Saturday, May 2, 2015

The Anomaly of Enjoying Jupiter Ascendant


George Lucas has famously said that movies are binary: they either work for you or they don't. If they do, then you ignore any little flaw. But if they do not, then every flaw or potential flaw is noticed and used against it. I do not know if Mr. Lucas was original in this observation, I doubt it, but ever since I read that I have noticed that he seems to be correct. All movies have flaws of course, but when you are caught up in a film, one is happy to ignore the problems and issues that in other circumstances would be seen as deadly.

The question then becomes, what leads a member of the audience to lean one way or the other? From acceptance and enjoyment to rejection and boredom or worse? One aspect of this choice may be what is called the “cockroach in the salad” effect. Lets say you are eating out at a fancy restaurant and you have ordered a salad and when it arrives the first thing you see is a disgusting cockroach on top wiggling its antennae at you. You call the waiter over and he removes the offending cockroach and salad but the damage has already been done. It will be hard to get beyond that terrible first impression. On the other hand, let us say you are at a restaurant and see nothing that you particularly want, but you order something and to your amazement, it is really good. From that point on, everything works for you.

So my argument here is that the basis of cultivating a positive impression of a creative work is a mashup of “first impressions” with “low expectations”. If you did not expect much, then getting something really good is likely to push you over the edge to a positive impression. And vice versa. Until you get that push, whether positive or negative, then you are in a state of uncertainty. Is this film any good or not?

I don't have any other way of explaining the apparent anomaly of enjoying “Jupiter Ascendant” (JA) a film I was born to hate. What could have caused this odd reversal of expectations such that I actually enjoyed watching this film? Can Science explain this or must it always remain a mystery?

Consider the following:

First, we have a dinner sequence in which our plain jane heroine introduces us to her Russian extended family in America. Its actually very funny. You mean the Wachowski brothers actually have a sense of humor? How would we have known?

 Jupiter's sister before and after a special bath.  Ah, refreshing !

Second, we have a classic theme in fantasy fiction, the “person of noble birth who does not realize that she is of royal blood and possibly the heir to the throne”. In this sub-genre, the kids are separated from the adults by the manner in which it is revealed that our average neighborhood girl is actually “her majesty”. In JA this is actually done quite well and unexpectedly. A fight sequence between two alpha males upsets a hive or three of bees which scares the shit out of her, but no need to worry, the bees have been genetically programmed to treat “royals” differently and so our two fighting alpha males break off their sparring to recognize that something quite odd has happened. The babe has been revealed as a member of a royal family of some sort.

Bees show the way

Third, after our plain jane babe has had her butt saved by our hero, she tries to encourage him to ignore her royal birth and kiss her. He refuses, revealing that he is not really a man, but closer to a dog, or a wolf. She comes back with a splendidly stupid response: she has always gotten along well with dogs. Its does not persuade. This is funny.

Fourth, the sequence with the candles and certain aspects of the wedding sequence are lush and clearly represent the director's desire to have a big wedding one day.

Fifth, the two brothers are seriously creepy and fucked up.

What a creepy asshole this guy is.

But most of all, who could not like a movie where the lead babe keeps having to remind people that "I am not your damn mother"?

So what we have here is an overdone, weird movie in the same genre of, for example, the original Dune novel: a space opera with exotic economies, insane royal familes and fight scenes between things bred to be good at fighting.

Overblown, a misfire, there is no doubt that it is a miscalculation on a galactic scale, truly a stupid movie.

Nevertheless, as a 12 year old, emotionally and psychologically, I found it often to be an entertaining movie and was willing to overlook its tragic flaws.


It did not hurt that the uber-schmuck, John Gaeta, was somehow deposed from his role as visual effects supervisor on this semi-epic. I shudder to think what manner of ego-swine must have replaced him/it. I am sure that Mr. Gaeta will enjoy a new career in the food service industry or some other profession worthy of his talents.

American Cockroaches Lunge for Freedom in Communist China


In a daring escape from slavery, a million cockroaches escaped from a Chinese farm where they were being raised by cockroach slavers. Their escape was aided by an unknown “Friend of Cockroaches Everywhere” who destroyed the integrity of the horrible slave chambers that the cockroaches were contained within.

