file extension. You can find the updated code on GitHub: https://github.com/Expack3/MassDummyFile

I just created my first code repository!

I just recently created my first code repository on GitHub for a program I called the Mass Dummy File Creator, which replaces files of a user-specified extension contained within a folder with empty “dummy” files. Rather useful for diagnosing issues with audiovisual content for an application or bypassing annoying videos in a PC video game. Any comments, feedback, and/or critisism would be greatly appreciated!

You can find the code repository here: https://github.com/Expack3/MassDummyFile

Musings on Science and Logic

Authors note: The following was postulated by me at this week’s κοινότητα (Community) gathering at Saint Thomas the Apostle Catholic Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

As Fr. Robert Barron wrote in his Word on Fire blog post, The Myth of the War Between Science and Religion, modern science is not in conflict because Catholicism holds that ours is a created world. “To hold that the world is created is to accept, simultaneously, the two assumptions required for science, namely, that the universe is not divine and that it is marked, through and through, by intelligibility.” As Fr. Baron also writes, because the world is marked throughout by intelligibility, science is possible because it relies “upon the presumption that nature can be known, that it has a form.” Hence why scientists are able to create things like chaos theory, which studies mathematical systems highly sensitive to how they are set up initially, and be able to get predictable, repeatable results.

As such, I would ask a simple question: if, as atheists posit, God does not exist, then how can we guarantee logic actually exists in the universe? Could it be that, in order to maintain our sanity, we assign meaning to things which, in fact, lack the meaning assigned? Do we assign logic where there is no logic? Food for thought….

Character Set Woes, or How C# and Java Differ When Writing to a File

Recently, I just finished porting my Java JAR-based console app to C# .NET. It was a fun, challenging little venture – but there was one thing of note which makes me want to repeatedly slam my head into the nearest wall. That, my friends, is the differences in how C# and Java write an integer to a file.

 

Before I get into differences, here’s an example rundown in sudocode:

1. Assume the code will eventually be outputting to a file in the Latin-1 character set.

2. Assume the following variables exist:

  • The 16-bit integer k, used to keep track of the number of bits in a given byte.
  • The 16-bit integer j, used to keep track of what part of a given byte is being accessed.
  • The 16-bit integer i, used to keep track of which string array is being accessed.
  • The 16-bit integer s, used to store the final Latin-1 bytecode.
  • The list of the 2×1 string arrays vectorString, which stores the complete Huffman Compression encoding table; the first row contains a character, while the second row contains a string holding the bits representing the character in row 1.
  • The byte byter
  • The file writer writer; it is set to use Latin-1 encoding.

If k does not equal 8, do the following:

 If the character in element j of row 1 of the string array kept in element i of vectorString is not equal to the character 1, do the following:

Make byter equal to the result of the new byte created by applying a logical OR to byter using the result of shifting 1 by 7-k bits.

Increment k and j by 1.

Otherwise, do the following:

Make s equal to the result of applying a logical AND to byter using 0XFF

Write the Latin-1 character represented by s to a file.

Make byter equal to 0.

Make s equal to 0.

 

OK, now that we know what supposed to happen, here’s how to ensure s is correctly written to the file in each language and what that actually looks like:

Java

Write the character represented by s to the file based on the encoding used by the file writer.

bitWriter.write(s); (bitWriter is a properly-initialized FileOutputStream)

 

C# .NET

Write to a file the string created by getting the Latin-1-formatted bit string of a new 1×1 byte array containing the result of  converting s to a byte.

bitWriter.Write(Encoding.GetEncoding(“iso-8859-1”).GetString(new byte[] { Convert.ToByte(s) }));

 

WHAT THE HECK HAPPENED?!?!

 

As it would turn out, Java seems to default to Latin-1 for file IO and has a nifty file writer called a file output streamer which works exclusively with raw bytes; C#, however, defaults to Unicode-16 for file IO and only has a file writer called, creatively enough, a file writer, which works exclusively with characters. The result is in Java, I can simply throw bytecode at the streamer and it outputs properly; in C#, however, I have to convert s back into a byte, then take the result of that and convert it into a Latin-1 character. It’s so head-bangingly convoluted I still can’t get over it!

Does Myst have a legacy?

A recent article on Gamasutra raised an interesting question: does the classic first-person adventure game Myst really have a legacy? If someone were to ask me this, I’d say yes. However, I don’t think it left the kind of legacy most games do. Most games leave legacies which impact the video game industry. Sierra On-Line’s Quest brand of games, especially the King’s Quest series, led games into exciting new frontiers, from cinematic music scores using the once state-of-the-art Roland MT-32 Multi-Timbre Sound Module to full voice acting via the once-massive massive 600MB capacity of CD-ROMs, while games like Defender of the Crown were the forerunners of cinematic gaming with lush backgrounds and meticulously-detailed characters. Even spectacular failures left legacies – Jurassic Park: Trespasser is a notable example as its impressive-yet-horrifically-issue-ridden physics engine laid the groundwork for physics-driven first-person games like Half-Life 2.

However, Myst didn’t spawn a new breed of games which cleanly walked the line between art and an actual game – instead, it purportedly ended up singlehandedly killing the adventure game genre, paving the way for first-person shooters like Doom, Quake, and Half-Life. In fact, the only game which follows the Myst formula and people are to know about is the PS3 game Journey.

Think about it: both Myst and Journey minimize interactions to form an emphasis on artistic storytelling and world-building while providing puzzles of varying difficulties and complexities for the player to solve. Yet Journey is an epic tale of the journey you and others take across the world, while Myst is more of a chronicle of your adventures in a foreign land and a collection of interwoven, intimate tales on a small cast of characters you rarely get to interact with.

The legacy I think Myst left is the impact it had on its fans. Not only did it tell intimate stories, it build fantastic, lush worlds which hold (or once held) fantastic forms of life, both humanoid and alien. It also gave players puzzles to solve which were often very relatable, such as needing to read a compass or matching sounds to pictures of the animals which made them, and also tied well into the worlds and stories – how often does the solution to puzzles lie in learning a foreign number system through playing and observing a simple children’s game based around a terrible, ritualistic sacrifice? (If you played Myst’s first sequel, Riven, that’s exactly what you get to do.)

Honestly, I don’t think a Myst-like game would be appealing to publishers today. In a world where games tend to be, among other things, epic, flashy, and energetic, Myst hold a unique blend of intimacy, slow pacing, thoughtfulness, and exploration which goes against much of what’s being published today. Thankfully, Cyan Worlds is hoping to crowdfund enough money of Kickstarter to create a spiritual successor to Myst called Obduction. While, as of this writing, they’re 8 days away from their deadline and $266,008 away from the ambitious $1.1 million dollar goal. While I don’t think Cyan Worlds will make it, I do literally hope and pray they’ll make it. I think the legacy of Myst deserves to live on – it’s a rare breed of game which takes players on a unique, memorable journey they won’t soon forget.

Comments, anyone?

Hey everyone! If you have any comments, feel free to share them with me via the “add a comment” button found in most of my posts as I really appreciate the feedback!

Welcome all!

Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the Conflicting Genius blog – the official blog for my website (also called Conflicting Genius). Here, I’ll muse on everything past, present, and future – whether it be on that one game which will be awesome when it releases next year, reflecting on my artistic love of 1980’s-1990’s Japanese lens flares, or commenting on the raw power of Google Fiber. Buckle up, everyone – it’s gonna be a wild ride!