Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Is A Communist Conspiracy Behind World Financial Collapse?

This post will attempt to channel certain belief systems from the long - over Cold War in order to explain current events in the world economy.

Back in the good old days of the Cold War, say circa 1960 or so, America and the world-at-large would not have had to worry about the Chinese Communist stock market imploding which has as a side effect the instability and economic collapse of the world economy.  They would not have worried even a little bit about such a thing for the very simple reason that in those days Mainland China aka Communist China would not have been caught dead with that discredited tool of capitalism, the stock market.

The Communist cadres would have fought to the death to prevent such an abomination from coming into existence.   There is no Communist government anywhere, now or in the past, that could possibly justify such a thing unless they had completely fallen into sin and corruption, or unless it was part of a larger plot to destroy the West by emphasizing the contradictions of decadent Western Capitalism.

And yet today we are watching the spectacle of a stock market in Communist China which is doing a very good imitation of a meltdown.   Not only does this alleged Communist government have a stock market but it is also providing services to the world economy which exploits the tremendous spirit and hard work of their people who are organized in a fashion akin to slave labor.

Truly if this is the case, then Marx and Engels must be in a continuous spin in their graves to witness this self-betrayal. No believer in the worker's paradise could for a moment be confused into thinking that this was a legitimate technique of a nominally Communist government.  Something else must be going on.

In the last week or so, this market, the Chinese stock market, has experienced a classic panic and lost tremendous value. And in so doing, it has spread uncertainty to other markets in the world causing them to also experience a sudden downturn and sending otherwise complacent exploiters of labor into a tizzy of fear and rage.

And yet it could be no surprise, in a sense, that a market would implode under stress of rumors or insane financial policies, because markets of this type always do this, eventually.  The question is not if, but when.

Today the sophisticated and worldly financier can look at market panics and economic collapse as merely a charming affectation of the blessings of Adam Smith and the Free Market.  Ok so the world economy collapses every 20 years or so because of inherent instability in unregulated markets, but that is a small  price to pay for the freedom we have in this country to outlaw labor unions and prevent our government from providing health care.

But if these events were happening in the cold war, and originating as they do in a nominally Communist country, which say what you will, has a lot invested in not believing in the mythology of the unregulated market, someone would have constructed a narrative of communist conspiracy that suggested that what we were witnessing was obviously not an accident or a mistake, but a part of a sinister plot created by the International Communist Menace in general, and the Chinese in particular, filled as they are with hatred of The American Way.

So out of respect for those ways of thinking from 50 years ago, here is my guess of how the Communist plot might have been structured and presented to the American People.

The accusation would be made that the Chinese (more properly the CCP, the Chinese Communist Party) was actually causing these events to happen as part of a plan to destroy the world economy, force their political system on us, and force us all to have health care.   

This plot would be said to have many stages leading us to this dark day. 

1. Utilize China's slave labor to attract manufacturing to its shores. Utterly destroy manufacturing in target nations, such as the USA. Count on the self-destructive greed of the wealthy industrialists to sacrifice any value or public good in order to increase short term profits.  In so doing, the wealthy industrialists put a huge number of people out of work in America.  Disenchanted, poverty stricken, and without help from their government who, after all, only exists to exalt and support the rich, these unemployed people will be fertile ground for future revolutionary movements.

2. At the same time as destroying the enemy's industrial capability, the ruthless Chinese also embark on a decades long plan of stimulating their own economy, setting up economic barriers, and otherwise encourage an overheated local economy to exist.   In this way, China becomes the fastest growing economy in the world, at least for a while.  This gives your controlled industrialist classes the cash and the need to create a stock market and a wild boom ensues.   Commie fronts like Alibaba come into existence with billions of Yuan in estimated value. The International Communist Conspiracy is almost ready to pull the rug out from under the feet of the Western dupes who suspect nothing.

3.  To everyone's amazement, the Communist inspired stock market comes into existence with great fanfare.  The dupes in the West are too ignorant to understand that this could never happen in the Worker's state but are so self-involved and self-congratulatory that they fail to suspect anything.  Stocks are traded, valuation goes through the roof, and investors from all over the world make substantial investments in Chinese ventures and Chinese billionaires make investments in American and other non-Chinese companies.  Soon the next phase of this unspeakable communist conspiracy will begin.

4. Now, having made the stupid west dependent on your economy for their profits, you begin to pull the whole thing apart.  First you selectively stop overheating your economy, causing sectors like real estate to begin to implode. And since you have deliberately not regulated your stock market you can count on an inevitable panic and collapse which is exactly what happens.