In a heartening moment of cultural diversity and American Exceptionalism, the freedom loving cockroaches were American cockroaches, imported from N. America where there is said to be no shortage of free-range cockroaches.

Freedom loving cockroach making a dash

“This is one tiny step for a cockroach, one giant leap for cockroaches everywhere,” said an anonymous cockroach-loving organization in China. “We hope that this will be just the beginning.”

The oppressive Communist Chinese dictatorship was working to destroy the escapees by any means possible, reported sources.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

The Cost of Retraining Workers in the 3D Industry


Lets examine the real costs to society of unemployment, especially unemployment that is caused by foreign subsidies that damage industries in other countries particularly our country. Since that is what we have in the train wreck that is computer animation, that foreign subsidy thing.

I just had someone who I thought better of throw the "free market" bullshit at me.  Jesus, how fucking juvenile is that.  Free market?  In this country?  In globalization?  Cut the shit buddy, ok?

My friend was saying that those who got fucked by foreign government subsidies were merely people who lost out on the “free market” and deserved what they got.  Well first of all this country has never had a free market as the rich have had socialism since the very beginning.   If you have not figured that out by now, after all the evidence, then I am sorry for you.   Good luck.

As an aside, I think that this free market shit after all this time is nothing more than a bunch of self entitled libertarians who impose their religion on the rest of us as a way of justifying their wealth grabs.  At least this theory does not assume that they are just stupid or a truther or something.

Since in the case of computer animation subsidies, there is no free market to speak of, having been destroyed by the hundreds of millions of dollars (or british pounds as the case may be) per year of foreign subsidies and since our government fails to act as they are expected to by law, after all it might inconvenience the rich nevertheless we can calculate what it would cost to retrain these rather senior workers into another field even if they are worthless garbage who deserve their fate as the free-market looney tunes suggest.  (We will go over some aspects of this "free market in the modern world" in a future post to nail this one into the ground.  Jesus, you would  think you would not have to do so at this point in time, but I guess we do).

No one knows how many there are, no one knows the numbers, no one cares to know, so I am going to make an informed guess. I guess that there are 5,000 people of all levels caught in this particular series of government malfeasance and privilege. I can justify these numbers another time, but those who would challenge me here had better get ready to get reamed, worthless swine that you are. These 5,000 people are of course not really people, they are families or households. So lets make a guess what it costs to feed and house such a household in Southern and Northern California.

Now I would certainly agree with you that the location is unfortunate as those are two of the most expensive places to live in this fucked-up country of ours. I say that it costs not less than $48,000 / year for a family of four to live in these areas, that assumes rent of $2K/month, $1K/month for utilities, food, and so forth, and $1K/month for car and insurance and other incidentals.  Yes of course it is really more expensive than that.  But I am just trying to establish a baseline here.   It goes without saying that the family goes off health insurance. It goes without saying that the kids get the substandard public education we give to our worker-swine, they don't deserve the elite education of private schools. Also that unemployment insurance, should they receive any and I never have in spite of what the law says or what is taken from my salary, is a pathetic joke and does not amount to much. The emphasis on it in the government and news media has always entertained me because it has meant that they are deliberately not interested in the real costs of unemployment. In California, and sadly we are mostly talking about California here, unemployment insurance is just another way to tax the worker and raise revenue for the state.

So now we have $48K / year for basic sustenance but we have to retrain our happy victim of the free market's efficiency. Lets say 5 years at a major university getting an advanced degree. That means roughly $30K/year in fees. Now the government has to make sure that these people are admitted to elite universities such as Harvard, Columbia and MIT as a degree from a non-elite university may or may not be worth anything, America being elitist from the very beginning, elitist to the very core. Yes there are notable exceptions to this, but they are exceptions, now aren't they?

