Friday, January 27, 2017

Nintendo Switch Impressions

We go hand-on with Nintendo's latest home console, the Nintendo Switch. And in typical Nintendo fashion it is at once impressive, charming, and confusing.

It was hard to not to feel a little confused watching Friday’s Nintendo Switch reveal. Although we got a good at look at the hardware and its features, when it came to the game side of things (outside of a handful of Nintendo titles) you got the impression that the system was still a long way from being consumer ready. Once the presentation was over we could only recall two titles that would be available at launch on March 3. With one of the two, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, also being released day and date for Nintendo’s current console -- the Wii U.

The wonderfully weird looking (in terms of seeing Mario run around New York style streets) Super Mario Odyssey is slated for a Holiday 2017 release. Super Mario Kart 8 Deluxe in April, the new and intriguing ARMS dated for some time in Autumn, and even the now kind of old The Elder Scroll V: Skyrim coming sometime this Spring.

It’s certainly worrying. Or, begs the question, why aren’t more games going to be ready in-time for launch?

Leading up to the Nintendo Switch reveal we were of the impression that Nintendo were looking to move away from the limited library that plagued the Wii U upon release, or if you go back far enough -- the launch of the Nintendo 64. During the reveal, we were expecting to be shown several original titles from Nintendo and its stable of studios to convey what the Switch was all about. In the end, we were shown two – with the more intriguing ARMS not being ready in time for launch.

The first game shown, 1-2-Switch was presented as is – a collection of mini-games to showcase the portability of the console and the tech packed into each tiny Joy-Con. Interesting sure, but it was hard to shake the feeling of Wii déjà vu. And with 1-2-Switch being sold separately, admittedly at a lower price, one wonders why it wasn’t announced as a pack-in title. But as they say, seeing is believing. So, we decided to reserve any judgement until we got to go hands-on with the console. Which we did at an event held in Melbourne, the following day.

Meeting the Switch

Seeing the Switch in person the first thing you notice is how small it is, a lot smaller than what you’d expect. And that’s not small in a negative sense, but in a sleek, stylish and modern one. It’s thin, incredibly so. And light, comfortable, and bright too. Once you see Zelda and Mario Kart running on it, it almost feels like magic. Especially when you switch between handheld mode and the console being docked and projected onto a TV in a matter of seconds.

Initially the plan was to make a by-line for Zelda, get some quality Hyrule time in before venturing out into the uncharted waters of futuristic boxing (ARMS) and quick-draw shooting (1-2-Switch). Turns out that was the plan for a lot of people, so I was left to wander around the space and take in the Switch from afar. A new open-world Zelda game is an exciting proposition to say the least, and having such a game as a flagship launch title for a new console is worth pointing out.

Plus, for a Zelda fan Breath of the Wild looks like it could possibly be a franchise best. And the trailer that was shown at the Nintendo Switch reveal almost made up for the somewhat awkward presentation that preceded it.

Instead my first Switch experience was with the F-Zero inspired ‘Fast RMX’, playing it both on a TV screen with a Pro Controller, and in handheld mode with the Joy-Cons connected to the Switch unit on each side. Because hey, it was a free booth and I was there to play some Switch. And although it was a game I hadn’t heard of before, Fast RMX was impressive. If oddly titled. And there’s something to said for testing out a new console with a futuristic driving game. One of my first experiences with the Super Nintendo in the early ‘90s was F-Zero, so in a way it felt like coming home. And thankfully the controls were responsive and the Ikaruga-style colour switching that changes your vehicle’s engine from blue to orange to go through all the different boosts was an interesting and fun take on the genre. Fast RMX is shaping up to be a solid racer no doubt, and one that we’re keen to check out again.

A Breath of Fresh Air. New Zelda!

The Nintendo Switch’s 6” screen is bright and sharp in a way that Nintendo handhelds have never been. Playing the new Zelda game in handheld mode you get the impression that you’re playing something that probably wasn’t meant to be played this way. Like a hobbyist that has modified an old console, attached a screen, and let you play a classic title in your lap. Originally a Wii U title, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild was quite possibly never meant to be played as a handheld title. And even though the Wii U has second screen functionality, when it dawns on you that you can play the Switch anywhere, at any time, it’s hard not to walk away impressed.

