Thursday, August 28, 2014

The Professional Objectivist

draft

As I sit here in hell and watch my life passing before my eyes, I think back nostalgically to the days when I lived in the Upper West Side of New York City. I have been fortunate to also live in other places that had high entertainment value, such as Los Angeles in the 1980s when computer animation was but a gleam in a few idealist's eyes, but I have the following story which I believe demonstrates at least in part why living in Manhattan (or the other boroughs of New York) is so appealing.

Although my role in the Hayden Planetarium's Digital Galaxy Project was sadly over I still maintained many relationships with my friends there. One afternoon I was invited to join two of them, Anthony Braun and Gretchen Schwartz of the museum, for afternoon tea at some cafe on Columbus Avenue. It was a beautiful day and we sat outside. I am pretty sure that Steve Gano was there that day as well. (1) Gretchen had also invited her girlfriend who we will call Amy. Amy and Gretchen had both been interns for Michael Moore, the famous director of documentaries (and they both hated him with a passion).

Amy had invited her current boyfriend a tall, good looking young man.

So what did Amy's boyfriend do? It seems he was an “intellectual”, and that he worked as an Objectivist philosopher for the Ayn Rand Institute.


Ayn Rand being interviewed somewhere


Now, let me ask you, did you ever read Ayn Rand? Well, I was an undergraduate once, and I read Ayn Rand like everybody else, and was somewhat amused. It did not seem very practical. And I wondered, I truly wondered, who could write that 150 page rant near the end of Atlas Shrugged that went on and on and fucking on? It turns out that Ayn Rand was a Jewish refugee from Stalin's socialist paradise. So a Russian Jewish author of romantic political tracts, we now knew who could write such ummm, well, emphatic material. Ayn Rand, or whatever her real name was, could.

One more thing, to help complete the picture before I comment thereon. It was clear to me that whatever Amy's long term interest in this Objectivist was, her short term interest was to use him as a sex toy. That was my impression. A nice looking, big, healthy young man. Such are the lofty motives of so many of our peers and colleagues.

Now, how many Objectivists are there in the world? Well, there are a fair number of people who might call themselves an Objectivist, I suppose. But how many of them get paid for it? Only very few, I think. In the entire world, are there ten professional Objectivists? I doubt it. In all this world are there five professional objectivists? Perhaps there are five. Perhaps.

So this was truly a great and rare honor. I was having tea with a professional Objectivist!

Now out here in Hollywood I know many interesting and accomplished people. Writers, visual effects supervisors, academy award winners, famous computer scientists, successful entrepreneurs, actors, actresses, poets and porn stars.

But in all these years on the west coast, I never once met a professional Objectivist.


The Ayn Rand Institute

Objectivism

Atlas Shrugged

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1. Some of the people who read this blog will know Steve well. He is a graduate of the MIT Media Lab and a veteran of Apple / Kaleida among other ventures.



Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Improving Elementary Education with H.P. Lovecraft


Education for young people is a disaster in this country and while we all believe it should be changed, there are few who agree as to what should be done to improve it.   I do not have answers to the big questions, but I do think that it is clear that our children would benefit from being exposed to a greater diversity of important American writers.  And first among them, from my point of view,  is the autodidact and self-published author H.P. Lovecraft who is considered one of the greatest writers of horror fiction in this or any country.

But it has been argued that Lovecraft is not suitable for very young audiences.  Although I think that is a silly objection,  nevertheless I am happy to bring to your attention today the work of an unknown artist (unknown to me at least) who has solved this problem.  

There is an off-beat website called “Deviant Art” or www.deviantart.com which exhibits the work of people with self-described odd taste. I think of them as the sort of people who exhibited in the art galleries of science fiction conventions such as WorldCon or WesterCon back in the days before the Internet. These are outsider artists for the most part with a quirky sense of humor.

One such artist is someone by the name of R. J. Ivankovic and whose Deviant Art name is “DrFaustusAU”.