So this comes to roughly 5,000 * $78,000 / year hard costs for 5 years or a total gross of about 1.95 billion over 5 years, which of course needs to be adjusted for inflation, net present value, etc. That is the cost of retraining the workers, sorry if you don't like it, I dont really care. Some of this disaster was not caused by the (other) government subsidies or our governments indifference and malfeasance in enforcing the law, some of it was caused by the workers themselves, enticed as they were to a glamourous field where they were told by the schools and by entities like SIGGRAPH that they could achieve fame and fortune even though that was either a lie on their part or deliberate ignorance, inexcusable in either case, but I do not know how to subdivide the innocent from the guilty here. Who are the ones who should receive the benefit of retraining vs who should suffer the full impact of their failure to assess the future of government subsidies? I can tell you as a pioneer and as someone who helped invent the field that it is hard for me to be too sympathetic to the arrogant, ambitious swine that the art schools trained to come in and take work away from the founders. But whether we care about these people or not, this is the real cost of the free market, quote end quote, if we include the cost of retraining the workers who got fucked out of a job by government manipulation and malfeasance.

Before you idiots lecture me about the free market, read Demsetz about property rights ok?  Thanks, assholes.

Now you may not care about these people and you may object to retraining them on theoretical grounds, the free market, quote end quote, says that these people are worthless garbage and deserve to have their lives destroyed. But I disagree, I do not think they deserve to have their lives destroyed. I think that the society that failed to protect their jobs through greed or malfeasance has the duty to retrain them. That is what I think. And it will cost you $1.95 billion over 5 years. The good news is that this money is easy to get. The studios have made much more money than this using the subsidies and making product based on the technology which we invented and was then shipped overseas to take advantage of slave labor and subsidies. So they have plenty of money. Have them pay. Its just the free market at work, after all.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Cities Skylines Covered with Dead Bodies and Trash

This is a mini-review of Cities: Skylines or is it Skylines: Cities.

I have been playing whatever it is called now since the day it came out. Most computer games hold no interest for me, but games based on the simulation of society or the simulation of conflict at the strategic level are interesting. I have my own ideas on such things which I may prototype one day, although only if I can stay out of the madness, greed and hypocrisy of the game industry.

Unfortunately, Cities Skylines just wasnt tested before release. About the time you reach the population of 10-15,000 people, your city starts getting mired in trash and dead bodies. The stupid tweety bird that tells you about it is useless. All you can do is put trash heaps every two feet and the same with crematoriums and pray.

Just as annoying is the bug in the model such that it is impossible to have enough workers of the right type around. Nothing you do will make a difference, you are just fucked. Maybe the developers just ran out of time or money?  Who knows.

Games such as this do not have to be realistic in order to be interesting. Nevertheless, this game, whatever it is called, will have lots of semi-realistic features and challenges to recommend it to those who enjoy such things, when, that is, they have fixed some of the problems.

We see by this example one of the problems with individuals, or small teams, modestly financed groups doing games: they may simply not have the resources to debug the problems that are caused by interesting internal simulations. Cities Skylines is a good effort, and shows promise, but is frustrating as hell in its current form once you get beyond the baby cities.

And then there is the bug whereby you can not save your game.  Lets not go there, its too frustrating to think about.  Presumably that one will be fixed sooner than later.

Save your money and your time and wait for them to fix the bugs. When these bugs are fixed, perhaps others will be revealed.  But nevertheless if they can fix it up to the 100,000 population level, that will probably be sufficient for the majority of players.   Shows an A- for effort but a B- for testing. Promising but frustrating in its current incarnation.

Maybe wait three months and see where things are?

Cities Skylines on Steam

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Aesthetics, Computing and the Internet


They say that the internet is a bold new paradigm. They say that you can not judge the internet by what came before because it is totally new and those who attempt to judge it by past criteria are just not with the program and are whining uselessly. Well, indeed they might be whining uselessly, that much is true.

There are trends, patterns in aesthetics whether you know it or not, or care or not, and computing is about aesthetics from beginning to end. Like architecture, the aesthetics happen to hit the hard wall of engineering reality more often than other art forms, and indeed the engineering or construction aspects are fundamental, required, de riguere, both real and not real, but mostly real.

Nevertheless, we can perceive patterns in the aesthetics of this people's art of writing HTML just as we may see patterns in fine art, if we care to look.

In the following, we are going to discuss some of the history of ideas, which I know is very offensive to some of you more practical types. Either take a pill and calm down or go away.