When viewed as a standard console connected to a TV, the situation is entirely different. In your hands the lush environments and wonderful animation of Breath of the Wild are gorgeous. On a larger screen, they still look great but you can see the edges and technical shortcomings. Especially when compared to consoles like the PS4 and Xbox One. In strict visual terms the Switch is an improvement on the Wii U, but only slightly so. On paper that may sound like a fatal mistake made on Nintendo’s part, but for a handheld it’s more than enough. And makes a great first impression. If played that way.

As for The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, getting to play through a small chunk of the opening was enough to convince me that it’s going to be something special. Not that it needs anymore hype. But the fact that it adopts a few open world mechanics from other developers, like activating towers to reveal all nearby locations on the map, to giving you the freedom to get distracted with silly things like starting grass fires with a torch, speaks to the scope of the game. Throw in RPG and survival mechanics, classic Zelda combat and character interaction, and Breath of the Wild feels like the most ambitious entry in the franchise since its transition to 3D graphics in the late ‘90s.

But even though Zelda, and Mario Kart 8, and Splatoon 2 all looked and played great on the Switch, being a new Nintendo console meant that you should expect to see something new from Nintendo itself. And unexpected.

The 1-2 Punch

1-2-Switch is a game that offers up two-player mini-games where each player holds one of the Joy-Con controllers and take part in activities that don’t require much if any screen interaction. In fact, pretty much all the games demonstrated required players look each other in the eye. A bold, if questionable move on Nintendo’s part. That translates to quick-draw events where the first to shoot wins, a samurai game where one players swings and the other player tries to catch the sword before it strikes them. There was also milking (of the dairy farm variety), a few balance games and table tennis. So yeah, it’s not really a traditional game per se but it’s fun in its own way. And reminiscent of the wackiness of the Wario Ware series. The only downside being that 1-2-Switch looks like the sort of pack-in title that is fun for a crowd but something that would grow old kind of quickly.

As a technical demonstration 1-2-Switch is almost entirely focused on the new Joy-Con controllers. Which although tiny are impressive in that they’re more responsive than the Wii-motes in terms of motion control, and the new rumble feature accurately conveys movement within the controller itself.

It’s a shame that ARMS won’t be ready in time for launch, as it’s certainly a better showcase for the console’s new controllers. First and foremost, it’s not a glorified version of Wii Boxing. In fact, if we had to compare it to something else we’d point to the mecha combat arcade title Virtua On from Sega. Because in ARMS each Joy-Con not only acts as a fist, but a floating joystick that forces you to tilt in unison to move left or right, block an incoming attack by pointing them inward, and press multiple buttons to jump, dash, or activate a special attack. It takes a little while to get the hang of, but once you do it’s, well, awesome. And like Virtua On each fighter you choose has a different playstyle, which can be customised even further with different glove combinations. In ARMS motion control are not a gimmick, but the basis for a strategic boxing title that oozes personality.

But to be enjoyed properly, as with any two-player fighting game you’ll need all the peripherals. In this case an extra set of Joy-Con controllers, which will set you back a somewhat startling $119.95.

The Questions That Remain

As a first look we came away from the Nintendo Switch event impressed. The console itself is impressive in its size and performance as a handheld. The Joy-Con controllers may be small but games like ARMS showcase their versatility and complexity. Zelda looked great on the small screen, and impressed on the big screen too. In a lot of ways what was shown felt like a sleeker version of the Wii U. But then again, a lot of that was due to the library of titles shown, an almost best-of list from Nintendo’s last console thanks to the inclusion of Mario Kart 8 Deluxe and Splatoon 2.

Super Mario Odyssey may be coming towards the end of the year, but the plumber’s absence closer to the Switch launch makes that seem like a lifetime away. Third-party support is there, but not enough of it to make you feel in anyway comfortable. A fact that’s becoming a Nintendo console staple these days. And then there’s the price, $469.95 AUD for a machine that is noticeably inferior to the PS4 and Xbox One in terms of raw performance. And more expensive. In fact, from a technical standpoint the Switch is more PS3 and Xbox 360 than the current generation of home consoles. Also, for that price you don’t get any games. 1-2-Switch will be sold separately, a title purposely built to showcase the new Joy-Con controllers. And something that could have easily been a pack-in game ala Wii Sports.