His or her particular vision is the mashup of Dr. Seuss with H.P. Lovecraft and other authors of the macabre, the horrible, and the grotesque.   See for example his insanely wonderful “Call of Cthulhu for Beginning Readers”, a repurposing of the original Lovecraft story about Cthulhu published in Weird Tales in 1928.

I believe that with the approach pioneered by Ivankovic that we have a way to bring the work of this important writer, H. P. Lovecraft, to even our youngest readers.   I feel certain that the Dr. Seuss estate would look favorably on the request to use the Seuss style in such a noble cause.







And here is a “One Fish, Two Fish...” as reinterpreted through a zombie, night of the living dead, filter.





Please join me in recommending to our various school boards and committees this important work and help improve elementary education in our country.


DrFaustusAU can be found on Deviant Art at

Find his or her The Call of Cthulhu for Beginning Readers here

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Notes

Cthulhu on Wikipedia

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Elitism, Privilege and Fast Attack Submarines


Over the years I have gone back and forth on the issue of whether there are “rules” that apply to all of us or not. Or are there people for whom the rules do not apply, a privileged elite for whom special accommodation is made?

It seems to me that every time I come across a rule that is supposedly applied evenhandedly, for example, taxes, that no such thing is true. That in fact, there are one set of taxes for the rich, one for the remnants of the middle class and one for the poor with most of the tax burden falling on the middle and lower classes. Or consider the laws against stealing. A poor man steals $500 from a 7-11 and goes to jail. The mortgage industry destroys the world economy, is gifted 2.5 trillion dollars by our government, and no one goes to jail.

But I thought that at least in the area of submarines, submarines, for goodness sake, I thought that our country had some integrity. But sadly I was mistaken.

As a student of the cold war and as a strong believer in the role of vast, expensive, over-complicated technological solutions to impose our will on the world and bring the benefits of our culture to other nations whether they want it or not, I am of course a supporter and student of submarines.

And who could not be? The dream of traveling under the water to explore the unknown lands to be found there, filled with strange and wonderful creatures which we can now eat and drive extinct, the ability to visit mysterious underwater phenomena as described by our science fiction authors, to sponsor cooperation between nations by tapping their most secret communication cables, all of these are compelling justifications of our devotion to submarines.

Surely as time passes, more and more will be revealed about the activities of our submarines during the Cold War.


Layout of Japanese WW2 Mini Submarine


For years I had been told that it was impossible to take a tour of one of our nation's active duty nuclear powered submarines.  Since one would not want to get close to a nuclear missile submarine, this would be one of the Los Angeles Class (three different types), Seawolf or Virginia class attack submarines. Tours of every other class of ship of the US Navy were possible, but not nuclear submarines, I was told, on one occasion by a former captain of an attack submarine.

So I was told.

Its all bullshit.

The rules are for the little people and do not apply to those who secretly run things.  Such as a limited number of Stanford Alumni.

See the evidence for yourself, below.




This damning document can be found at the following url:.
http://alumni.stanford.edu/get/page/events/details?event_id=8594

For those of you not up on your subs, the “Los Angeles” class is the class portrayed in the movie Hunt for Red October (1990)

I plan to be calling the San Diego Naval Station and asking for my tour soon and I encourage all of you to do the same.  Lets smash this egregious elitism and restore the right to visit nuclear submarines to all our people.

_________________________________________

Notes

Chief of Naval Operations Description of the Fast Attack Submarine
http://www.navy.mil/navydata/cno/n87/today/ssn.html

Hunt for Red October (1990) on IMDB

Friday, August 22, 2014

Is Writing A Blog a Form of Therapy?


Before we go further, I want you to know what I think about psychotherapy, sometimes called talk therapy, sometimes called psychoanalysis although not as commonly today. I think it is mostly an entertaining mistake from the early part of last century, one part scam, one part Jewish intellectual disease, one part self-deception. (1) I have friends who are the children of very successful psychoanalysts and who have been in therapy all their lives and clearly it hasn't helped.

There are many kinds of therapy of course, and the kind I am being dismissive of is the one in which the patient talks about his life and the doctor concludes that the patient is hostile because he secretly wants to have sex with his mother.