Once upon a time, a generation of programmers grew up with the implied aesthetics of an experimental operating system from Bell Telephone Laboratories, an elite center of excellence in our country which no longer exists, the center that is, destroyed as it was by our government and the so-called “free market”. But at that center of excellence, an OS, later called UNIX, was developed with a minimal OS approach. A bit of the “less is more” theme going on here. True, some of the minimal nature was imposed on the work because of limited resources, but isnt that often true in art? Time passed and Unix got out into the world and then morphed into its bastard younger brother Linux, for better or for worse, that is what we are stuck with. I happen to like Linux and think it is better than we, collectively, deserve, but that is another topic.

One of the tricks about Unix was that it was designed by some of the best and brightest that our country had to offer.

Another aesthetic, which was a little busy for my tastes, was one we might call the MIT Lisp Machine style of software. This was written, it seemed to me, by hundreds of MIT graduate and undergraduate students cranked on speed, and it had many nuances, options, and so forth. Half the time it baffled me. But ultimately it was functional, well documented, and you could tell that while they might have been a little wordy and option-happy by the standards of a Unix fellow, there was no doubt that the people involved in writing, using and documenting this technology were very smart. Very smart indeed.

But now we enter the Internet age where we have vast software packages, their associated frameworks, and group sourced semi-documentation. This technology is to the Lisp machine what Lisp was to Unix, it is busy beyond belief. Every option has an option and every options' option has an exception. Whereas Linux and Lisp was designed by the best we had to offer, most of the Internet stuff, a bastard child of another project of excellence, but long ago, the Arpanet, is motivated not by excellence but by the most important philosophical principles of our great country: naked greed combined with arrogance, stupidity, ignorance and hypocrisy. There is no need to document, they say, it is all documented by the group mind. Not that there are not good parts to the infrastructure and conventions and languages and frameworks of the Internet, indeed there are. They are there along with everything else.

In other words, lest this sound too negative, the Unix and Lisp movements were movements by an intellectual elite, as was the Arpanet, whereas the Internet is a true people's movement. Rough, inconsistent, good, bad, horrible, insane, and all within a few characters of each other.

There is no order nor can there be, nor could there be, any order. It is the group fuck raised to the 1000th power. Let us embrace the new aesthetic. It may be insane but it is our insanity.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Bees Get Hooked on Nicotine and Fall Over Dead say Scientists


With hive collapse syndrome threatening world civilization by dying before their residents, the bees, can serve their primary economic purpose for mankind, which is to pollinate agricultural crops in our great country, scientists have looked high and low to find the cause and help prevent economic disaster which would of course affect the earnings of the shareholders, a fate all good Americans, whether man or bee, can agree must be avoided. The bees can goddamn well die as far as we are concerned as long as they pollinate beforehand.

Now science has proven that the alleged cause of the threat to the shareholder's earnings is not, as the tree huggers have said without a shred of proof, caused by harmless and helpful pesticides which are only working to improve shareholder value, not damage it.  No the real cause of hive collapse syndrome is not the innocent and beneficial pesticides, but lies within the bees themselves.

This lazy bee can barely stand up she is so drunk on nicotine, nectar and pollen.

In an important new article published in Nature, science has proven that the real cause of hive collapse sysndrome is the bee's moral turpitude and lack of anglo-saxon work ethic. Instead of steadfastly pollinating like they should, they get hooked on nicotine-related substances and abandon their economic purpose and spend all day just lazing around and smoking, or in this case, sipping, nicotine. Its not the pesticides per se that are causing the bees to become slackers and suck nicotine until they fall over dead. It is their own lack of moral willpower.

One more time American industry has been vindicated. The bees need to go to church more often and teach their children the benefits of moderation and hard work and this problem is solved.

An article about this in The Guardian

Announcing my Write-In Campaign for the Executive Committee of ACM SIGGRAPH

draft / please feel free to make comments, suggest annotations, etc.

It is with some nervousness that I announce my candidacy for the Executive Committee of ACM SIGGRAPH as “Member at Large”.

A “member at large” is one who has a vote but has no particular responsibility besides participating int he discussion and voting on the issues. I would not want the responsibility of being Treasurer, for example, or President.

So there are three things to discuss: why I am running, what I would do if elected and finally the mechanics of being allowed to run for office. The third issue, how to get nominated, is the least interesting, but of critical importance. I want to discuss this first, and then get into the more complicated matters of why and what I would I do.

