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Whilst I haven’t seen an official confirmation of this, it would seem that Nintendo’s pending online subscription service is going to weigh in at between £14 and £21 per year. This is pretty remarkable, given that Sony and Microsoft charge £39.99 for their annual subscription services. If the £21 a year price is accurate, that’s just over 40p per week. Whilst questions exist about the quality and nature of the service (Nintendo plan to ‘loan’ users games on the virtual console, rather than give them away), the price is certainly good.

Will this mean a more reliable, stable service when playing games like Mario Kart online? On the Wii it was more or less a good service, but the sophistication of the consoles and games using the service has increased, as has demand. If Nintendo are going to invest their money in making sure the infrastructure is in place to make the system reliable and quick, then great. If it proves to be unreliable, people will question what they are paying for. We shall see.

I wish I didn’t have to write this, but the more time I spend looking at threads like this one (I refer to the Flat Earth nonsense I’ve discussed before), this one (vaccines are all big pharma conspiracies dude!) and all sorts of hastily generalised rubbish like this, the more I feel the need to stand up and lend my own, small voice against this tidal wave of ignorance that seems determined to come crashing down upon us.

Increasingly, we live in a world where anyone can come up with a half-baked idea (I refer once again to the flat earth theory), and with enough big words, it can be taken seriously, not because it should be, but because it sounds clever. If something contradicts a certain narrative (for example, climate change contradicts the aims and goals of big business and their powerful political allies) it gets condemned as fake news (Trump, I’m looking at you).

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Yes, sometimes scientists lie. Sometimes they get things wrong. Scientists are also human, and therefore not perfect, and sometimes the information and evidence will, at first examination, lead to incorrect conclusions. What opponents of science suggest is to throw the baby out with the bathwater – ‘if the theory is not perfect’, they crow, ‘or if scientists are not perfect, we should discount it. Here’s a replacement theory’. It doesn’t matter if the new theory offers up a poorer explanation of the facts. It doesn’t matter if it is full of holes. ‘If theory A isn’t perfect, theory B wins’, even if theory B is a load of bull.

At least the March for Science has shown there are people who are still interested in facts and in learning. I implore everyone to check it out – don’t fall for the ignorance that Trump and his ilk peddle!

I’m bored, so I’m adding to my substantial takedown of Idazmi7’s claims about the Empire and Federation by dismantling a video of his that talks about droids. This is a brief video, and the chances are he will avoid this rebuttal too, given his track record, but I wanted to put this out there anyway.

By now, the pattern of Idazmi7’s videos is one of highly biased selection. His 1.10 minute video made references to Data’s computational capacity and a brief demonstration of his strength, followed by a couple of examples from the Clone Wars cartoon of the most basic form of battle droid. As usual, he ignores a whole host of other, err, data.

Let’s start with the various types of droid in the Star Wars universe. They are designed to perform different functions – R2D2 and other similar droids are astromechs, designed to help control and repair space craft. They are equipped with the tools needed to do their job, and R2D2 himself possesses the computational capacity to interpret and understand the Death Star’s systems – as demonstrated in A New Hope. C3PO is fluent (as we are often reminded) in six million forms of communication – This is obviously very impressive and would require immense processing power as well as memory storage. C3PO was designed as protocol and interpreter droid – and this is a function he performs very well.

K2SO (from Rogue One) demonstrated the toughness of Imperial droids when he withstood repeated blasts from Stormtrooper weapons – he was a droid specialising in strategic analysis, and combat.

There have been many other droids in Star Wars, all designed with specific functions. From various war droids (including the shielded droidekas and vulture fighters), to droids made to deliver messages and carry out medical procedures, it’s pretty clear the Star Wars universe has made considerably more progress in this field.

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From Russia with love. Or alternatively, from Russia with twenty fast F1 cars, tearing around a circuit built into the former winter Olympics venue at Sochi. This will be the fourth time the Russian Grand Prix has been held here, following from a pretty average race in 2014, and with only moderately more exciting races in 2015 and 2016. Last year’s race marked the moving of the event from near the end of the season to near the start, as logistically it proved easier to manage.

