System 3: Original Constructor Free!

If  you didn’t know, System 3 Software is remaking the 1997 classic video game Constructor! Originally they were going to call it Constructor HD – essentially re-writing the original to work better on the latest PCs with high resolution graphics – however they now feel that enough is being added that it will also be it’s own game. They are no longer calling it Constructor HD but instead just Constructor (like the original).  On top of that they are going to give away free copies of the original 1997 game to anyone who likes their game Facebook page by January 31, 2017 will receive a link to download the original game free. I assume the game has been updated enough to run on the latest PCs (or at least running in an emulator like DOSBox).

Constructor Returns!

Constructor HD logo overlayed atop a screenshot of the game featuring a quaint neighborhood.

United Kingdom (UK)-based game developer System 3, after 18 long years and a number of fan requests, is bringing back the game that let us build a neighborhood then try desperately not to get run out of town. Constructor, released back in 1997, put the player in the role of a 1920s/1930s construction company owner tasked with building a neighborhood and using undesirables such as hippy squatters, corrupt handymen, and mafia gangsters to run your opponents out of business (usually by blowing up or otherwise destroying their headquarters and them). You could use everything from property destruction and nuisance to intimidation and violence to battle your opponents while trying to keep your own residents from being unhappy or burnt to a crisp.

Since then a “sequel” has been released in 2013, Mob Rule (also known as Constructor: Street Wars), which focused more on mafia-style gang control. NOTE: I have not played Mob Rule so I am not commenting on it.

Screenshot showing the re-imagined foreman managment screen allowing you to add or remove personnel to/from a sawmill that produces wood for constructing other buildings.
Screenshot showing the re-imagined construction manager screen allowing you to add or remove personnel to/from a sawmill that produces wood for construction.

The new game appears to be a re-write of the original game with higher-quality graphics and a few new features. The new game is titled Constructor HD and will be available for PC/Windows as well as on the Sony PlayStation 4 and Microsoft XBOX One gaming consoles. The site claims they have re-balanced the gameplay. Hopefully to be a little harder as it did get a bit too easy after you built up your neighborhood and forces… at least for myself. They are also adding some new game modes and maps. It does not say, but I am hoping online multiplayer will also be included (both co-op, versus, and whatever other game modes they are planning). A few of the developers who worked on the original are also working on this re-imagining of the classic.

Screenshot showing the updated management screen for the hippy squatter undesirable.
Screenshot showing the updated management screen for the hippy squatter undesirable.

Constructor was one of my favorite DOS-based games when I was a kid and I am happy to see it finally refreshed for the latest Windows and consoles! The release date for the new Constructor HD is, as of this post’s publish date — January 29, 2016.

British Grandma Rules GTA 5

Screen capture of Grand Theft Auto 5 with the British grandmother-gamer shown in the top left corner. The words "DIE! DIE! DIE!" are overlayed on the image with color transitioning from white to red.
[dc]B[/dc]ritish grandma is put in front of a computer to play Grand Theft Auto V with hilarious results! She is kicking ass (after running out of bubble-gum), taking names, and out-swearing sailors and yelling “DIE! DIE! DIE!” while shooting rockets at cars, people, and buildings!

Google’s Cell Service Play

Google Project fi logo - a green and blue lower-case "f" and yellow "i". The dot above the "i" is white and overlaps the cross of the "f".

Google likes to jump into a number of businesses that involve technology. They are heavily involved in robotics and are developing a self-driving car, conduct a number of research projects, jumped into the cloud computing ring, more recently became an ISP (Internet Service Provider) by rolling out fiber-optic internet to a number of cities across the United States, and develop the Andorid OS (operating system) that runs roughly half of the world’s cell phones. Now they are looking to take over your cell phone service as well. Google just announced Project Fi, their new mobile phone service.

Google Project fi logo - a green and blue lower-case "f" and yellow "i". The dot above the "i" is white and overlaps the cross of the "f".
Google’s Project fi Logo

The new service — currently only open to a few who request an invite — offers mobile phone service for $20 per month with data starting at $30 per month for 3 GB (gigabytes) — total of $50 per month. That is a little underwhelming given that other wireless carriers offer similarly-priced plans. It is not until you add in the discounts and features they it becomes mildly intriguing. First of all they refund you for the data you did not use. So you get refunded for the amount of data you don’t use under $3. So if you only use 1 GB in a month they will refund you $20 (data is charged at $10 per GB). There are no contracts.

One of the major drawbacks of this service is the phone selection. There is none. Currently you can only use the Motorola-produced Google Nexus 6. Sorry, no Apple iPhones here.

Where this show gets somewhat more interesting is how the service works: It uses 2 networks. Google partnered with Sprint and T-Mobile — both providers use similar technology in their networks — and the phone can simply hop onto the network that has the strongest signal. This probably increases the signal strength mildly since Sprint and T-Mobile are the smaller networks operating in the U.S. The other way to make calls is over a Wi-Fi network (including the many open networks available at restaurants, coffee shops, airports, and other offices and retail stores nationwide). However, even that is not new: T-Mobile already offers a service that allows for calls over a Wi-Fi connection.

On the plus side if you travel a lot it could be a sigh of relef. Some other mobile service providers make you jump through hoops, pay a little to a lot more for service and/or data, or simply don’t offer service in other countries. This new plan from Google works in more than 120 countries (since Sprint and T-Mobile use the same wireless technology the majority of service providers outside the U.S. use it is more compatible) though data speed is limited since only 3G connections will work. They also do not charge any more for data when traveling. It’s still the same $10 per GB. International calling rate of $0.20 per minute apply. No extra charges for texting internationally.