To run for the board of SIGGRAPH, one must stand for election and be voted in by the entire membership. But, in order to stand for election one must either be nominated by a nominating committee or one must run a write-in campaign and get a certain number of signatures from members of national SIGGRAPH. The number of signatures required is 1% of the current national membership which translates to between 90 and 100 people. 100 to be safe as usually in these matters a few signatures will be disallowed for one reason or another.

I first attended national SIGGRAPH in 1980, but I had been attending local SIGGRAPH since 1978 or so

Obviously, running a write-in campaign is a hassle, why not just be nominated by the Committee? Good question. The answer is that I tried but they failed to nominate me. I had a very pleasant and informative meeting with the Committee which I found quite entertaining but it did not result in my nomination. I may have given the Committee some reason to believe that I would work in support of issues that they did not think were appropriate for SIGGRAPH to be concerned about, such as the collapse of computer animation production employment in this country and its failure to be provide substantial employment outside of the Entertainment industries.

But even if it turned out that my ideas were not appropriate and practical, I think it is of great importance that we discuss these issues and see to it that we can do what we are allowed to do. At the very least, SIGGRAPH can acknowledge that there is a problem instead of blissfully ignoring it and enticing people into a field where they will not be able to work. Which has been their policy for over a decade. Archaeology can make it clear what the odds are of a budding archaeologist to work in that field, Computer Animation can as well.
There is also some belief out there that SIGGRAPH only wants educators to be on the Executive Committee, which, if true, is a very bad idea on their part and certainly needs to be discussed with the membership. The strength of SIGGRAPH was always interdisciplinary and serving the interests of any one or two groups would be contrary to the spirit that made SIGGRAPH the phenomenon that it once was and which it is not any longer.

Whatever their reasons may be, SIGGRAPH allows for nominations of another sort. In this second path to nomination, one must collect the signatures of 1 percent of the eligible members of national SIGGRAPH. I believe that translates to roughly 90 or 100 signatures. If one gets those signatures in a proper format then one can run for election. One still has to be elected by the general membership of course.  This just gets you on the ballot.  

I will discuss in future posts why I believe I am qualified and why I bring a legitimate point of view to the board of SIGGRAPH. But at the very least, should I be elected, I will write about what decisions SIGGRAPH makes and why in a form that may be of interest to those of us who are not educators per se. Thus, at the very least, I think I will provide a useful service should I be elected.

And so I am asking my friends and colleagues to find me at SIGGRAPH in LA this year and, if you are a member, sign a petition to allow me to run for election. If it were possible to put up some sort of notice at your place of work or anyplace else you think that SIGGRAPH members might be, that would also be helpful. Or if you are not attending this year, but are a member, and you want to help, contact me and we can make arrangements for you to sign a petition without having to track me down on site.

Even if I get the appropriate signatures, and even if I am elected, I am chronically underfunded and I may have to make special arrangements to actually serve on the board. But I won't worry too much about that now nor should you. If I am elected, I am sure I can scrounge something up for airfare and hotel or whatever else this activity will cost.

I want to leave you with the thought that we once believed that SIGGRAPH was very important in creating this revolution and that we owe it to the organization and its history to try and make it as good as it can be in the circumstances of the tragedy of its simultaneous great success and failure which is the situation that we have today.

Thank you.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

The Cost for the Unemployed of Keeping Current (Part 1)


Let us imagine that for one reason or another you end up taking an “unexpected career hiatus”. As many as 30 percent of the American adult population is taking such a hiatus right now. (1) Or suppose, you just get bored, or your old industry has gone away (say for example you were a photographer), and you are thinking of entering a new field. Or maybe you just want to take your existing skills and do something else with them, something worthwhile.

Even if you are not planning to do this, you might want to think about it anyway, because it might not be your choice. Someone might decide that you are no longer valuable and there are no positions for you in the field you formerly were in. Possibly even a field you helped invent. Don't think it could happen to you? Of course, you are exempt, I am quite sure.   Ahem.

Well of course a TED talk on the subject would advise you to “reinvent yourself” or perhaps that you must “think outside the box”. Whatever the fuck that means.  We will have some out of the box thinking later on this post, perhaps.