But we also understand why it’s not. The Switch isn’t just about motion controls. It’s an amalgam of Nintendo ideas, the logical conclusion of its hardware forays of the preceding decade, from the Wii to the 3DS and even the Wii U. So, the game line-up features a little bit of everything. And by little bit we mean just that, as there’s not a huge library of content coming in 2017.

And then there’s the questions that remain. What does the UI look like? How will it perform? What sort of application support will there be? Will there be Virtual Console stuff on day one? Why is the new Nintendo Online service scheduled to debut later in the year and not at launch? Are the 25-30 games announced so far for 2017 going to be indicative of 2018 too? In addition to impressive, ‘uneasy’ would be another one word to describe the Nintendo Switch reveal. We certainly had a lot of fun playing most of the titles showcased so far. ARMS was a blast, and Zelda was, well, Zelda.

The only problem was that we were left with as many questions on the way out as we did going in.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Videogame Sales Are Fading and It’s Crushing GameStop

GameStop may need a new start. The videogame retailer released details about its holiday sales Friday, and they weren’t pretty. It’s yet another sign of the eroding business for physical games.
Sales at GameStop fell 16.4% in the last nine weeks of 2016, the company said, compared with the same period a year earlier. Shares of GameStop tumbled 9% on the news, to $22.50.
All sides of the gaming business contributed to the decline. Even the hot new Nintendo NES Classic device couldn’t make up for big drops in Sony’s PlayStation 4 and Microsoft’s Xbox One console sales.
And the company struggled to sell new video games “due to difficult comparisons to titles launched a year ago,” according to a press release. But it’s not just that some big 2015 games did well. The 2016 versions -- like Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare, released in November -- did particularly poorly.
GameStop shares are down 16% in the last 12 months. Investors are paying just six times estimated earnings for the stock. That price-to-earnings ratio is 66% less than what the typical big stock gets.
There’s good reason for the skepticism. Even though 2017 is expected to bring a better slate of games, the challenges facing traditional game retailers aren’t going away. It’s tough to get people to buy physical games in stores these days when they can play games on their phone or download titles directly to their consoles.
Stores like Target and Best Buy suffer from the same game problems, but they sell plenty of other items too. GameStop needs to distance itself from all this gaming.
The good news for GameStop: It has growing non-gaming businesses. The company has had success selling Apple products through its Simply Mac stores, prepaid phone plans through its Cricket Wireless stores, and collectible items like Pokémon memorabilia.
These areas have their own challenges -- Pokémon won’t be cool forever, and sales of iPhones, iPads, and Macs all took hits in the latest quarter – but non-gaming businesses may have made up 40% of 2016 earnings. This is the sort of diversification the company needs to prioritize.
Meanwhile, there could be one more hope. Last night, Nintendo announced that its latest console, the Switch, will go on sale on March 3 for $299. A successful launch could provide at least some relief for GameStop shares.
Big Picture: GameStop had a dismal holiday season, underscoring the problems facing traditional game retailers.

Snapchat lost its magic

If you ever used and liked Snapchat, I’m sorry. It’s ruined now.
Snapchat stories were beautiful in their simplicity. You could only upload snaps to your story that were taken as they happened, inside the app. It felt real and authentic. Now, Snapchat has rolled out Memories, which allows you to save pictures to the app, as well as upload old pictures to your story.
This feels just like when Instagram turned on an algorithmic timeline. It destroyed one of the underlying core principles that made the app so good. Right now, stories are spontaneous. They feature a cute dog you saw walking down the street, or some blurry footage from a drunken night out. Now, people are going to upload only the best, most polished snaps to their story. This sucks. Snapchat always felt so raw, and now it’s just another Instagram or Facebook.
Spontaneity is what made the app so fun to use. I check Snapchat to see what friends are up to right now, as it happens. The next day the slate is wiped clean, ready for new content from that day. I don’t want to see an edited photo from your vacation in Belize six months ago. I want to see what you’re eating for lunch. Seriously! Snapchat is for everyday casual pictures, and Instagram is for your very best pictures. Snapchat messed up that magic dynamic.
There is a pretty obvious reason as to why Snapchat might have made this god-awful change: ads. With the ability to upload more content to stories, Snapchat will now have more surface area to show more ads. Dumbass attempts to increase ad revenue has helped screwed a lot of other once great tech products, so the ruin of Snapchat was always inevitable. The company actually broke from the ephemeral model three years ago, when it started selling replays for $1.
Memories will fundamentally change how Snapchat is used, unlike replays or fun and addictive features like filters. Snapchat was the best app for seeing what people were up to in real time, and now it has lost that magic.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Why Millennials are Trending Toward Minimalism