It’s an modest start — it’s not likely to cause a mass-exodus from other cell service providers — but will be interesting to see how their service evolves.

Earth Day 2015: Ink Out

Giant red squid clip art for Google's Earth Day quiz.

So apparently I am a giant squid. Ok, that is just the silliness put forth by Google for 2015’s Earth Day celebrations. Earth Day is an annual recognition of the environment of our own planet Earth held on April 22. It is for informing everyone about the fragility of our ecosystem, to present ideas on how to preserve it for the future, and to bring awareness about what we — humans — are doing that is not in our own best interest. Poaching, deforestation, over-harvesting leading to extinctions, and the most recent concern — climate change caused by global warming (and contrary to the belief, colder weather and harsher winters does not mean the planet is not heating up — it just further proves the issue).

Giant red squid clip art for Google's Earth Day quiz: "You're a giant squid! You can achieve anything to which you put your mind and/or your massive tentacles."
Google Earth Day 2015 Animal Quiz Response

Unfortunately not all companies fared well on the PR (public relations) meter. Many used it as just another means to advertise random products that have little to nothing to do with spirit Earth Day. They simply wanted to hijack a trending hashtag on twitter and other social networks to spit our more advertisements. Then there was Fox:

Nothing to see here. These aren’t the environmental issues you are looking for. You can go about your business. Move along.

CD at High Speed in Slow Motion

Colorful pieces of a CD explode in all directions as it surpasses it critical rotation speed.

Gav and Dan, The Slow Mo Guys, record a compact disc (CD) explode at critical speed by spinning it on a vacuum cleaner motor. The motor makes a sickening whirring as it speeds up and eventually the CD explodes in an instant and a loud “POP!” The view in slow-motion is amazing but not even fast enough to capture much more than a second of shattering at 28,500 frames per second (fps) and the CD is spinning at about 25,000 rotations per minute (RPM). They ramp up their new toy – a Phantom Cinemag 2 v2511 – to an amazing 170,600 fps. But at that frame rate their camera captured 7 hours of video – 96 gigabytes (GB) of data – in just 4 real-time seconds!

Mythbusters: Video Games Special

Discovery's Mythbusters Video Games special logo made to appear like an old-school 16-bit video game menu. The fonts are mostly mono-spaced and using terminal-like fonts. About one-quarter from the top is the title "MYTHBUSTERS" in large, bold, yellow, mono-spaced type with red outline around each of the characters. Hosts Jamie Hyneman and Adam Savage are represented by 16-bit game caricatures where their heads are covering the title and their hands are folded across their chests. Under the title and hosts is bold, red text with a large red outline reading "VIDEO GAMES" and in white text at the bottom is "Press Start." The background is black space filled with white plus-shaped blue and white stars and a dark blue gradient that becomes opaque at the bottom.
Discovery's Mythbusters Video Games special logo made to appear like an old-school 16-bit video game menu. The fonts are mostly mono-spaced and using terminal-like fonts. About one-quarter from the top is the title "MYTHBUSTERS" in large, bold, yellow, mono-spaced type with red outline around each of the characters. Hosts Jamie Hyneman and Adam Savage are represented by 16-bit game caricatures where their heads are covering the title and their hands are folded across their chests. Under the title and hosts is bold, red text with a large red outline reading "VIDEO GAMES" and in white text at the bottom is "Press Start." The background is black space filled with white plus-shaped blue and white stars and a dark blue gradient that becomes opaque at the bottom.
Discovery’s Mythbusters Video Games Special Title Screen

This preview of next week’s new episode of Mythbusters on Discovery previews host Adam Savage sneaking through rooms setup like the DOOM video game complete with old-school growls, plasma guns, and chainsaws. Next week Jamie and Adam will be taking on video game myths and will be interesting to see what they come up with and could possibly be plausible or confirmed in a world design to be pure fiction…

[Unfortunately because Discovery’s video embeds do not support loading on an encrypted page you will need to follow this link to see the video preview.]

Agriculture Boosted By Low Fuel Prices

Rusty orange and gray fuel tanks sit on a covered wooden platform with labels such as "car gas" and "diesel."
Rusty orange and gray fuel tanks sit on a covered wooden platform with labels such as "car gas" and "diesel."
Farm fuel tanks with labels such as “car gas” and “diesel.” Creative commons liscensed image from Eliot Phillips on Flickr.

Phys.org reports on how not everyone is being hurt by lower gas prices. In addition to giving middle-class America a well-deserved break on rising prices, farmers and ranchers are reaping the benefits of low gas prices and finally refilling the fuel tanks they have kept near-empty since prices soared a number of years ago. Farmers have been sticking with lower-maintenance crops to save on fuel are planning on planting more higher expenditure crops such as corn and rice since the cost to cultivate, plant, rear, harvest, and deliver are not eating into their pocket books as deeply as in recent years. Similarly for ranchers, the cost to raise and feed cattle hinges a lot on fuel prices as it takes many farm vehicle hours (tractors, balers, planters, fertilizers, sprayers, trucks, etc) to feed, move, and deliver farm animals as well as to farm the hay, silage, and grains that they consume. [quote align=”right” width=”40%”]”However, the other side of the coin is that while we have had a collapse in the oil market, we also have had a collapse in the grain market.”[/quote]

High gas prices and low crop prices in recent years have eroded profit margins for farmers and have lead to price increases at the supermarkets. Even though consumers won’t see lower food prices it will likely mean the price increases may slow in the midterm. It’s also noted that transportation cost only contributes a small percent to food prices. Much of the cost comes from the cost of recent natural disasters such as droughts, frost, and flooding that occurred in farm areas. Disasters and market price fluctuations along with production costs (which include fuel used on the farm) make up the bulk of the cost of food.