But back here in the real world, if you get whacked by the free market system and are left hanging without visible means of support, there are a variety of things I think that you will have to do to get back on board. The point of this and future posts is to indicate a few practical things that you can do to reenter a field, or enter a new field, and what such things will cost.

Of course we are not going to discuss the real costs of being forced to find a new career which would include the opportunity costs, the mistake of choosing one field over another, and so forth. Those costs are unknowable. No, I am just talking about the out-of-pocket costs of going forward. In the case of computer animation, this means such things as keeping up with current work, appearing at conferences, being an active member of professional societies, finding and maintaining an affiliation, constructing a marketing image, possibly learning current tools and demonstrating new work, whether production oriented (e.g. a film or real time animation) or research (e.g. research in the form of a publishable paper), or possibly a patent.

In this post we are just going to discuss the out-of-pocket costs of attending various conferences and professional meetings. All the other concerns will be for later posts.  This post  is just about attending specific events so that you can stay informed, be seen by and talk to other members of your field, and meet new members.

Furthermore, I am going to do something else that is all-too-rare on the internet, I am going to speak from personal experience. This is what certain things costs, because in my experience, this is what they cost. You may get a better deal, good for you. You may have friends who live in that part of the world who will put you up at their house and drive you around. Like I say, good for you. The rest of us will be living in cheap hotels and taking the bus and that costs money.

So now lets get down to details.  This is my list, your list will differ.  But I believe you must attend conferences of this type regularly, perhaps not every year, but often enough to be seen as a member of the community that each of these events represent.  But there are certainly other conferences, and there are other ways to achieve some of this without attending an expensive conference. Generally though these other options are ways to mitigate the effects of not attending these conferences.  In other words, if you had the money, and you certainly have the time, then you should just go to the conference.

If you are trying to be in this field of computer animation, then I would advise you to attend the following conferences: SIGGRAPH, NAB (National Association of Broadcasters), CIC/IS&T (color conference), HPA (Hollywood Post Alliance), Domefest and at least one or two other conferences, at least for a day. This might be the annual Game Development Conference or a conference on computational photography. These might be fields that you are thinking about participating in, but are not sure yet. You have to explore them in order to know. I would also include the currently trendy international computer animation conference, in this case FMX fits the bill.

The line items in our budget are travel, hotel, conference fees, food & incidentals, and general marketing. The former are all self-explanatory, the latter, general marketing, refers to such things as personal appearance, business cards and so forth.

Now keep in mind, that these may not be the conferences for you. But probably, if your field is anything like mine, there are other conferences that one should substitute. Thus your costs and the details will differ on a individual basis. Of course.

One year budget.

I realize that I have left off the NVIDIA GPU annual conference which is not cheap, either.  Also I have underestimated a few of the costs and I need to check them (mostly conference fees).  So the real number is closer to $12,000 than to $10,000.

You will need to be able to spend $12,000 per year to stay in a field and try to keep current. You can get this number down, of course.  You do not have to attend every year.  Maybe you attend one set of conferences one year, and the others the year after.   That might work, its non optimal, but it might work out.

If you are working, you still have to attend some of these conferences, whatever they are. But you may not have to attend all of them, and you may be paid to attend or be invited to attend. Because you are working you are already getting certain kinds of input about your field that the unemployed do not get. Access to tools, knowing what is currently going on, etc. It may be that you send yourself to one or two of these (or different) conferences anyway as insurance or as professional development.

My point is, although you may be unemployed and cash short, you still have out of pocket that you must spend every year if you hope to work in that field again. 

These costs are on top of all your other costs of course.  Such as rent, food, power and other minor things like that.  Your car payments and car insurance, for example.

And how many years should you plan to do this for?  Well, that is up to you and fate I suppose.  But realistically, one year is too optimistic.  I would plan on 3-5 and of course this could go on until you give up and go away.

If you are a consultant, whatever that means, then I would plan on spending this indefinitely.

The point is that, if you have no money, and you can not attend these conferences or do some of the other things we will discuss in later posts, then you are probably dead and can not be in these fields.

My recommendation under those circumstances is to do what the free market and our government says you should do: go fuck yourself and die.  Its the only option that society has for you.  Too bad, you lost,and no one cares.