You will certainly find short-term worry about not enough people buying enough stuff—but that worry has always existed. In a society that bases its measures of success in terms of home prices, market values, and GDP, there will always be a need to prompt citizens to buy more and more.
But beyond the short-term unease, there is a long-term anxiety clouding the retail market. This long-term worry is far more significant and can be summarized in one sentence: Millennials don’t want to buy stuff.
Business publications have been covering the story for years: Fast Company, Fortune, TIME, The Atlantic, BloombergThe Wall Street Journal, even Goldman Sachs.
Recently, in a radio interview for a station in Montreal, I was asked if I thought the desire to downsize was age-related. In the mind of the interviewer, it seemed to make sense that the older one got, the more they recognized the emptiness of material possessions and the need to minimize.
I assured the interviewer this was not always the case. In fact, from everything I can tell, the desire to minimize and declutter stretches across each of the generations. It is growing among the Silent Generation, the Baby Boomer Generation, Generation X, and the Millennials. In my new book, The More of Less: Finding the Life You Want Under Everything You Own, I highlight each of the unique forces drawing people of every age to minimalism.
But for the sake of this post, let’s consider some of the reasons Millennials are refusing to partake in the retail game as the rules are currently constructed and why retail giants are worried about it:
Technology and Mobility: The Millennials are the first generation born after the technological revolution. The world feels smaller to them than previous generations and they are intimately connected to one other—regardless of geography. Coffee shops have become the new office, collaboration has become the new competition, and mobility has become the new stability. And, as many Millennials will tell you, it is difficult to live a mobile lifestyle with a house full of stuff.
The Sharing Economy: Technology has ushered in a new connectedness with one another. Additionally, it has provided a platform on which access can take precedence of ownership. With the touch of a thumb, we can now borrow someone else’s home, bike, car, book, musicunused stuff, or countless other possessions. Ownership has never been less necessary.
Environmental Concerns: The Millennial generation is the most environmentally conscious of all age groups and this influences their buying habits significantly.
Living Preferences: The Wall Street Journal once reported 88% of Millennials desire to live in an urban setting and that one-third of the generation is willing to pay more because of it. Over the past several decades, retailers have banked on the growth of suburbia—bigger and bigger homes, further away from town-centers, fostering isolation, individualism, and personal ownership. As younger generations migrate toward smaller dwellings in walkable communities with shared amenities, consumer consumption will continue to slow.
Experiences > Possessions: As I have argued in the past, minimalism is not the end of spending. Even when minimalist principles are adopted on a large scale, the transfer of money will still take place—money will just be spent on different things than physical possessions (you can read more here: A New Minimalist Economy). The Millennial generation is proving this to be true, spending less on possessions, but more on wellness, food, drink, and experiences.
Debt/Unemployment: Certainly, significant economic trends have brought with it new shopping habits. The Millennial Generation has graduated college and entered the workforce in the middle of the Great Recession. In fact, most economic studies would indicate this generation is entering one of the worst working environments in modern history burdened with more student loans than ever.
Corporate Mistrust: Economic forces (housing bubble, student debt, shrinking of the middle class) and generational preferences (the environment, social justice) have resulted in a generation distrusting of large corporations and “the 1%” who run them. According to one study, 75% said that it’s important that a company gives back to society instead of just making a profit. While it would be interesting to know how previous generations would have answered the same question, one thing is for certain: the Millennial Generation is acting on this belief and choosing smaller, local retailers for their purchasing needs because of it.
There is one more factor that I think is quite significant. There is growing evidence that the Millennial Generation is “delaying adulthood.” At least, they are delaying adulthood as defined by economists (getting married, buying homes and cars, having children). Researchers point out that marriage is important to Millennials, they just want to do it later—the same with parenthood.
It remains to be seen whether the economic conditions of their upbringing have shaped Millennials to be minimal by nature or whether future economic growth and rites of passage will cause them to slip into the same excess of ownership that previous generations have fallen into.
But I am hopeful for the Millennial Generation. At the very least, they have examples to learn from. For example, both their parents and their grandparents continue to live beyond their means in crippling debt.
Millennials appear to be a generation hard-wired for minimalism.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