But keeping an open mind, when I was in NY and consulting for Viacom, I decided to give it a try. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. Besides, I had as close as I was going to ever have to a steady income, so now was the time.


A great scene from the President's Analyst (1967) right before he confesses to killing the Albanian.


Anyway, I tried it for a year and did get some benefit out of it although I did not realize at first what was going on. What happened is that I noticed that when I saw the therapist, I leaned less on my friends. I live alone and so other than talking to myself, the only way I can release certain kinds of stress, to share as it were, is to talk to my friends. I suspect my friends find this tiresome.  But when I was in therapy I noticed that because I could spew once a week at my therapist, that I did not do it as much to my friends and in fact that I was also a bit less neurotic in the workplace.

Apparently this benefit is sometimes called “Rent a Pal” and is not unique to me.  One is still as fucked up as before, may have as many neurosis or unrealized desires to have kinky sex or whatever, but at least one is not as compelled to blab about it to your long-suffering friends.

I wonder whether I am getting a similar benefit from writing this blog? In writing many of these posts, I get my entertainment by trying to find an amusing way to beat the shit out of things, events, concepts or people that annoy me. 

 I am in touch with my feelings so there are a lot of things that annoy me.



__________________________________

1. There was a period of time, perhaps the 1950s or so, when between three apostate Jews we were able to fuck up nearly everybody in the world. The three of course were Jesus, Karl Marx and Sigmund Freud. Technically, Jesus was an apocalyptic rabbi, and not really apostate.


Administrative Notes on the Blog Fall 2014


These are notes to myself and anyone else interested in the blogging process.

We are now a month or so into the third year of writing this blog and many things have been learned but nothing too unexpected. Many intermediate goals are proceeding along very well. Its probably my single most successful project of the last 5 years or so, take that for what you will.

The two things holding it back are my normal tendency to fail to be very organized in achieving long term goals and the amount of time to do a post when one is trying to be productive in other areas. These are not new issues, but I want to go over them briefly anyway.

The advantage of the blog process is that it can tolerate a “skip around and talk about whatever pops into your head” work process. It can tolerate a “five different posts in progress but this one is the closest to finishing so lets do it and put it up”. But there are other things in life that do not respond to this devil-may-care, gotta-be-free, seat-of-the-pants life style. These things may require a “do these five things by this date and three of those things are really obnoxious and not fun at all”, or may require addressing unpleasant topics or modest amount of confrontation. But in these tasks, failure to make the deadline (which may not even be explicitly known) or failure to do one of the five tasks no matter how well you did the other four results in a total wash.  It is as if you did no work at all. 

So the blogging process must accommodate these other, less forgiving projects.

The second issue is that a decent post is a solid 4 or so hours of serious work. Again not a surprise. Not all posts take this long, this post is taking a little over an hour. But in general my best essays, the ones that contribute the most value and are the most entertaining require many hours of thinking, writing, rewriting, some research, selection of visual materials, and so forth. This is the kind of work that a good client proposal might require or making some progress on a technical project that one has ongoing.

Anyway, it won't surprise you that it can be very hard to find those 4 plus hours when trying to make progress in other things, traveling to conferences, dealing with society, etc. Some days have at best one 4 hour period of dedicated work in it. Some days don't even have that.

So when you do not see a post, or a post of substance for a while, it probably has as its subtext that whatever is going on in my life is getting in the way of applying that serious time to finish or write a post.

A minor issue for the blog is that as it gets more material, it needs to be reorganized, with better choices of tags, various subject pages and so forth.  That project will be a little nasty, like cleaning the kitchen floor, and also like cleaning the floor, becomes more annoying the longer one postpones it.


Saturday, August 16, 2014

The Illusionist Table at the Scitech Awards


Is it the Addams family or is it our table at the Scitech Awards?

This picture was taken so long ago that David Coons is still married to Carlye.   There is very little light in that room and I am morally opposed to flash units, so that explains the use of the candles to try and add a little illumination.