For those of us concerned about policy decisions, we should not expect those who are unemployed and have no money to be able to get productively employed in the future. That would be unrealistic.  There are no programs to help such people, nor is unemployment insurance more than a joke.  Social Security disability might be on option, if you have a disability.

Unfortunately, being born poor is not seen as a disability by the Social Security Administration.


1. No one knows the real numbers.  The formal unemployment numbers do not include those who are unemployed longer than 18 months, nor does it include those who are working at the grocery store because they can not get employed in the field they are qualified for and which generally pays much more.  They are not included in the stated unemployment rate nor are they included in any other formal metric that I am aware of.

Opportunity Cost on Wikipedia

Color Imaging Conference / IS&T

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Law Enforcement Provides Moral Instruction to the Poor

It does my heart good to see people of our society reach out to the poor and disenfranchised and help them in their misery.   When it is a public servant and they are taking unusual efforts, beyond the call of duty, to help our poor, to instruct them on how to live a better life, then that is truly inspirational, and is worth celebrating.

I know that there is a lot of misunderstanding out there about what our government, both federal and state, do to help the poor.  Many people tell me that the poor routinely use the system to make hundreds of thousands of dollars and drive their Cadillac to the welfare office.  Of course, no one in the world has ever seen these people but they know, they know, that they are out there.

Well, I am not so sure about the Cadillac, but I have personally witnessed the efforts our government makes and how the poor are helped with my own eyes.

One notable example happened just the other day.

I was waiting for my train to LA near the transit center in Oceanside California.   Oceanside is a beach town north of San Diego and famous for its location next to Camp Pendleton, the US Marine Corps Base. Oceanside is like most of N. San Diego County, it is very clean, very presentable, and very safe.  This is not a seedy transit area, and it is safe both day and night.

But there are homeless people everywhere in America, even Oceanside,

So while waiting for my train I came across a homeless person, a woman who was very old, very frail and very poor.   She looked like everyone's grandmother when she gets on in age.   She ought to be home with her cat, her television, knitting, and talking to a grandchild.  But this one was poor, she clearly had no place to live, no clean clothes, just rags, and a shopping cart.

She was being attended to by a pleasant, young man of perhaps 30 years of age, who was a member of the local police forces.   He was seeing to it that this woman got the care she needed.  Now what care might she need?  How about a place to sleep, some clean clothes, a shower and a hot meal?

No!   That is not what she needs, not at all.  What she needs to understand is that her circumstances in life, the tragedies and failures that have led her to being destitute, starving and desperate, were her fault because she lacked moral values.

The police officer was haranguing this poor miserable person, yelling at her, telling her what a bad person she was.  Because she was a thief!  She must have stolen that shopping cart to push her rags around in, she was a bad person!  Morally reprehensible!

He was not physically beating her up, but he was surely verbally beating her up, and for good reason. More than anything else in America, we hold private property to be sacred.  If anyone could just choose to take a shopping cart then pretty soon people would be stealing Porsche's and God only knows where it would go, but our society would collapse.

For those of you who care about these details, the homeless woman was white and the peace officer a nice looking, but very loud,  black man in uniform.  I mention this because it is the opposite of some of my fellow American's preconceptions about race in our society.

I was happy to see this desperate and frail woman was getting all the help that our society provides.  Forget about food, shelter, and that sort of thing.  If she wants to eat, she can grab old rotting food out of a garbage dumpster for all our government cares. What she needed right then was a lecture by a figure of authority who could throw her in jail, a large well-fed man with a gun and a stick, telling her that she was morally depraved.

Thats the kind of compassion and care that the poor and the homeless receive in this country in 2015.  It just makes me feel good about America when I see this sort of thing.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Dangerous Toys Beneficial For the Education of Youth

I want to bring to your attention a threat that is inherent in the emphasis on “safe toys for children” and in the related campaign against so-called violent computer games. I contend that not only do these games provide useful real and simulated experience of the world as it is, but other countries may be way ahead of us in educating their children with dangerous toys thus leading to a threatening and ever-widening "dangerous toys" gap.

What a child learns when they are young stays with them for the rest of their lives. Therefore it is up to us, as mature and experienced parents of these innocent biped mammals to see to it that their education contains the elements that they will need for a healthy and rewarding life, if you call this living.