2016’s race was significant in that it more or less ended Danill Kvyat’s immediate hopes of being a front-runner. He twice crashed into Sebastian Vettel on the opening lap, which led to Red Bull demoting him from the senior team and back to Toro Rosso, and promoting Max Verstappen. The rest is, as they say, history.

In the context of 2017, Formula 1 returns to Russia with Ferrari man Sebastian Vettel leading the championship by seven points from Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton. After three races, Vettel has won two of them, and the exciting thing about the season so far is that either Vettel or Hamilton could have won any of those races. The Ferraris are quick once again, so both strategy and pure racing skill are playing their part in what could be an absorbing championship battle. Russia is likely to continue that battle, though raw engine power may not be quite so much of a factor here.

The key area is the run from the start/finish line to turn 2. This is the first tight corner and it starts a sequence of repeated acceleration and braking that doesn’t really allow for the cars to sprint. With several sharp corners, this track will favour aerodynamic developments more than the previous rounds, so Red Bull could be closer to the front here. The smart money will still be on either a Ferrari or Mercedes victory, but interference from Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo will add another layer of intrigue into proceedings.

I look forward to it!

Back to F1 2017

It’s Red Vs Blue – and maybe Yellow will get involved – as the UK goes to the polls for a General Election called three years sooner than planned. Oooh!

So what’s the deal? Why has Theresa May done this? The most obvious answer is that it will be a lot easier to consolidate her position now, with Labour in disarray and the Lib Dems a non-entity at this point, than in a few years time, as there are many uncertainties on the political horizon. It seems like the Tories are going to be more or less unopposed and that they will carry a sizable majority too, giving them the mandate they want to pursue Brexit on their terms. As much as i would love to see Labour stop them, or at least gain enough ground to force a rethink, that’s not going to happen. Jeremy Corbyn is an idealist but he isn’t marketable, and there are quite a few within the Labour party who want him out. Labour would have to unify around him, and present a coherent set of policies that would work, in order to stand a chance in June, and I just don’t see that happening. Sadly​.

Athena b had been surveyed some thirty years prior to the first settlements being opened to the public. First, deep space probes had reported on a suitable atmosphere on the second planet out from the system’s star, a K1 type body that weighed in 0.876 solar masses, and bathed the system in an orange hue. A small moon stabilised what would otherwise have been an uncomfortable degree of axial tilt (Athena d was a Saturn-sized body with sixty times the mass of the earth, and it exerted a powerful presence on the system). The moon had been dubbed Mykene, another name for Athena herself. The small rocky body had floated on even as the surface of Athena b had been ravaged, unperturbed by the machinations of sentient life forms.

The main city on Athena b, Thebes (once again named after Athena) had held the communications array that beamed messages back to the Commonwealth, and though Athena b was a new colony, and one reasonably far from the border with other species, it had been required by Commonwealth law to beam a message to the nearest system every three days – a means of verifying that everything was fine. The slow but steady flow of traffic in and out of the system had provided plenty of evidence that the planet was still spinning and its inhabitants were all A-Okay, but the law was the law. It took three days for the signal (a simple ‘hi, we’re all fine’) to reach the Delta Rama system, an older colony that spanned two habitable planets and with a population of nearly half a billion human beings. The failure to receive the signal was greeted with concern but not outright alarm – system failures were hardly unheard of, and there were ships emerging from warp space that had come from Athena whose crews reported nothing out of the ordinary. Worries grew when, after four days, the traffic out of Athena dried up completely.

Tight-beam signals were bandwidth intensive, and power-hungry, and only to be used in emergencies as they couldn’t be encrypted to any reasonable degree. It took twelve hours for the signal to reach Athena, with the expectation that it would be replied to almost immediately, with a return signal received more or less twelve hours later. Even so, Admiral Sonja Broadbent, commander of the Commonwealth Navy station that orbited Delta Rama d, ordered a pair of frigates that assisted the system to head to Athena to investigate, prior to the expected reply. At best speed, the ships covered the fourteen light-year distance in just under two days, averaging 0.3 light-years per hour. Their stocky structures slipped free of warp tendrils to discover they weren’t the first arrivals. The crew of the privately owned cargo vessel Spirit of the Sea had earned that particular misfortune.