5. You then pretend to try and control the panic and stabilize the market but of course you fail, which was what you always planned to do.  No one can save an unregulated market that now is filled with fear, which you knew from watching the stupid capitalists over the last century with their repeated booms and busts. And of course since we live in a global economy, when your stock market collapses it takes others all over the world with it which causes a massive financial collapse and worldwide depression.    

That is all it takes to destroy the world economy, just depend on the free market, quote end quote, the unregulated stock exchange, to do it for you.

And how clever of the Chinese communists to pretend to believe in the market economy and so forth, when all along they were planning to use those old and bankrupt concepts, which cause so much misery and inequality in the world, and use it for what it does best: self destruct.

Now, with another world-wide depression, it will be no trouble for your Communist cells to find desperate people to cause revolution and put your freedom hating communist party in power which is the first step towards imposing gun control laws and health care on the newly oppressed people of the world.

V. I. Lenin said, “The West will sell us the rope we will use to hang them”. And he may yet turn out to be correct.

The above is one way that events in the world today might have been perceived in the Cold War, at least by some of our more conspiracy-minded Cold Warriors.  

I have one more thing to say before I drop this line of thought, or whatever it is.

We live in a very strange time in American and the world.  I think it is much stranger than we, who are immersed in it every day, realize.  And I cite to you by example the fact that the last major Communist nation in the world should in fact both have a stock exchange and be suffering from the classic instability of an unregulated finance market.  Say what you will, explain it however you care to, but I think it is fair to say that this is a very weird situation.



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For more on the despicable Chinese way of war see the Art of War by that proto-commie, Sun Tsu. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Art_of_War


Monday, August 24, 2015

Curl Crested Manucode Makes UFO Alien Death Ray Sounds


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Cornell has made its library of the recordings of birds from around the world available online. One bird in particular was chosen from its library because it makes sounds like a UFO death ray. How is it possible for the Curl Crested Manucode to know so perfectly what alien space brothers sound like? Clearly this is proof that aliens visited New Guinea in ancient times and invented video game sound effects.


Curl Crested Manucode tells stories of the Alien visitations to its young bird unit.


Listen yourself if you dont believe me.



Sunday, August 16, 2015

Late Summer Garden Report 2015

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The notes below are intended to remind me of lessons learned to date by this years container garden. Others may find it useful as well, its hard to tell.

Everything here is calibrated to what one vegetarian might want to have in a salad several times a week, or as a contribution to salsa and other mexican food, or as a contribution to the usual vegetarian soups, again once or twice a week.

Now in mid August the heat is insane with temperatures reaching well above 100 degrees, and possibly as much as 120 degrees in the nearby desert.

Camera is missing so there are no pictures.

1. We had about 4 functioning runner/pole beans operating all summer. They have done yeoman work, but are just about shot. 6 or 8 functioning plants would have been a better number, although with 4 it has not been too bad.

2. We had about 8 tomato plants, all but one of which did not produce until the last month. Now they are coming along fine, but if I were to do it again, I might focus more on cherry tomatoes, which produce more, more often, and with less problems. 8 plants is about right for one person. Tomatoes were never given proper size containers so no doubt suffer from having cramped root systems. Tomatoes benefitted from a new better trellising system based on PVC pipes.

3. Lettuce was successful in the beginning of summer, but by mid summer was totally destroyed. It can not take the heat. We will try an experiment in fall as it gets cooler.

4. We had about 4 functioning cucumber plants from early to mid summer. This was acceptable but a few more would have been useful. They take a lot of space and could have been better trellised and managed. We had an aphid attack on two of the cucumber plants and that caused me to pretty much terminate the crop at that point.

5. Peas did not function at all this year. Probably it was just too hot.

6. It is not clear whether the problems with lettuce and peas was also due to using last years seeds or if it was just the heat and other mistakes in germination.

7. The experiment of keeping the basil in the shade seems to have helped.

8. On the tomatoes, beans and cucumbers, a relentless diseased leaf and branch removal policy was used. Care was made to try to avoid contamination by infected plant parts and to dispose of them in a way that disease was not spread.

9. We reused potting soil for the beans and lettuce but nothing else.

10. All plants started from seed with hybrid, disease resistant varieties.

11. All plants watered twice a day, sometimes a third time in midday due to heat.

12. Preemptive spraying by copper solution and neem oil seems to have helped. Avoided spraying in mid day.

13. No attempt was made to rescue plants with aphids. Aphids were the kiss of death, any plant so affected was terminated.