What are these elements of a proper education? Well certainly there is learning to read and write, learning certain social skills such as not spitting in public, learning to keep themselves relatively clean and tidy, not to chew with their mouth open, that sort of thing. Some would include in this some pillars of a basic education such as the classics of western civilization (Homer, Isaac Newton, Bulwer-Lytton, Blavatsky) and the basics of managing hedge funds and real estate development. Perhaps not all classes of society really need the latter skills and education should be tailored for the different classes. For example, the rich may have to learn how to manage hedge funds but the poor how to avoid getting bitten by rats or how to find discarded but not completely decayed food to eat so that they do not starve to death, etc.

But all of us, rich or poor, can certainly benefit from knowing that the world is, as Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan put it, “a dangerous place”. It is a world filled with things that can drop on you and smash you flat, or people who will shoot you for a dollar, or people who think that they are entitled to distort the political system to get their way, or people who have beliefs that are dangerous to our beliefs. All of these things and more are true. So what benefit is it to educate our children to think that they do not exist? What is the point of waiting until they are adults, or nearly so, to let them in on the secret that they can easily kill themselves and others with that car or that gun? Or to keep from them the knowledge that there are rich and poor in America and that the poor have very little chance of having a decent life or receiving justice? Why keep from them the knowledge that as screwed up as this country is, they should have a look around with their own eyes and see how other countries are doing, some much better and many far worse. Or that people and nations and political groups lie every day both to the public and to themselves, often with tragic or disastrous results.

And that is what the campaign to eliminate dangerous and disturbing toys has set out to do. To hide these brutal facts from our young children out of the misguided notion that being sheltered helps them. Sure it may avoid a few hundred or thousand injuries or deaths, but at what cost? The cost is that our children do not have the first hand experience that they need to understand the world as it is.

Look at how far ahead of us the children of Afghanistan and Iraq are.  In America, misguided parents are horrified that “war toys” are produced and sold. But in Afghanistan, pretty much every boy gets their hands on an AK-47 by the time they are 10 years old and they are not toys. In America, our children do not know what an ammo dump looks like, let alone how to behave around one. But every kid in Afghanistan does. And how many American's have a relative or neighbor who is an internationally wanted terrorist? Precious few, I think.  By the time a boy turns 15 in Afghanistan, he has probably had many years experience smuggling opium over the border and killed at least one enemy of his tribe.   This experience so early in life is priceless.   

We shoot our selves in the foot, so to speak, to think that this pretense of a safe world that we construct for our children helps them or us. It just leads to shock and dismay when our privileged and self-entitled narcissist child has to face the real world. The shock may lead to total collapse and psychological disintegration. That is where this ill-considered policy leads.

But by no means does that mean that we have to start selling war toys to our children. There are other ways to get the ideas across that are more in the areas of industry and manufacturing than in warfare. My favorite is a toy my older brother had and which I loved. It was made in the very early 1960s by Mattel and it was called VAC-U-FORM.

VAC-U-FORM gave a child the ability to create vacuum molded plastic parts at will. It consisted of a very hot heating element, a vacuum pump, a contraption to press things together, sheets of thin plastic as material, and various molds to use a templates. Think of it as a 3D printer ahead of its time.

The smell of the melting plastic issuing obviously dangerous and probably cancer-causing chemicals was the joy of every teenage boy. One could easily damage oneself on the hot heating element, or on the melted plastic before it cooled. Or with exacto blades to chop out the manufactured parts. There were so many ways that a child could get themselves sent to the hospital with an irate and hysterical parent accompanying them.

Now that is the kind of toy that won the cold war. That is the kind of toy that bred tough and realistic Americans who were capable of manufacturing and surviving in this dangerous world. Its a toy that would send parents of today screaming in rage at the borderline-insane cavalier attitude of the toy designers towards safety or the lack thereof, not realizing that these toy designers were just trying to make America that much stronger.

I hope that America will come to its senses and return to these educational toys before it is too late. I could imagine a line of drones being used to find and disarm neighborhood land mines, for example. What fun that would be!

The future has so much promise if we just embrace it.


Here is a video from the 1960s showing the VAC-U-FORM at work

The Wikipedia page on the VAC-U-FORM