****

“Shit. Shit shit shit shit!” First Mate Bobbie Kendrick fought to keep her emotions in check at the horrific sight. Athena had been a world bubbling with promise – the settlements had quickly grown into small cities and expanded from there, as ambitious, hard-working souls had irrigated fields, started to grow crops, develop mining operations, manufacture and sell products, and forge homes for themselves. Now that was all gone, reduced to ashes.

“Two million people…” Captain (a term she applied loosely in the informal environment of her ship) Lena Schäfer took in the same sight that the small viewscreen on the command deck displayed. They were alone in the small room, an informal affair compared to military ships with their set positions for each officer. Four round chairs, fixed to the floor but capable of swiveling, were once white but the leather had faded over the years and were now more cream in colour. The helm console to the right of the captain’s chair was where Kendrick sat, looking over her captain’s shoulder at the devastation below. The large navigational display in front of her was a virtual representation of what she could see on the viewscreen, except it painted everything in a blue hue, and offered up proximity alerts where needed. Her hand had instinctively gone to the chrome gear to the right of the screen, which, when slid forward, would activate the warp engine.

Now it retracted, that immediate urgency gone, replaced by shock. Tears began to well up in her eyes; Kendrick had known some of the colonists – not particularly well, but Spirit of the Sea was gaining a customer base and with it, a sense of familiarity with the people on Athena. That was now all gone.

“Bobbie, keep us a hundred thousand clicks from the planet and shut down the main engine. We’re switching to silent running.” Somehow Schäfer had kept her voice level; Bobbie could only carry out the orders numbly, trying not to let the magnitude of what had happened get to her. She envied Lena’s calm nature, but then, she always had.

“I’m going to tell the others, wait here.” Schäfer got out of her seat, and put a comforting hand on Bobbie’s shoulder, before stepping out of the command deck. When the door slid shut, Bobbie burst into tears.

****

Anthony Yau and Sanjay Menari sat on either side of the small glass table, clutching their coffee cups for comfort. Lena was sitting at the front of the table, having quickly explained what they’d found. Anthony stared down at the black liquid in his cup, unable to speak. Sanjay turned his thoughtful brown eyes upon his captain, his young, lean face contorted by shock.

“How did this happen? We’ve been coming here for six months, there are no asteroids that come anywhere near the planet, none.”

Lena didn’t answer straight away. Her mind was still racing to catch up to what she’d witnessed. She didn’t want to give voice to the awful idea forming in her mind, not yet.

“I don’t know what happened, but as we’re the only ship here we need to follow procedure and set up the beacon. I need you two to get it up and running, please. We’ll run our sensors around, see if we can learn anything, and transmit a signal back to Delta Rama. We’ll focus on our work, and wait for the Commonwealth, and help in any way we can.”

“How?” Asked Anthony. His voice was cracking, and Lena was reminded of how young he was. At twenty-two, he had only recently lost his teenage puppy fat, and spending the past few years working cargo on Spirit had seen him develop a lean yet muscular frame that did little to dispel his image of youth. With a mop of dark brown hair and hints of his Oriental heritage that seemed to enhance his grey eyes, Anthony looked innocent, and in many respects, was exactly that. Lena looked at him, seeing a man who was young enough to be her son.

“When other ships arrive – and they will – we will be faced with angry, grieving people. We’ll have to, somehow, organise them to avoid chaos.”

“No, I mean, how did the asteroids hit Athena? Like Sanjay said, they don’t come this close.”

“I don’t have an answer for that Tony. I wish I did. We’ll wait for the authorities, and in the meantime, see if we can learn anything that will help them. If we’re working, we’ll be focused, and that will help us. Let’s get to it.”

****

By the time the frigates arrived, they were welcomed by a semi-organised mass of civilian ships, that under Captain Schäfer’s guidance, had not descended into panic, though some had already jumped from the system, and were most likely spreading word of the terrible event to blight Athena. The dark blue hulls of the military vessels were narrow, with weapon ports sliding from recesses and locking into place to prepare for any threat. Thrusters to the rear of the ships fired up, trailing blue plasma as they moved closer to the planet.

