Sunday, July 10, 2016

Space Opera: some observations

With both Dark Matter and Killjoys having just begun their second season a week ago, I feel it's about time I take some time to write about Space Operas once again. Most of this could have been written during the first season of each of the shows, but I didn't actually do so then, so I'm doing it now.


With Space Opera having come back after such a long period of almost nothing, you basically say we are in a new generation of the genre. What are the things that stand out in this generation so far?

Tasers are hot

Whether it's the bad guys using them for torture and stealthy take-overs or the government trying to do things in a non-lethal way (but often still being more brutal than necessary), everyone is using tasers. Both Dark Matter and Killjoys went with more futuristic "Shock sticks", whereas The Expanse went with traditional tasers, giving the feel that the future isn't all that different after all.

Aliens are not

It's just humans everywhere. Aliens are nowhere to be seen. The only exception to this was Otherspace, which had non-corporeal aliens. However, the only times these aliens could be "seen" they were pretending to be human. Unlike Stargate Universe did some time ago, we do often get fully populated galaxies, it's just that all that population is human.

Space zombies

Everyone's doing space zombies in some sort or form. There's different stories behind each show's zombies but somehow space zombies are a craving that is shared by all the writers.

Space is gorgeous

Of course it depends on resolution and black-quality of your screen, but there's a lot more possible in sfx these days and it shows. Even the low-budget shows like Otherspace showed us some gorgeous outer-space shots. Dark Matter was the one coming up the poorest in this regard in my opinion, but even they upped their sfx game for the second season.

Interpersonal conflict is important

One of the ideas that Gene Roddenberry was very keen to build Star Trek on was the fact that the human race had grown beyond interpersonal conflict. Every other show has some form of this conflict, but there's a lot more of this in this generation if you ask me. Dark Matter is all about people who don't know themselves and trust is a big issue there. Killjoys has a closer team, but what happens between the team members is ultimately what drives much of the plot for the first season. The Expanse has people fighting everywhere, but one of the clearest examples might be the "main crew" which does a lot of fighting before they really start considering themselves a crew. Otherspace was just about a single crew, so much of what they do is getting on each other's nerves. It's always been there, but I feel it's even more there now.

Star Trek

I'm very much looking forward to what the new Star Trek will bring to the table early next year. Many of the observations above wouldn't quite fit the Star Trek brand, which is filled with aliens, doesn't really have a suitable place for taser and doesn't feature interpersonal conflict. It will be interesting to see where they take the genre, even if it's uncertain whether it will be suitable for watching by real Trekkies.

Other shows

The interest in the genre seems to have died down a bit. When the entire pie was on the table, everyone wanted a piece of it. Now, there are three solid shows eating that pie, leaving little for any new venture. Both the Blake's 7 remake and Space: 2099 seem to have died a silent death. Of the other things that were in various stages of development, nothing had been heard for some time, so I assume they aren't getting made. I also haven't been able to find anything hinting towards more new things being developed.

I can understand it. I mean, three shows is a lot and I doubt enough people would be willing to watch yet more Space Opera. That said, I would have loved to hear of more Space Opera, because I definitely would want to watch another series.

Saturday, July 2, 2016

SBCs: All hands on deck!

The C.H.I.P.

Introducing: the C.H.I.P.
 Today I received the last of the Single-board computers I ordered. Despite ordering the devices spread over a year, they all ended up arriving within one week. The C.H.I.P. was the device that I was most excited about, so it's sort of appropriate that it arrived last. This way, it couldn't steal the thunder of any of the other packages.

There are many reasons why I was so excited about this delivery. I had waited for this device the longest. I had spent the most money on it. The device has the most interesting features in my opinion. The PocketC.H.I.P. is just pure awesomeness. And there's probably more reasons.

Top view and bottom view
The C.H.I.P actually has some of its most important components moved to its bottom side, including its processor. This happened late in development, as they changed to a larger version of the same processor. To protect the processor, the computer now comes with a case, which only covers its bottom. This is definitely true for all the Kickstarter C.H.I.P.s, but I'm not sure if the "store-bought" C.H.I.P.s will also have this case.