14. Will try again with peas and lettuce when it gets cooler.

15. It would have been nice to have some functioning hot pepper plants, in spite of them being somewhat annoying to start.

Impromptu deGraf/Wahrman Reunion 2015

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I apologize for being so late in posting this. I am recovering from the shock of SIGGRAPH, my own angst about my career, lack thereof, and the oppressive heat.

Out of the blue, there was an impromptu dWi (deGraf/Wahrman) reunion party at Greg Ercolano's house on the Saturday before Siggraph.

If I get your name wrong, or leave your name out entirely, please send me email so I can correct this.

Attendees included (in no particular order) Greg Ercolano, Anne Marie, Eve Lunt (and her husband, Andrew), Jane Stephan, Sally Syberg, Maija Beeton (and her husband Andre Bustanaby), Jim Hillin, Ken Brain, Jay Sloat, Allen Battino, Joseph Goldston, Larry Malone (and friend), and Kevin Bjorke (and friend).

I arrived rather late in the evening having taken the train from San Diego.

People who could not attend due to being out of town or prior engagements or other responsibilities include Brad, Kerry Colonna, Liz Ralston, Josh Pines, Jim Goodman and Emily, Adrian Iler, Marc Scaparo, Sari Gennis, Lynda Weinman, J Walt, Tom Betts, Don Rhodes (CPA), Wendy Elwell, Anne Adams, Ken Cope, Steve Segal, and Tuck Tucker. Dale Herigstad was in Europe I think. Richard Taylor helped out.  Ladd McPartland had recently passed away. Not all of these people may have received invitations in the last minute rush.

It was clear that I was not the only one suffering from career angst or dislocation. This is unfortunate because everyone there but perhaps myself is a respectable, knowledgeable, hard working citizen. who deserves to be doing fabulously well in our new digital age, but that does not seem to always be the case. I find this fascinating and unexpected. Even if we are not all where we might want to be at this point, I would have expected all of us to be valued in the marketplace.

I was astounded to get extra dWi film cartridges from Jane. Everyone was stunned to see a video that Ercolano had of a walk through of dWi sometime during the HB Attraction Period. Greg Ercolano seems to have acquired a fabulous classic contemporary mid-century house. Alhambra seems to be an interesting, Lauren-Canyon like neighborhood.

Probably it is best that I said nothing much at this event.  But if I had thought about it, I would probably have said something like, "There have been several periods of my life when I have been lucky to work with a group of people who turn out to be extraordinarily talented.   And as time passes it becomes clear how fortunate I was to be able to work with all of you.   I also feel that for a variety of reasons that were not exactly under the control of Brad and myself, we were not always able to provide the working conditions that everyone deserved to have.  It is one of the reasons that I did not want to start another production company, or even another company, as I did not want to repeat the same mistakes and without proper funding, that was the likely result.  Again, I want to say, it has been a privilege to work with all of you."

But I was too tired to even think about this until everyone had left.

I slept in the guest house and could not sleep a wink. Apparently the racoons drop things on the roof every 15 minutes or so with a bang.

Obviously we need to do this again so that more can attend.

I would like to encourage everyone there (and those who were not) to arrange to get together with me in the next year so we can catch up in more detail. It has been too long.

I need to get a copy of the Ercolano video.

Photographs to follow.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Siggraph 2015 Notes


I just missed Joey Ito's Keynote speech.  The MIT Media Lab space at Siggraph, as always, has excellent graphic design.  I guess I would call it that MIT Press look.

It disappoints me that we do not have a message board.  Yes, it was unwieldy and imperfect but it was often of use and now there is nothing to replace it.

Hotel Figueroa is no longer owned by Uno, the entertaining German who had bought it 20 plus years ago. It does not appear as though the Sunday Art Party poolside at the Hotel Figueroa is still in action.

At the dWi reunion party, perhaps half the people were unemployed, it seemed.

Sighted at Siggraph: Joan Collins, Mary Whitton, Michael Naimark, Jimbo Hillin, Joey Ito, Scott Fisher, two volunteers from Va. Commonwealth University, Marty Schindler, Rick Sayre, Ed Catmull, Pat Hanrahan, David Morin, David Naegel, Craig Reynolds, Kevin Bjorke, Ed Kramer, Scott Owen, Tom Duff, Henry Fuchs, Turner Whitted (now at Nvidia), Paul Debevec, Barton Gawboy, Jay Sloat, Kurt Fleisher.

Coons award winner Henry Fuchs.