A giant mystery: 18 strange giant skeletons found in Wisconsin: Sons of god; Men of renown

Here's one for your "Forbidden Archaeology" file.Scientists are remaining stubbornly silent about a lost race of giants found in burial mounds near Lake Delavan, Wisconsin, in May 1912. The dig site at Lake Delavan was overseen by Beloit College and it included more than 200 effigy mounds that proved to be classic examples of 8th century Woodland Culture. But the enormous size of the skeletons and elongated skulls found in May 1912 did not fit very neatly into anyone's concept of a textbook standard. They were enormous. These were not average human beings.

Strange Skulls

First reported in the 4 May 1912 issue of the New York Times the 18 skeletons found by the Peterson brothers on Lake Lawn Farm in southwest Wisconsin exhibited several strange and freakish features.

Their heights ranged between 7.6ft and 10 feet and their skulls "presumably those of men, are much larger than the heads of any race which inhabit America to-day." They tend to have a double row of teeth, 6 fingers, 6 toes and like humans came in differant races. The teeth in the front of the jaw are regular molars. Heads usually found are elongated believed due to longer than normal life span.

" One must wonder how much can they lift if twice the size of a average human today? Are these the Giants the Bible & many other civilizations have in their history and painted on their walls. The Bible in Genisis 6:4 " There were giants in the earth in those days; and also after that, when the sons of God came in unto the daughters of men, and they bare children to them, the same became mighty men which were of old men of renown. " Now this is faulty logic to any scientist out there because I am using religous/cultural history to fill a hole in science.

Over 200 Giant digs have been found in recent years. Giant skeleton finds have not made the local/national news since the 1950's for the most part. It seems in most peoples opinion do to the fear that people would question evolution . If anything a de-evolution.

In 2002, National Geographic reported a dozen Cyclops skeletons found in Greece that stood 12-15 1/2 Ft tall. That is 3 humans tall. One eye socket. Giants in history are typically cannibalistic in nature. The reason why I am bringing up giants will all tie into politics, and word happenings. Look at a basketball hoop and add 5 feet. That tall. Greek Mythology talks about war with cyclops learning they had to bring down by taking out their legs rendering them slow and helpless. American Giants (Red Hair Giants) where found with egyptian writing on their tombs have been found in multiple locations.

© SouthMilwaukeeNow
Mystery of The Wisconsin Giants

Was this some sort of prank, a hoax played by local farm boys or a demented taxidermist for fun and the attention of the press? The answer is no.

The Lake Delavan find of May 1912 was only one of dozens and dozens of similar finds that were reported in local newspapers from 1851 forward to the present day. It was not even the first set of giant skeletons found in Wisconsin.

On 10 August 1891, the New York Times reported that scientists from the Smithsonian Institution had discovered several large "pyramidal monuments" on Lake Mills, near Madison, Wisconsin. "Madison was in ancient days the centre of a teeming population numbering not less than 200,000," the Times said. The excavators found an elaborate system of defensive works which they named Fort Aztalan.

"The celebrated mounds of Ohio and Indiana can bear no comparison, either in size, design or the skill displayed in their construction with these gigantic and mysterious monuments of earth -- erected we know not by whom, and for what purpose we can only conjecture," said the Times.

On 20 December 1897, the Times followed up with a report on three large burial mounds that had been discovered in Maple Creek, Wisconsin. One had recently been opened.

"In it was found the skeleton of a man of gigantic size. The bones measured from head to foot over nine feet and were in a fair state of preservation. The skull was as large as a half bushel measure. Some finely tempered rods of copper and other relics were lying near the bones."

Giant skulls and skeletons of a race of "Goliaths" have been found on a very regular basis throughout the Midwestern states for more than 100 years. Giants have been found in Minnesota, Iowa, Illinois, Ohio, Kentucky and New York, and their burial sites are similar to the well-known mounds of the Mound Builder people.

The spectrum of Mound builder history spans a period of more than 5,000 years (from 3400 BCE to the 16th CE), a period greater than the history of Ancient Egypt and all of its dynasties.

There is a "prevailing scholarly consensus" that we have an adequate historical understanding of the peoples who lived in North America during this period. However, the long record of anomalous finds like those at Lake Delavan suggests otherwise.