Safe and well
Additionally, the Kickstarter version of the C.H.I.P. also comes with a Composite cable. This is a cable you can just buy at many stores, but it seems to be a bit undermarketed. It is also the same cable you could use for analog video on your Rapberry Pi 2 or 3.

In NTC Pink!
Unlike many of the other boards, this board is definitely not trying to be another Raspberry. Fro example, it uses female GPIO headers, as opposed to the male headers we've gotten so used to since the original Raspberry. This has the advantage that they could actually mark all the headers on the board.

You'll have no reason to use the wrong header

 For comparison's sake, let's just put it side to side with a Raspberry (it's a model 2B).

They're quite different - at least, to the trained eye

I actually own three C.H.I.P.s now. There was one in my pledge, another in the PocketC.H.I.P. that was in my pledge, and then finally one extra I added after the Kickstarted ended. I also pre-ordered a couple more, so there's several more of these machines on the way. I guess I may have gone a little overboard...

The power of threes!

Compared to the Pi Zero

The Chip lives in the same product space as the Pi Zero. It's the closest product in size and cost, and its specs are in fact rather similar. Let's put the two side by side.

Fighting for <$10 mastery
 As you can see, they are actually rather comparable in size. The Pi Zero is thinner, but it's also slightly longer. In the end, the C.H.I.P. is a bit bigger, though.

That's TWO computers!

Putting the Zero on top of the Chip, shows how close in size they are. The Zero actually fits so nicely between the GPIO headers of the Chip that it almost looks like there's only one board there. When talking about height, though, the story is a bit different.

No competition there...

The extras

I backed at the "All the things" level, so there's more things that were in the package. Let's have a look.

All the things!

There's the two C.H.I.P.s, the HDMI extension board, the VGA extension board, the Composite cables (which we already looked at) and the PocketC.H.I.P. Though it's a bit outside of the scope of the single-board computer - and a bit more expensive, I really like the PocketC.H.I.P. so let's have a closer look at it.]
Not truly pocket-size, is it?
On the front, we see a fully featured keyboard and the screen. The screen has a resolution of 480x272 and has a resistive touch layer (so no multitouch!). Neither is exactly optimal, but they definitely kept the costs down. There's also the possibility of using your GPIO headers, as they seem to be connected to the holes at the top of the device.

On the other side...
The backside clearly shows the C.H.I.P. It is held in place by its GPIO headers, so you can get it out with some carefully applied force. You can also see the battery, which gives the device its portability. The battery is charged through the CHIP, which has the required circuitry for this.

Jumpin' 'n' Dashin'
Getting the PocketC.H.I.P. up and running was extremely easy. I just held down the power (and home) button for a couple of seconds and that was it...

The whole family

Since this was the last of the boards I was expecting, let's all pose together for a photo.

Clearly, if a board's green, it must be a Raspberry
Alright, alright. The raspberry belongs in there as well...

You see?

And finally

Before I end this blogpost, there's one more thing I've got to do. You see, I've completely forgotten the shot with the pen for comparison. So here you go:

Same pen as before.

Friday, July 1, 2016

SBCs: The saga continues

Today, the Orange Pi arrived. Of all the boards, this one will probably be the one that is the most challenging to get to work. Its main problem is that the software support and documentation is simply non-existent.

The model that I got is called the Orange Pi PC. I ordered it from China for about 17 euros including shipping, with of course the drawback that it takes a couple of weeks before it arrives. It is clearly modeled closely after the Raspberry Pi. It's specs are very reminiscent of the Raspberry. It trades the DSI connector for a microphone and a power switch, while it has a different type of power supply and has a processor that is significantly faster (at least, on paper). However, the rest of the specs closely match and the two boards are even exactly the same size.

I'm expecting to receive my pledge rewards for the CHIP tomorrow, so then I should have all the boards (and all within the span of a week). The next thing is to get "making". I've already managed to run Debian on both the Pine and the Zero, but I haven't had the time to get much further than that. Let's see what we can do with all these boards.