Art achievement award went to Lillian Schwartz which is great, but I felt that Siggraph should have put more energy into explaining who Lillian is and how she came to be where and what she was.  The thing that Lillian provided was addressed, I felt, to those already in the arts community who knew who she was and what the backstory was.  I think.

A brief moment of cynicism about Siggraph papers from the point of view of two very jaded adults who have worked in the glamourous entertainment industry.   A friend and I were discussing what sort of papers one saw at Siggraph, broken down by category: A. papers about techniques that we have been doing for years, B. papers about good ideas that are implemented in a way that is straightforward and obvious, C. Papers about problems or ideas where the author did not seem to understand that the problem had been solved for years, or did not know something about prior work that is very important.  D. Papers about some idea that was really interesting and unexpected, however it was implemented, E. Papers about an idea that was well known (or a problem that was well known) but was solved in a way that was unexpected or really clever.   Obviously what you want is more of categories D and E.

I had a crisis at home and had to leave Siggraph Monday evening through Tuesday unfortunately when most of the interesting parties were.



Thursday, August 6, 2015

Marketing, Mojo and Career Longevity


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An esteemed colleague discussed in an email how, after years of having excellent positions at important companies, that he could no longer seem to get a job, that the “mojo” had gone away. I also experienced something similar, may still be experiencing it, and so I want to discuss my impressions of this phenomenon which is so frustrating and confusing. Although I believe some of this may also apply to my friend, that would be for him to say, this is all from my point of view and based on my experience and impressions.

The argument goes like this. In an earlier and more naive period, some of us who were pioneers in that field were able to achieve results that got us some notoriety and the perception that we were near the top of our field, which we may very well have been in one way or another. This notoriety was communicated to the field through the normal course of attending certain conferences, particularly SIGGRAPH, word of mouth and industry magazines.  Just being asked to participate in a conference was a form of this, and a self fulling prophesy. 

While we thought we were building up long-term credibility, improved by working on fundamental concepts and inventions at an earlier time, it turns out that we were not. Because in America, long-term credibility is only in the eyes of the beholder, and most people of the world do not behold it. What we were benefiting from at the time was a. the benefit of fashion, we were very fashionable, and b. short term credibility as being near the forefront of the field, a field that was very trendy but not with many practical applications.

Because of this trendiness and because practical applications slowly started appearing, there was a massive influx of new people. The new people not only did not know the history, but could not care less. Those who were responsible for awarding projects or hiring people for a while were members of the class of people who were early in the field, but as time passed there were less and less of them and more of the newcomers. Not only were the newer people unaware of the achievements, they classified them as ancient history and not relevant to the modern world. There was no presumption that someone who had done good work in the past would do good work in the future. And there was the belief that things had changed so radically that whatever skills were necessary to do good work today would not be present in those who did good work then.

Furthermore, there is the belief among many people that they do not want experienced and acclaimed people among them, that this will cause competition and quite possibly take away from their glory. And it might, it might take away from their glory since most often people are vainglorious and demand all the glory. I have seen this concern and its results literally hundreds of times.

Finally, for a variety of reasons, our more experienced player may not be in a position to do new work as that would be defined by the field. But our player has a tremendous need to demonstrate new work, as it is only through that new work (generally speaking) that he or she can renew the mandate that has allowed them to achieve what they have so far achieved. Without this renewal, any past accomplishment becomes less and less relevant. But our experienced player may not be able to do new work because of circumstances beyond his or her control, health issues, or not being hired out of envy, or any of a number of reasons. If a consultant, they may not be in a position to get credit for their work, because it is the life of the consultant that, in general, you can not get that credit without upsetting your client.

And here is the key point: in the earlier period our player had benefited from marketing that happened more or less accidentally, by doing good work at the right time or place. The marketing happened for them and on their behalf but not because of any particular actions that they took.  And our player may not in actual fact be necessarily talented at marketing, or even have the slightest interest in it. They were interested in doing good work (which does sound pathetically naive and middle class, does it not?). Marketing is a different thing. A different skill. A field that requires both talent and hard work like any other field. And so our player, who was the beneficiary of marketing that he had not done, gets less and less benefit from past marketing as time goes by and yet new marketing is not forthcoming because he is not providing it, and circumstances do not allow it to happen as it did before, without his input.

The result is that our player goes further out of fashion. And since for the most part people were responding to fashion and not to anything else, certainly not merit or brilliance, something they would be quite unqualified to judge and could care less about, then our player becomes less and less employable and we have the classic downward spiral.