Captain Sergio Coquelin watched as his crew buzzed about the command deck in a seemingly chaotic display, knowing that everyone was in fact moving to a finely tuned rythmn. Crew members carried tablets and sat at terminals, punching in data and relaying inforrmation to where it was most needed, whilst Coquelin sat in the rigid frame of his command chair and conducted the proceedings. He’d ordered the main viewer off; it made no sense to subject everyone to the horrifying image of Athena’s still-burning surface.

His four gold stripes – two on either shoulder of his navy-blue jacket – weighed heavily upon him. The straight-forward nature of combat was relatively easy for him to manage. Disaster relief was a different matter entirely, and to make it even more of a challenge, he was the senior commander of the two Lion-class frigates, by four years. Captain Tina Futrelle was a competent commander but Navy procedure mandated Coquelin take the lead, whether he wanted to or not. That meant every message coming in from the fifty-six civilian craft was being routed to Fearless, and everyone wanted to speak directly to him. Fortunately, his crew were handling matters with their usual efficiency, and he was grateful to Schäfer. She had possessed a calm and stablising presence that Coquelin had tended to only find in military officers. It had been no surprise to learn she had been in the service, albeit not for twenty-four years.

“Once we get a reply from Command, we’ll start routing all these civilian ships out of here. Are the beacons ready?” He asked of his first officer, seated beside him in a similar, uncomfortable chair.

“Yes sir.” Replied Commander Zara Jensen. She sat ramrod straight, turning only her head to look at him. “We can deploy them at your command.”

“Very good. Let’s get too it, and secure the system. This is going to take a while.”

To Chapter Four

I can’t speak too much about this race, as I haven’t seen most of it, so I’ll speak about what I have seen, and speak a little about what I’ve read too. This was a triumph for Sebastian Vettel and Ferrari, despite the early promise for a comfortable Mercedes win.

That promise was founded on the qualifying performance of Bottas and Hamilton, that saw the former claim his first ever F1 pole and Mercedes enjoy a half-second edge over Ferrari, light years in Formula 1 terms. Quite where that extra pace had come from was a mystery, given how close the practice times had been, yet Mercedes were a lot quicker when it counted. They would not make that advantage pay.

At the very start, Bottas got away well and led but Vettel got by Hamilton and was keeping within a second or so of the Finn, undercutting Bottas at the first set of stops. There was a safety car when Stroll and Sainz (Williams and Toro Rosso respectively) came together, but I haven’t seen the incident and can’t judge as to who caused it. Having not seen the race I can’t speak too much of the permutations that followed, but Hamilton got a five-second penalty for slowing down when entering the pits and holding up the Red Bull of Ricciardo whilst the safety car was out, and twice Bottas would be asked to let his faster teammate past.

Hamilton would chase down Vettel during the final twelve or so laps, but was too far behind to catch the German, and one has to wonder if Vettel was taking it easy. A second win in three races for Vettel means the title race is firmly on, but if not for that penalty, might it have been closer? We’ll never know.

Meanwhile, there was more pain for McLaren. Vandoorne didn’t even make the start of the race, whilst Alonso retired with two laps to go, casting a frustrated figure as other cars outpaced him easily. Three retirements in a row (two of them from points-scoring positions no less) for arguably the most talented man on the grid will continue to raise questions about his future. There was better news for Renault, with Hulkenberg following up his good qualifying performance with 8th place and four points, whilst Force India got both cars into the points, with Perez climbing from 17th to 7th. Ricciardo was 5th for Red Bull, with teammate Verstappen crashing out early on due to brake failure.

So, after the opening three rounds the scores look like this: P1: Vettel – 68 points. P2: Hamilton – 61 points. P3: Bottas – 38 points. P4: Raikkonen – 34 points. Ferrari are on 102 points in the constructor’s championship, with Mercedes on 99. There remains hope that Red Bull can close the gap but they need to do so sooner rather than later. Next up, Russia.

