Archive from April 2013
29. April 2013

To bring a little bit of variety into this website-blog-thingy, I’m going to break with one of my long-time principles not to embed video content: starting today, I’m going to post one music video every week for a new series called Music Monday. Being a little bit of a musician myself, I’ve wanted to do this for a long time and share some of my favourites. I’m not going to upload anything myself, but I’ve set some requirements: they have to be live performances or music videos, not only songs cobbled together with some photos – and of course they have to be playable here in Germany, which makes the search for good music especially difficult because the GEMA-Youtube fight still blocks lots of stuff. I’m mirroring the postings seperately on Google+ and Facebook with the videos directly embedded and a backlink to the blog posting.

The first entry for Music Monday was not on my long-prepared list, but actually came spontaneously. It’s From Me To You, a wonderful little song by the Australian singer and songwriter Meri Amber, whom I’ve recently encountered on Google+. She has a wonderful voice and her songs and videos, available on her Youtube Channel, are amazing, thoughtful, intelligent and funny. She’s also has a great new song called Some Of My Time on triple j unearthed which she is trying to get on radio – please go and vote for her!

Kategorie: Music
23. April 2013

I already wrote about the Opera Browser switching to the WebKit engine a while back in February, but at the beginning of April the story had become even more interesting: Opera is not simply going to switch to WebKit, but will work together with Google on a fork of the open source WebKit code, which is going to be called Blink. This makes a lot of sense and while Chrome and Opera will always remain completely seperate entities, they will be powered under the hood by the same engine adhering to the same standards.

Actually only a part of Webkit called WebCore will be forked to Blink, that actually excludes a Javascript engine, which Google has developed seperately as the open source project V8. This is the engine Opera will also use, and presumably contribute to, in the future. I like Opera because of its unique user interface and features no other browser has, but I must admit that I have been using Google Chrome at the same time especially for Google+ and Facebook, because on my old, but trusty notebook Opera doesn’t render these pages as fast and fluid as Chrome. So an Opera browser with Webkit and V8 inside is going to be very handy for myself, but it’s also going to make the work of web designers much, much easier. It can also be safely assumed that the look and feel of Opera is not going to change much even after the engines have been switched. Only one thing worries me… what is going to become of Dragonfly, the powerful developer tool of Opera? Since this is geared towards the old Presto engine, it might become obsolete.

There have been no Opera desktop versions with Webkit yet, but the Norwegian browser manufacturer has already released three beta versions of Opera for Android with Webkit implementation. These have become amazingly good and are even on low-powered tablets as fast as the old Opera Mobile, but there is still a bit of work to do on the new user interface. There is no bookmark management, only a barely functioning speed dial and progress indicators are still missing – but the rendering speed and low memory usage are so good that I’ve almost completely switched to the new Opera version on my tablet.

So Opera is going to have a very bright future with Blink on the Desktop and presumably also on Android devices. Now I’m anxiously waiting for the first Beta of Opera 14 – they’re going to skip version 13 not because of superstition, but simply to mark the big internal change. Opera has wisely refrained from giving a specific release date – but I’m sure it is going to happen sometime this summer!

Science & Astronomy
18. April 2013

As a rule, I don’t do politics on my websites. But this is science threatened by politics: the budget sequestration in the USA has unbelievable repercussions for scientists and educators especially in the outreach sector. Their funding is being cut, which leads not only to less programs and education, but also to job losses. Pamela Gay, who is a Professor at the Southern Illinois University in Edwardsville and the director of CosmoQuest, is experiencing this herself right at the moment. She has been very quiet about this since the news broke that NASA is stopping most of its EPO (education and public outreach) activities, but now she has written a really heart-wrenching article about it.

The work of CosmoQuest is in danger of extinction because of the sequestration. Pamela explains in her article that not only most of what they do, but actually the salaries of her staff are funded by a NASA grant, which is going to be reduced or even cut completely in only a few months. So why should we care? What we see of their activities over the internet is actually only a small part of their work. The CosmoQuest website with the citizen science projects like Moon Mappers, the new educator’s zone and their brilliant hangouts are their most public side, but one of their most important goals is to improve science education in the USA and generally raise awareness for critical thinking, science and astronomy. They don’t want to turn every American schoolkid into a scientist, but at least encourage everyone to get interested on a basic level in science and astronomy.