There are several other issues that are contributory to this, self-marketing is not the only factor.  Fashion also applies to technology and for one reason or another our player may be associated with a specific technology, like motion capture or lisp, even if they are incidental.  This is about perception as well as reality. Other companies may perceive that the technology that the player uses or used to use as being old-fashioned, whether or not there is any technical basis for their belief is irrelevant.  This is another reason why the field of computer animation, with its wild turnover in companies, can result in unemployment for those who used those technologies at those companies.  Fashion applies to everything and new companies have different fashions in technology that they use.

The conclusion that I want to leave you with is that long term employability and presence near the top of a field requires not only talent and accomplishment, but marketing and the ability to present oneself as current. Marketing may in fact be more important than talent and accomplishment, but of course it is preferable if all elements are present. Without marketing, for whatever reason, one will go out of fashion and have to face the consequences that result.

There are many nuances here that should be mentioned and I will mention a few.  There are many ways to achieve marketing and many reasons why this may apply more to some people than to others. And none of this may be fair or just. Someone who merely has a job at a well-known company may have all the marketing that they need. Those who are unemployed or freelance generally do not have that benefit. Or if one is not seen as worthy to be included in an effort to create a new standard for some technology, those who are included get a certain level of marketing and those who are excluded do not.  This list of nuances and exceptions goes on and on.  

Again the nuances aside, the thought I want to leave you with is that marketing is important and it is an area that can not be ignored for the long run without dire consequences. As evidence I propose that when you see people near the top of their field for a long time, inevitably it turns out that they are talented at self promotion, sometimes very talented.

Many people come to mind who have this skill, but discretion prevents me from mentioning them here.



Wednesday, August 5, 2015

A Little Personal Democracy and a Write In Campaign for SIGGRAPH in 2015

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I am now asking Siggraph for the details and deadlines associated with the process of getting write-in votes to be allowed to run for the Executive Committee of Siggraph.

I am certain that I have missed the deadline for the next election, so any signatures that I gather at Siggraph next week will presumably be for the election after this one.

I plan to run on a very specific platform and if I get elected, I will consider that a mandate to research the state of non-academic employment in computer graphics and animation in order to determine, or attempt to determine, how many are employed and where, what the categories of employment are, what the stability and projected future of these positions are, to what extent are these positions overseas, and to what extent unemployment has affected the field. And other issues along the same lines as well. The general idea here is, what should we tell young people if they express a desire to go into this field?  What should we tell them about the likelihood of employment and what terms and conditions come with that employment.  Let me give you two examples: first everyone who comes into this field should understand that it is considered a niche field and no experience in it will qualify you for anything else and second, on the entertainment side of things, people are never hired for more than a project no matter what they are told.

These are very large issues and one person without resources is not likely to get definitive answers to these and related questions. However, I can use the position on the committee to get what information people are willing to share with me and write up whatever I learn.

I also plan to report back to the membership the ideas, concerns, and perceived limitations on the part of members of the committee, many of whom have told me that there is nothing that Siggraph is empowered to do on these issues. Although I may not agree with them, I can certainly admit that they have much more experience than I do at that level of the organization and I can, I think, be of help by reporting to the membership what the concerns are and what people believe. I would hope to do this in a professional and collaborative manner that causes no concerns or offense to anyone to the best I can manage.

I doubt that my efforts would result in any sort of official statement or report from Siggraph on these topics, but maybe we can achieve some lesser goals. At the least I would hope I could convince the EC, or most of the EC, that we can not just encourage people to bet their careers on this field without significant warnings and statements of concern. It should not be all rah rah rah the future is bright, which has been the story from Siggraph to date.

There seem to be a lot of miserable and unemployed people out there. This is guesswork on my part because no official or unofficial statistics exist to the best of my knowledge. Yes there are many people who are gainfully employed and doing good work, but I am also aware of many who are constantly moving from project to project in a way that is disruptive to their lives, and others who are not employed and have not been for a while and wonder what they are going to do. No doubt I have sampling error, how could I not? Yes maybe this is normal, or the “new normal” and that could be the case. But if so, we should make sure people know that.

Whether we like it or not, Siggraph was part of the movement that created this industry segment, the use of computer animation and synthetic imagery in the creation of film and related media, both full length computer animated films and live action films with visual effects. This movement started in large part by idealists who used Siggraph as a venue through the 1980s, when no one believed us, and the 1990s, when they started to believe, into the next century when things exploded. I was a part of this movement and I contributed and I was there, so I know Siggraph helped. But now that the industry is very large, and yet with so much turmoil, and so much unemployment, that it is our responsibility to do what we can to make things better and at the very least make it clear to those who would bet their lives and their careers on the field what the situation is as we understand it.