The Great Smithsonian Cover-Up

Has there been a giant cover-up? Why aren't there public displays of gigantic Native American skeletons at natural history museums?

The skeletons of some Mound Builders are certainly on display. There is a wonderful exhibit, for example, at the Aztalan State Park where one may see the skeleton of a "Princess of Aztalan" in the museum.
But the skeletons placed on display are normal-sized, and according to some sources, the skeletons of giants have been covered up.

Specifically, the Smithsonian Institution has been accused of making a deliberate effort to hide the "telling of the bones" and to keep the giant skeletons locked away.

In the words of Vine Deloria, a Native American author and professor of law:
"Modern day archaeology and anthropology have nearly sealed the door on our imaginations, broadly interpreting the North American past as devoid of anything unusual in the way of great cultures characterized by a people of unusual demeanor. The great interloper of ancient burial grounds, the nineteenth century Smithsonian Institution, created a one-way portal, through which uncounted bones have been spirited. This door and the contents of its vault are virtually sealed off to anyone, but government officials. Among these bones may lay answers not even sought by these officials concerning the deep past."
Two Giant Skeletons Near Potosi, WI

The January 13th, 1870 edition of the Wisconsin Decatur Republican reported that two giant, well-preserved skeletons of an unknown race were discovered near Potosi, WI by workers digging the foundation of a saw mill near the bank of the Mississippi river. One skeleton measured seven-and-a-half feet, the other eight feet. The skulls of each had prominent cheek bones and double rows of teeth. A large collection of arrowheads and "strange toys" were found buried with the remains.

© SouthMilwaukeeNow
Giant Skeleton Discovered in Maple Creek, WI

On December 20th, 1897 the New York Times reported that three large burial mounds had been discovered near Maple Creek, WI. Upon excavation, a skeleton measuring over nine feet from head to toe was discovered with finely tempered copper rods and other relics.

Giant Skeleton in West Bend, WI

A giant skeleton was unearthed outside of West Bend near Lizard Mound County Park and assembled by local farmers to a height of eight feet. More about this can be found in Washington County Paranormal: A Wisconsin Legend Trip by local author and investigator J. Nathan Couch.

While a normal-sized skeleton of a supposed mound builder (the "Princess of Aztalan") is on display at the site of several large pyramidal monuments near Madison called Aztalan State Park, the goliath remains of Wisconsin's giants have vanished along with the hundreds of others discovered throughout the midwest.

Many have accused the Smithsonian Institution of covering up these discoveries, locking the giant skeletons away and depriving the public of their findings.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Why Hollywood is Dead

Hollywood has no problem being dumb, sleazy and violent. Those are all known and marketable qualities. What it does not look is appearing desperate. Desperation however is what the Oscars of this year and last year have in common. They stink of an industry desperately racing its own age and irrelevance reaching for gimmicks to try and hang on to a younger audience.

The dirty little secret is that Hollywood hardly exists anymore. The industry is bigger than ever, but its bread and butter consists of 200 and 300 million dollar special effects festivals filmed in front of green screens and created in Photoshop and three-dimensional graphics programs. They star obscure or mildly famous actors and they do two-thirds of their business abroad.

America is still the official headquarters of the global entertainment industry, but many of the bigger projects are filmed internationally with foreign money and intended for foreign markets. What the American corporations bring to the table is the intellectual property which is why the latest spasm of mergers and buyouts has focused on taking control of every treasury of classic marketable properties.

Disney has put Star Wars, Mickey and Marvel Comics under one roof. It's impressive from a business standpoint, but bankrupt from a creative standpoint. Old Americana is being milked dry for the sake of turning out another disposable movie starring familiar characters. The movies are actually still the same.

The blockbuster has mutated into its final stage. The "individual" movie is almost dead. Forget Jaws or Raiders of the Lost Ark. The modern blockbuster is seamless and soulless. An impersonal work that renders the director and cast irrelevant. The criticism has been made before, but what is new now is the percentage of special effects and the cost. The more expensive a movie becomes, the more risk averse its producers are.

If a movie is going to cost 200 million dollars to make, then it has to be identical to the other 200 million dollar movies that were profitable. The template is there. All that's left is to plug in another talented Korean, British, Russian or even perhaps American director, and then roll out the same movie with characters from another property.

