Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Bark: In defence of offence

Some of you might find what I'm about to write offensive. This post will not be granny-friendly. If you're easily offended, you might want to stop reading. In fact, you might want to fuck off to somewhere else on the internet to watch My Little Pony videos. Here's a link, now fuck off... Still here? Don't say you weren't warned.

No matter what your age, creed or religion, if you're even remotely right-minded and sane, you were probably horrified by the brutal, cowardly attack by fundamentalist murderers on the Charlie Hebdo offices and kosher supermarket in Paris last week. Note that I'm not calling them "terrorists" or "Islamic", because they don't deserve the false legitimacy the label brings. The three gunmen were criminals and were no more representative of the religion of Islam than I am - and I'm a big, white, Glaswegian atheist with a Physics degree.

No matter how much the idiots and racists on Fox News would like you to believe otherwise, the Kouachi brothers and their accomplices, Amedy Coulibaly and Hayat Boumeddiene, weren't striking a blow for Islam, or seeking to avenge a perceived slight against the Prophet, they were simply using that an excuse to commit cold-blooded murder against defenceless journalists and civilians. They were trying to exercise power and impose their barbaric, medieval values on a global society that's left them behind. I'd go so far to say that it wasn't even an attack against free speech or liberty. No, this was an attack on independent thought and civilisation. From the response that I've seen from the politicians, religious leaders, journalists and people of not just France, but the entire civilised world, I'm glad that their attack failed so miserably.

I'm no friend of organised religion - or more specifically, monotheism. The reason why is because I'm a scientist, and in science, it doesn't matter who you are, whether you're an undergraduate student, a professor, a teacher or even one of the "prophets" of science (as popular mainstream media like to portray them) such as Einstein, Galileo or Newton, no idea is sacrosanct or unchallengeable. In fact, if you're a scientist, your ideas are there to be shot at (metaphorically, not with AK-47s) and challenged. The problem with monotheism, and particularly fundamentalist interpretations of monotheistic religions, is that THESE IDEAS ARE THE ONLY RIGHT ONES, AND IF YOU CHALLENGE OR RIDICULE THEM, WE TRUE BELIEVERS WILL KILL YOU, BECAUSE INFIDELS ARE NOT TRULY HUMAN... Now, I don't give a flying fuck what particular brand of religious claptrap you choose to believe in. You can believe in what you like - but you don't get to try and tell me what to think and what I'm free to say and do - especially at the threat of a barrel of a gun. All fundamentalist religion requires is faith, preferably an unthinking, unquestioning one. It takes ancient texts hundreds, if not thousands, of years old and tells you BELIEVE IN THIS, THIS IS THE ONLY KNOWLEDGE YOU WILL EVER NEED. For a scientist, this very concept is anathema. To quote Richard Feynman, it's better to have questions you cannot answer than answers that cannot be questioned. If you take away the ability to think freely, speak freely and question freely, you don't have a civilisation. You have a group of bipedal sheep, able to be bullied around by a handful of maniacs with machine guns.

And this is why, no matter what the personal threat to any individual, we cannot and must not let these barbarians, who number only a few thousand - perhaps only a hundred thousand at most - intimidate us into self-censorship, for fear of causing them offence.

Offence is necessary. Intellectually, it is vital. Every preconception and blindly-held belief must be challenged and affronted. The unsayable must be said - the forbidden and the taboo must be viewed and confronted, because not to do so leads to intellectual stagnation and the death of ideas and civilisation. We cannot and must not let a few thousand backwards barbarians dictate the global agenda and limit the freedoms of billions of people worldwide, just because they have a few guns and make shiny videos on what's laughably called "social media". And they cannot, unless we let them - because while the fundamentalists might have the weapons of fear, intimidation, guns and bombs, we - civilised people - have better weapons: education, culture, logic, reason, tolerance and forgiveness.

Let us not be fooled into thinking that this is a "war" on Islam or a "war" on Terror - that's exactly what the fundamentalists want, because it allows them to carry on in the misguided belief that they haven't already lost. This is a debate between the values that we want to respect and abide by in future generations. Do you want those values to be ones that allow people to be murdered if they are perceived to be threatened? Or do you want them to be the values that enrich everyone's lives by allowing people to freely explore all the possibilities that unrestricted thought can discover? I know which world I want to live in.