Besides David Coons and Carlye, we have Rick Sayre, Nicki Kaiser, Josh Pines in the center, Stu Moscowitz (sp) and his lovely girlfriend.  I am inquiring the names of the other people there and about when this happened.

Nikki points out that the candles and the tuxedos make it look like a meeting of illusionists, perhaps earlier last century or even before.

Jeff Kleiser and Coco Conn at the Hotel Figueroa


At a SIGGRAPH long ago, Jeff and Coco discuss something very important.   Between Jeff and Coco we have the two most important social/party organizers of the LA computer animation community in the 1980s.




Jeff is of course partner in the Kleiser/Walczak Construction Company and Coco was the force behind SIGKIDS at SIGGRAPH for many years.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

The Ancient Past of Early Computer Animation (draft)

This is all just going to be rewritten.

A friend of mine, Terrance Masson, hosted an event at SIGGRAPH 2014 to tell some of the stories behind the early work in computer animation.   I was invited because it is thought that I know quite a few of these stories, and I do.  But instead I wrote up some notes as to why it is very difficult for people to look at the early work in computer animation and make much sense of it or know why these projects are important, if indeed they are.

Although I am going to try and explain some of the factors behind these projects.  But it may still be very hard to understand.   

I may say that I walked through the snow five miles each day to go to school and you may believe me.  I may say that if we wanted to do computer animation we had to build our own computer and you may believe me.  I may tell you that the electronics for a 512x512 frame buffer (graphics display) without the monitor might cost you about $30K.   Or that a major production studio had about 1/2 gigabyte of disk total.

It is extremely difficult to look into the past and really understand what people were thinking and why they did what they did.  If you are going to understand history, even the history of people still living, then you are going to have to realize how recent certain things really are, how much smaller the community was, how much less money was involved, and how much of this was essentially an outsider activity.

The projects I am referring to were created and premiered, generally at SIGGRAPH, between the years 1995 - 1993 or so.   By 1995 at the latest, it was a completely different world.

So here are some things to consider when viewing an early computer animation project (in no particular order):

1. The further back you go in time, the more likely it is that they wrote their own software or someone on the team was writing software.   What!  Write one's own software!?  How technical!  Yes, thats right, to do computer animation you had to know what a computer was.

2. As far as we know, no one in authority thought this was really going to work. No mainstream entertainment organization believed that they were going to be making movies with computer, that 3D animation would take over from 2D to a large degree, that visual effects would use synthetic imagery, etc.

3. With the exception of Lucas and possibly Disney, so far as I know none of the major studios paid for any of this technology until it was all proven to work and make them money.

4. Some people were being paid to do the projects you know about, some were not.  Those who were paid were often expected to do a real job as well, or in some cases their management permitted people to work on the project you are looking at rather than their real job.

5. Computers were unbelievably slower and more expensive.  A 12 bit 512x512 frame buffer (e.g. color display) cost about $30K in 1976 dollars.  Note that is 12 bits, e.g. 4 bits each R, G and B.

6. Some of the best motion graphics was done between 1976 and 1978.

7. All of the projects that we are talking about here were labors of love.

8. Attending the "film" show was an intellectual activity, as my friend Andy Kopra has pointed out.  It was the ideas being demonstrated that made the project important.  If you did not know what those ideas were then you would not be able to understand the piece.  So for example, imho, "Luxo, Jr" by Pixar was about demonstrating that a character could be brought to life in classic Disney character animation terms using 3D graphics.  The film was about proving that such a thing was possible, and only secondarily about a lamp playing ball with another lamp.

9. Although there were people who were interested in the commercial applications to the entertainment industry, there were also many people who were interested in abstract filmmaking, electronic and video synthesis and other, completely non-commercial uses in the visual arts.

... to be continued





Rashomon (1950) on IMDB
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0042876/

Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report


The recent suicide of Robin Williams has led to a flurry of articles expressing concern about "suicide contagion" or the phenomenon of people committing suicide after someone famous or someone they know commits suicide.   I have read some of these articles and it is probably a real phenomenon although it is of course mixed in with the more complicated topic of why people commit suicide in the first place and what would be involved in helping them so that they did not see the necessity to do so.