This is, of course, mainly about the people who are in danger of losing their jobs, but their call for help is far from selfish. Pamela and her colleagues want to go out there and help people to understand and like science, and that’s what really counts. Unfortunately without the NASA funding CosmoQuest as it is today will probably not exist any longer, but this is why Pamela is calling for donations. I could not think of a better project to support and I wish I had the means to do so myself – but even small amounts may help. If you’re not able to donate, help by spreading Pamela’s article and get the word out what’s happening.

CosmoQuest does not deserve to die and while the outlook in Pamela’s article sounds very depressing, I really hope that it’s going to survive and everybody involved will be able continue their amazing work. And they’re not giving up by a long shot!

Science & Astronomy
11. April 2013

Tomorrow is Yuri’s Night – an open, worldwide celebration of humanity’s first spaceflight on April 12th, 1961 and also the first flight of the Space Shuttle exactly twenty years later. It’s not only about Yuri Gagarin’s flight, but simply the fact that this was the beginning of a completely new era of space exploration. Yuri’s Night is not about politics or the space race, but simply to raise more public interest about space exploration – the event has now been held since 2001 and has already become something of a tradition around the world.

It is not a formal celebration – the organizers of Yuri’s Night leave it up to everbody to make up their own event. Throw a star party, just meet somwhere, screen a movie or hold an online event – everybody can celebrate in their own way, the organizers would just appreciate if you would let them know what’s going on so they can list the event on their website. In 2013 more than 300 events in 47 countries have been reported, but unfortunately not many in Germany. While I’m not exactly planning to do a party myself, it seems to be a good occasion to collect some interesting links for all things space.

The first link is to my own article about Science & Astronomy Hangouts, which is still up to date and has mostly links to the online events of CosmoQuest, which I really don’t need to introduce further. The guest of the Learning Space Hangout from April 4th was Tim Bailey, one of the organizers of Yuri’s Night and in yesterday’s Learning Space Mike Simmons from Astronomers without Borders was talking about Global Astronomy Month – which is also this April and ties in perfectly with Yuri’s Night. Unfortunately the weather here in Germany has been terrible for Astronomy in April so far, but there is always the Virtual Star Party, the SLOOH Space Camera and the Virtual Telescope Project. Tomorrow night at 9pm CET there will be the Weekly Space Hangout from Universe Today, CosmoQuest & Co, which is probably also going to be a Yuri’s Night Edition.

So there’s much to look at and participate in even if you don’t have the time to organise or go to a party yourself. I’m not doing anything particular this year, but I think I’m going to share out at least one of my circles on my Google+ Stream tomorrow to provide even more connections. There’s also my collection of space movie reviews over at DVDLog, but these are all still in German – but I’m sure I’ll have them all translated to English for Yuri’s Night 2014!

3. April 2013

This is not completely unsurprising, but nevertheless very sad news: Disney, who bought the whole Lucasfilm empire last year from its founder George Lucas, announced that it will close down LucasArts. The games division of Lucasfilm had been in trouble for a number of years and the original company, which almost single-handedly had invented the point-and-click adventure game in the late 1980s with Maniac Mansion, has long ceased to exist. Their last true adventure game, Escape from Monkey Island, was published thirteen years ago in 2000 and from then on the almost exklusively focused on Star Wars action games. Sequels to Full Throttle and Sam & Max were even cancelled as late as 2004.

There had been a glimmer of hope in 2009, when LucasArts had allowed Telltale Games, who had already been doing a series of Sam & Max adventures, to rejuvenate the Monkey Island franchise with Tales of Monkey Island, a story told in five game episodes. In parallel, LucasArts themselves released new versions of the first two Monkey Island games with new artwork and full voice acting. While it seemed that LucasArts at least cared a little for their legacy games, nothing more had been forthcoming since then apart from some rereleases of a couple of other adventures with Windows engines.

So this is not actually the end of an era, and judging from the press releases the name LucasArts is not actually going to disappear – Disney is just going to outsource the game development to other companies. But that means people have been laid off at LucasArts – and in the current economical climate, that’s the actual sad news. But LucasArts is not alone – none of the great adventure game developers of the 1980s and 1990 exist anymore today.

I’ve actually been working on a kind of tribute site for the LucasArts adventures for a long time now and the project has been somewhat made redundant by the emergence of Wikipedia – which is not necessarily a bad thing. But I might just give it another shot and rebuild the never-finished games section of this website not only for LucasArts, but for other all adventure games. Maybe!

Kategorie: Games