And I've always thought that if your values, faith, belief and ideology is so easily threatened by say, a teenage girl speaking up for the educational rights of women, or a bunch of geeks drawing cartoons, maybe you need a better class of ideology. And if that offends you, remember that I didn't make you read it. I didn't hold a gun to your head and make you think. And maybe if you're offended by what I've written here, maybe you should consider the idea that a fat, Scottish geek typing at an Ikea desk on a computer has more power than a thousand so-called "terrorists" with assault rifles in terms of changing the way you should think about and look at the world.

Some people have called Charlie Hebdo's response to the attack on their offices "irresponsible" and "provocative". In case you've not seen that response, it's at the bottom of this post. I call bullshit on that. The best response to an atrocity such as this is to not apologise, to not pull your punches and show the world that we will not be cowed and that we will not submit to the base manipulation of fear and intimidation. By all means, be offended by it, but think about WHY you're offended. And do not believe for a second that your offence has more value than the life of the person who offended you, nor their right to have done it. I'm a teacher, I get offended by what people say to me on an almost daily basis, but I don't go around chopping the heads off the people who said something distasteful to me (though I imagine that would be a very effective behaviour management technique...). If God, Allah, Jehovah (or whatever God or god you choose to believe in) really exists (and we're not going to go into the "evidence" debate here - suffice to say that my opinion on this matter strongly agrees with Russell's Teapot), and is, in fact, omnipotent and omniscient, He doesn't really need His "honour" "defended" by a fleshy meatbag with an RPG launcher...

But if the fundamentalists really do want a "war", they should just name the time and place. Seriously, fundamentalists. Get yourselves all together into a nice desert somewhere, and we can duke it out. Except they'd never do that, because I forgot to mention one of our better weapons: nukes. We really could bomb them back into the Stone Age that they so clearly want to live in... Though you know what? We wouldn't do that, either - because we're better than them. Even crackpot, fundamentalist life has an intrinsic value, so these people don't deserve your hatred and fear. They deserve your pity, empathy and forgiveness. No matter how many innocents they try to kill or subdue, we need to continue to challenge their barbaric doctrine with education and reason, until they can finally see that their values are not wanted by us, are not tolerable by us, and that they were never worth fighting for to begin with. And finally, we certainly must not do their job for them by voluntarily ceding the freedoms that the Charlie Hebdo staff died for by taking them away with "security" legislation. To paraphrase Abraham Lincoln, any society willing to trade a little freedom for a little security will lose both and deserve neither - a lesson that's been forgotten all too often in the last fourteen years.

I'm going to leave you with a few of my favourite responses from the peers of the cartoonists killed in the Charlie Hebdo attack. They sum the whole thing up pretty well.

Nous sommes tous Charlie. Fuck fundamentalism and fundamentalists. And fuck their mothers, too. (But only if they're MILFs...)

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Byte: A plug for the Elite Shipyard

In case you've not seen this yet, taleden on the Elite: Dangerous forums has put together a brilliant tool - the Elite Shipyard. Currently, it's still a bit of a work in progress, but if you want to find out how much that top-spec Imperial Clipper is going to set you back, and how much cash you need in reserve on the off-chance that you wreck it, well, now you can do exactly that.

It's 146.78 million credits, incidentally. The insurance alone is 5.4 million, and that's with the Beta discount. I'm going to have to get saving...

Byte: Elite: Dangerous - Adder review

Screenshot_0133 Adder
Cost: 87,808Cr (As of v1.00)
Recommended weapon loadout 1 (Trader): x1 C2 Beam Laser (Gimballed) x2 C1 Beam Lasers (Turreted)
Recommended weapon loadout 2 (Explorer): x1 C2 Pulse Laser (Gimballed), x2 C1 Beam Lasers (Fixed)
Recommended weapon loadout 3 (Multi-role): x1 C2 Multi-cannon (Gimballed), x2 C1 Beam Lasers (Fixed)
Recommended modules: Chaff Launcher, Point Defence Turret