The movie must have collapsing skyscrapers, massive explosions and a few slumming character actors. What it cannot have is too much dialogue or plot, because those don't translate well. How a movie will play in Topeka or even Los Angeles doesn't matter nearly as much as how it will play in Beijing, Moscow and everywhere else.

Hollywood makes movies on the side. What it really does is manufacture special effects theme parks for other countries whose own entertainment industries are not yet ready for prime time. And the types of movies that it makes can be made nearly anywhere. And will eventually be made anywhere. Tinseltown is pretending to be artistic and creative, even while both qualities are dead as doornails.

These days Hollywood resembles the decline of the British film industry, kept alive by state subsidies and used as a talent base for other countries. At some point, American actors and directors will move on to next conglomeration of capital and audiences in Asia, the way that British actors and directors moved on to Hollywood. The next Hollywood will speak Mandarin. Its executives will buy up American properties and film them in China. The casts will be diverse, the plots will not exist and every movie will be mostly the same. In other words it will be exactly like Hollywood is now.

The blockbuster of 2025 will be Made in China. It will feature 1. Aliens 2. Robots. 3. Buildings collapsing. It will have a pro-China message, but the Western writers hired to insert some topical dialogue for Western audiences will throw in a few relevant lines for the version that is released here. The Indian, Russian and South American writers will do the same thing for their versions.

Hollywood will become the American distribution arm of a new global film industry that can make the same bad movies more cheaply and easily. Its executives will recommend properties for the head office in Beijing to buy up. Occasionally they may even be allowed to make some of their own movies. There will be plenty of nostalgia and the usual tawdry independent movies funded by taxpayer subsidies that you can find in Europe's own buggy whip movie industries.

The big wheels of the industry already know this. But they don't have much of a choice. Hollywood has been frantically chasing the youth market with each new incarnation of entertainment technology. Hollywood spent decades making movies bashing television for competing with it for its audience. Eventually the electronics companies that fielded the first television networks dumped their products into the same pool as the movie studios, but by then the internet had begun to take off. And all the movies demonizing the internet haven't done anything to stop it.

The movie/television/comic book conglomerates are competing for younger audiences against video games and the internet. And the internet is winning. The median age for most of the entertainment industry's products is old. Some of that can be attributed to demographic collection technologies that rely too much on traditional viewership, but much of it is just reality. Hollywood may bring in James Franco or the creator of Family Guy to host its industry party, but that doesn't change how old it is.

The entertainment industry dumbed down its products to the lowest common denominator to target the teenager. And in the process the entertainment industry destroyed itself. Television networks killed family hour to chase upscale twenty-somethings and wiped out their own viewership. Their big brothers destroyed the movie theater by making it indistinguishable from an amusement park ride. The television network model killed networks and the cable networks that adopted that same model are about to get whacked by the collapse of the cable bundle business model. The movie model made the movie easy to reproduce by any country with enough capital and digital artists. These days that's the People's Republic of China.

Hollywood movies are already being made to Chinese specifications, complete with Communist censorship, and that's only the beginning. If China's economy does not collapse, then it will become the tail that wags the Hollywood dog. And Hollywood will be history.

The death of Hollywood would have been a tragedy once, but these days it's almost a relief. It leaves behind a lot of great movies, almost all of them made in the past, and the best proof of that is the compulsive flood of remakes, reboots and reinventions of old properties. The spirit of the industry is gone and all that's left is a shambling zombie picking over its own brains and living off past glories while throwing elaborate industry parties that are little more than an expensive glorified reality show.

 Hollywood is still chasing relevance and the youth market. The theater conglomerates are figuring out new ways to squeeze twenty bucks out of customers in a bad economy to cover their own expenses which include revamping their theaters for youth-oriented gimmicks like 3D. But the problem is that in an economy where the under 20 and 30 crowd is out of work, those gimmicks are struggling to pay for themselves. Add in the high levels of unemployment among minority young males, who are the industry's best customers, and the picture looks even bleaker.

The Chinese kid has some money to spend after getting through a long shift of making iPads or grinding for virtual money in an online game. American kids have less money than they used to and the internet offers entertainment, including the latest pirated movies, for free, often offered by sites run by some of those same Chinese kids.