But this post is not about that.  It is about a particular newsletter that is issued weekly:  the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

Its all about death on a weekly basis, but God forbid you should use that word.

http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Anti-Social and Criminal Behavior in Social Media


What to do when people attack you on the Internet?   There are many techniques possible including revenge, laughter, threats of violence (which are illegal by the way) and so forth.  

One solution is to help your enemies by telling them what has already been tried so that they do not waste your time.   That is the technique of Ms. Fitzpatrick who has written a letter to her attackers describing what has already been tried and what effect it had.  

The kind of behavior that she is responding to is amazingly bad.  We are talking juvenile, delusional, psycho-pathological, paranoid, vindictive, violent, anti-social, hateful, racist, sexist, vicious, obsessive and criminal.

Just an average day on the Internet, I suppose.

Here are the first three paragraphs of her post:

      Did you come to my blog because you saw something I wrote on an Internet forum or Twitter 
      which you didn't like?

      Are you now frantically Googling my name and trying to "come up with something on me" so 
      you can try to discredit my ideas along with me?

      Let me help. Save yourself some time, and realize that you don't have to spend hours 
      Googling and drilling needlessly on the Wayback Machine, because there's no scandal here.
      If you're trying to silence my legitimate speech and criticism by trying to "come up with 
      something" on me, give it up. Use words, if you have an argument against my blogs, and don't
      try to harass me with "doxing," vilification, smearing, etc. It's not going to work.


Ms. Fitzpatrick's advice to her enemies is very long but worth reading if you have the time.

I come from the period of early online communities. I remember programs like Talkomatic on Plato, and I have used various text based MUDS or whatever they were called.  I participated in early email lists on the ARPAnet like everyone else until I got tired of the flames and the time it took to participate.  I helped test an early version of the Warner Bros multi-person online game "The Palace".   I sponsored and helped implement one of the early versions of a networked-multiperson game, Mazewar. I screwed around with Second Life and once had a very pleasant makeout session with a beautiful virtual woman. Unfortunately my browser got caught in some sort of infinite loop while we were smooching and nothing ever came of it.

It all seemed to me to be playful, entertaining and certainly not harmful beyond the usual problems of distracting young people from their homework or household chores.

But obviously the world has changed and from the slime pits of online social networking we have real-world groups such as Wikileaks, Anonymous and the delusional and narcissistic actions of would-be freedom fighters who work to destroy their country on behalf of the most oppressive governments of the world.  (1)

In fact most of the attacks on Fitzpatrick stem from her non-politically-correct opinions about Snowden and his collaborators.

You may also wish to examine the case of the XX Committee and the actions taken to destroy the reputation and career of its author because of his very literate and compelling posts on the Snowden Operation.   The link for that is also at the end of the post.

This shit isn't funny anymore.


Advice to Google Witch Hunters
__________________________________________


1. This is just reality, kids.  You may not like it, but nothing Snowden or Greenwald has exposed was against American law.   You may disagree with the policies that led to those activities that were exposed, and if so I recommend you elect different representatives to Washington.   All of it, and I mean all of it, was under control of the President, the national security apparatus and the courts.   It was thus all under the control of your legally elected representatives.  If you believe in changing our government by illegal means,  Snowden and Greenwald may have value.   They have certainly collaborated with foreign, hostile intelligence services, independent of whether or not those services sponsored and controlled their activities from the beginning. They are certainly in the service of foreign intelligence today.    Do not think for one moment that the activities of Snowden and Greenwald was legitimate whistle blowing because it wasn't.  They are pursuing a radical political agenda of their own and using illegal means.   There is another discussion that one can have about whether illegal means are legitimate in the context of such events as the Bush coup d'etat of 2000, but that is a separate discussion and even if we decide that they are legitimate, and I do not necessarily do so, I still would not agree with or approve of the Snowden Operation.