Why you should fly it: Essentially, the Adder is a poor man's Cobra Mark III. The Adder provides the player with the cheapest access to a Medium weapon hardpoint, making the ship a halfway house between the Eagle and the Cobra in terms of combat power. It's probably fair to say that the Adder isn't going to win any beauty contests, though the upturned, gullwing wingtips that come into play when you're landing the ship do add a smidgeon of coolness factor. Aesthetically, the Adder is very much a big brother to the Hauler - that is, ugly as sin. Fortunately, the Adder is second only to the Eagle in terms of its combat agility, so while it may not have durability of a Cobra, the combat power of a Viper, nor the sleek profile of an Eagle or Sidewinder, the Adder is still easily capable of handing an Asp's ass back to itself on a silver platter - provided that its pilot is mildly competent. As you can see in the video above, I didn't have too much trouble with that Cobra, and that was with basic weapons and vanilla E-rated thrusters and shields. It's probably not worth kitting one out as a combat vessel, as the money required to give an Adder the chance to compete with Pythons, Imperial Clippers, Federal Dropships and Anacondas for those lucrative asassination contracts would be more wisely invested in a bigger ship. If combat's not your thing and you simply want to use it as a stripped-down cargo shifter, it's a little bit better than a Hauler, as you can cram in 26 tonnes' worth of cargo racks, which might only be a handful more than the Hauler, but the fact that it's faster and more manoeuvrable will not only help you evade those pesky interdictions more easily, but will also speed up your turnaround time as you're docking and launching - all good for improving your profit margin in terms of cargo runs per hour. Another good use for the Adder would be as a mining vessel, as it has enough internal compartments to fit a decent-sized refinery and a few cargo racks, without having to completely sacrifice the ability to defend yourself from those unscrupulous Commanders who like to prey on asteroid grinders.
The stated design purpose of the Adder is to act as entry-tier exploration craft, and in this respect, the Adder is perfectly suited to its job. With an ultimate hyperspace range of between 22 and 25 light years, the Adder is perhaps a little short on hyperspace range to explore outwards towards the real fringes of the galaxy, but will comfortably handle exploratory forays inwards towards the galactic core. I've invested well over 2 million credits in my explori-Adder, most of that simply for the Detailed Surface and Advanced Discovery scanner, which are essential pieces of kit if you're going to make the most out of exploring. The 500 light second range on the Basic Discovery scanner is fine if you're just interested in scanning the system primary and maybe a few objects in the locality of it, but the Intermediate Discovery scanner isn't really worth the money. Over a million credits to just double the scanning range to 1000 light seconds seems a bit steep to me, as if you're a Pokemon Explorer like me (GOTTA SCAN THEM ALL!), you still have to do a lot of scrabbling around trying to find objects using visual parallax against the background stars, which is not something you want to be doing in an Adder. Save up the extra 500,000 credits and go the whole hog to get the Advanced Discovery Scanner - it detects everything in the system and makes the whole process much more straightforward and profitable. Another advantage of the Adder being a smaller ship is that the wear and tear running costs compared to an Asp are far more manageable. Overall, I really like the Adder and will be keeping mine for whenever I'm overcome by the wanderlust to pay a visit to the galactic core and some of the prettier, more easily reachable nebulae. Oh, and another thing - the Adder really sounds great. I love the sound the frame shift drive makes as it's winding down. It perhaps doesn't have the awe-inspiring sense of power and finesse that you get from the Viper, but still - Frontier's sound designers really deserve a lot of credit for giving each ship such a distinct sonic personality. It would have been so easy for them to make every ship sound the same, but each ship does have a unique character, and the Adder's a real charmer, despite the ugly duckling looks.
Why you should ditch it: The relative flimsiness of the hull and slight lack of combat power means that an Adder isn't really the ship you want to be flying if you're bounty hunting, though it is slightly more resilient than an Eagle. It's arguably a stepping stone from the Eagle up to a Viper or Cobra for the nascent bounty hunter and combateer, but there's one massive reason why you should stick with the Eagle if you're going to earn your early cash in combat, and that's the view from the cockpit.
There's no point mincing words here.
It's awful. Terrible. Execrable. Shit.
It's the single worst thing about the Adder. Hang up your TrackIR headset, or take off your Oculus Rift DK2 if you're lucky enough to have one, because in this you won't need it. Unless you like looking at the quality of the workmanship on the bulkheads, that is. This is not a ship to fly if you're claustrophobic. Combat in the Adder is mildly terrifying due to the lack of peripheral vision. You've got very little awareness of the space around you, making it very easy to collect stray ships or asteroids in the middle of a furball in a combat zone or resource gathering site. The greater combat power of the medium hardpoint on the upper hull doesn't entirely compensate for the restricted view, so you're really better off sticking with the Eagle until you can afford a Viper or Cobra. As I alluded to earlier, the poor vision from the cockpit also a disadvantage if you're using the Adder for exploring. If you can't afford an Advanced Discovery Scanner, trying to find distant objects using visual parallax is not easy with such a small view out of the canopy. A Sidewinder or Eagle, with their lovely open-top canopies, are much better for early game exploring, as you're much more likely to be able to pick up those tell-tale movements against the sky if you've got more of it to look at. The Advanced Discovery Scanner negates this disadvantage, of course, but it's not a cheap solution to the problem.