In this solipsistic environment, does the movie theater even have a future? How much room is there for a business model built around digital entertainment that doesn't run on the internet? Despite the billion-dollar grosses, theater owners are not entirely certain. There's a reason that a thimble's worth of soda and popcorn is so expensive and it's not because movie theaters are doing well. It's because everyone is behind and running up debt.

Movie studios throw fortunes into mediocre blockbusters and then spend the next three years wrangling over the profits, and cheating everyone from the director to the stars to their distributing partners of their fair share. Movie theaters pay out most of the money from the opening weekends to the studios and count on extended engagements to make money, but the modern blockbuster is one opening weekend after another with no extended engagements.

Everyone is deep in debt and counting on a string of hits to bring in audiences and save their business model. Everyone is merging and clustering together to limit the risk, while increasing the drag.

There's no future in that and Hollywood knows it. The industry is locking down intellectual properties because it knows that it's about to turn into Kodak after the digital revolution. An outdated business with nothing to offer except its rights to certain properties that more successful industries will want to make use of.

Hollywood is dead, but its corpse is still trying to carry on with business as usual. The inventive industry that mixed together vaudeville and adventure books into an entire industry that spanned the globe has long ago run out of ideas. Instead it's marking the time, deadening its nerves and doing everything it can to appear youthful. The parties are still being thrown as if the industry has not changed, as if it's still a band of salesmen and theater owners who opened their own studios and made and lost fortunes betting on geniuses and big concepts.

What we think of as Hollywood was a byproduct of the need to fill theaters, but the technology of filling theaters is being broken down on a more sophisticated level, without the need for creativity. What the big computers did to Wall Street, they are also doing to Hollywood. The future isn't a silver screen, it's a behavioral map of the most reliable ways of getting the industry's best customers into a theater to watch a product created in slave-labor countries based on templates that run on numbers, not creativity, even of the three-act kind.

Hollywood's past glories may live on as nostalgia, but it has no future. The industry is history.

Saturday, January 07, 2017

six new Fast Radio Bursts

Astronomy experts with the Green Bank Telescope in West Virginia and the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico have discovered six new Fast Radio Bursts (FRBs) emitting from a region far beyond our Milky Way galaxy, according to a recent report in the Astrophysical Journal.
We don’t know whether aliens will come in peace – or to kill every single living being on our planet
World’s largest fully steerable radio telescope at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory in Green Bank, West Virginia
The discovery — made in the direction of the Auriga constellation — has prompted wild speculation that aliens could be trying to get in touch.
It is significant considering the fact that at least 17 FRBs have now been detected in this area and is the only known instance in which these signals have been found twice in the same location in space.
The region where the signals are coming from, dubbed FRB 121102 by scientists, is located about 3 billion light years away from earth.
Five of the recently found FRBs were detected with the Green Bank Telescope, while the other was recorded by the Arecibo Observatory, “for a total of 17 bursts from this source,” the report says.
The signals were also found earlier this year and in 2012.
According to experts, the FRBs could be the result of two things: solar flares from a neutron star or extra-terrestrials. But it’s still too early to tell.
The confirmed detection of alien signals would be one of the the biggest discoveries in human history

“Whether FRB 121102 is a unique object in the currently known sample of FRBs, or all FRBs are capable of repeating, its characterization is extremely important to understanding fast extra-galactic radio transients,” the scientists write in their report.
In 2015, physicist John Learned — with the University of Hawaii at Manoa — and Michael Hippke, with the Institute for Data Analysis, published a research paper arguing that repeating FRB waves had a 1 in 2,000 chance of being coincidental.
They claimed the radio bursts either came from a man-made spy satellite or a super-dense star, which would regularly emit bursts of radio waves.
Earlier this year, a team of astronomers from Laval University in Quebec published a report saying they had detected strange signals in a small cluster of stars.
Using data from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, the pair analysed the spectra of 2.5 million different stars and discovered at least 234 that were producing the signals.
“We find that the detected signals have exactly the shape of an ETI [extraterrestrial intelligence] signal,” wrote Borra and Trottier. “Although unlikely…there is also a possibility that the signals are due to highly peculiar chemical compositions in a small fraction of galactic halo stars.”
Earlier in 20156, genius scientist Stephen Hawking said humanity must seek out intelligent life before it finds us – or we could be wiped out.
Hawking, 74, says a technologically advanced alien race could send our vulnerable race the way of the dodo if we’re not careful.