 

Light vs dark. Good vs evil. The Resistance vs the First Order. We have our first glimpse at Star Wars Episode VIII: The last Jedi, and as with the trailers for The Force Awakens, nothing is given away. The Last Jedi appears to pick up straight where The Force Awakens left off (something already hinted at), with Luke teaching Rey about the Force. As Luke speaks, we are given brief snippets of symbolic imagery – references to the Light Side invoke images of Leia, whilst Kylo Ren’s broken helmet is met with whispers about the Dark Side. Luke suggests something about moving away from concepts of Light and Dark, and we’re also treated to images of Poe and BB8 on a ship that’s under attack, a number of pod-racer type constructs racing across a barren surface, and lots more.

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It looks like we might get a space battle featuring Republic/Resistance ships, and we appear to get another vision of the destruction Ren and his knights brought to Luke’s Jedi academy. There’s a brief clip of Finn in some of medical or stasis pod, and a brief glance of Ren, pointing his saber menacingly at someone, which follows hot on the heels of Rey running whilst wielding her saber.

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The trailer ends with Luke telling Rey he knows the truth – that the Jedi need to end. Quite what is meant by this is unclear, but then, that was the point – this is a teaser trailer, that plays its cards close to its chest. We will get another trailer closer to the time, but until then, this is an intriguing look into what’s coming.

Mortality. Legacy. Two words which come to mind when thinking of Logan. This is the most raw, passionate take on the character, exposing his vulnerability and his pain as well as making him – and through him the audience – confront his past. Logan is Wolverine but he is also Logan – a man who has lived a long life, and a life full of struggle – here, he is tired, he is weakening, and he wishes to drown his sorrows at the bottom of a bottle. His last link to the world of optimistic heroes is Charles Xavier, by this point (in the year 2026) 90 years old and suffering from seizures that amplify his telepathic powers and have harmful – even lethal – effects on the people around him. Charles retains the essence of who he is – a man who wants to help people. Logan retains the essence of who he is – a man who wants to reject what the world wants of him, is outwardly surly, and bitter, yet deep down, retains a powerful sense of doing the right thing.

Charles is Logan’s conscience, and the two of them are moved to help a young girl called Laura, when she ends up involved in their lives through chance (or is it fate?). Laura is (to paraphrase Charles) very much like Logan, in more ways than one, and though part of Logan wants nothing more than to reject the image of himself and the time that represents, he cannot help but move forward, urged by Charles and by his own sense of honour to help this little girl.

I won’t divulge the main plot details, but both Logan and Charles are old, and facing sickness and death. They have both seen much death and their responsbilities weigh heavily on their minds. This film is about finding the means to move foward, even when they feel their strength is deserting them.

Hugh Jackman gives a powerful performance as a hurting, tired Logan, and Patrick Stewart reminds us all of his prowess as an aged Charles. Films of this nature tend to get overlooked for awards, especially major awards like the Oscars, but surely the performances of Jackman and Stewart are worth considering, for they are strong, brave performances, in a film that shows (like Deadpool before it) that 15-rated comic book movies can and do work.

9/10

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It feels like it’s been barely a week since the last race – and that’s because it has only been a week! The 2017 F1 season is well underway, and round three takes us to a dusty, hot venue that in recent years has literally served up sparks – and produced a cracking duel in 2014 between Mercedes rivals Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg. Will we get any measure of a repeat this time? Given the pace Ferrari have, and the competitive streak in both Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel, anything is possible…

The heat and the nature of the braking zones in Bahrain is likely to prove tough on brakes and might even hurt the new, tougher tyres. The cars scream toward the tight turn 1 and have another sharp corner at turn 4 (on my F1 2009 game I would often loop wide here). Turn 8 is a hairpin and turn 9 is another big braking zone. Besides this, turns 1, 4, 11 (which then leads into a sweeping uphill complex) and 14 may well present overtaking opportunities, even given the increased difficulty this year (and both Vettel and Verstappen showed it can be done in China).

With so many long straights, Bahrain is likely to be dominated by Mercedes and Ferrari – the question is, who will come out on top this time?