If you are attending Siggraph next week and you are a member of Siggraph, I hope you will find me and sign my petition so that I can be considered for election to the EC.

You should also feel free to send comments or concerns, hopefully in a postive and cordial manner, by either leaving a comment here or sending me email at the address below. If you do send email, please put something in the subject field about what it is about so I know to read it.

Thank you.
M. Wahrman

michael.wahrman at gmail.com



On the Occasion of Siggraph 2015

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It is a fundamental tenet of western civilization that one must present oneself with confidence and style. No signs of weakness are permitted as it causes the other biped mammals to see you as a potential meal, or the other bipeds, whose support you need, to ignore you or dismiss you.

There are those I suppose who benefit from being so pathetic that it attracts a certain kind of person who likes doing rescues, but I don't think one wants to count on that as a strategy.

I have become more aware this year that my goals for the future are impractical based on my current status, how I am perceived, the resources that I have, and the competition.

Part of the problem here is that in the past I worked with energy and what is, I hope, talent and skill but was also nearly completely unaware of the odds against me. And these efforts all led to great success and total failure, accomplishment yet contempt from my peers, personal attacks that are quite astounding, and generally everything that one would expect from being poor in America, where talent and accomplishment means nothing, only money matters and certain credentials as one gets by being approved and anointed by those with power.

Why then, would I expect things to be any different in the future, when in fact the odds are only worse then they have ever been? They are worse because in the past I was part of a community, now I am alone. They are worse because in the past I had access to resources, now I have no resources. They are worse because now this is an established field and this implies both more competition, as well as competition with access to both resources and those affiliations that I wish I had but do not.

Not only may fools go where wise people fear to tread, but in fact the earlier success of the fool may not only be a result of their energy, talent and ignorance but also because times were different.

There are deeper problems as well.  A fundamental and well-reasoned concern that major elements on which we base our lives and our society are based on lies, or false premises.  Not all, but many of them. And that our public servants know this and do nothing to correct it either because they feel they can't or because they do not care. I have become convinced that our government does not have our best interests at heart and that they are quite capable of cynically exalting the rich at the expense of the rest of the country. I have looked at some of the evidence, evidence that The Economist says does not exist, but it does exist.  Too many lies, too much hypocrisy, too much swept under the rug, too much misery.

On the other hand, what is the alternative.   Perhaps talent, hard work and experience and maybe a sense of humor about the situation, all of our situations, can make a difference.   I guess I have to try again.

These are the thoughts that occur to me on the occasion of a birthday and the annual trial of Siggraph.


Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Designing Your House to Accommodate the Slaves and Other Issues

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I have always wanted to be able to design and build my own house. Well thats not quite true. Of course what I really want to do is to specify the big ideas and have an architect and various craftsmen build the house. How else am I going to get a minimum required number of secret passages? If you want something done right, you have to do it yourself, it seems.

It is a common film school aphorism that everyone's first film is about sex. I think that everyone's first house is about themselves. The house reveals something about who they are, their values, their beliefs, their interests all brought into physical reality in some form. It is a statement about how they want to live their lives and what they believe is important.

Houses are often designed to be very boring in order to maintain resell value. What a terrible idea that is! I would hope that all my readers would strive against this horrible constraint on their creativity and not worry too much about resale value. You must have faith. It also helps to have money, of course.

A friend of mine is able to build her own house in a very nice part of Santa Barbara and in the hope that some of these ideas might be in any way useful or interesting, I have compiled here some notes collected over the years, ideas I would consider if I ever built my house. None of these ideas are particularly original, in general they are ideas I have seen and liked, or read about, etc. 

But what is appealing to one person is not at all interesting to another. And this is not my house, it is the house she is building for herself and presumably her partner who I have not even met.   So this list may not be at all valuable to her.  But maybe, I mean, who knows.

This particular list is oriented towards ideas that have been around since about the 4th century BC through the mid 19th century or so.

Everything old may yet be new again.

The following is in no particular order.

1. All upper class Roman houses were built around one of several water collection designs, that would automatically collect the rainwater from the room in an underground space, or impluvium. We would probably call such a thing a cistern. In drought stricken California, this would be an excellent way to get water for your landscaping, for example.


This is a modern architects's interpretation of an impluvium.  Although a pool is nice, I was thinking more about just storing the water underground in a cistern.  


2. The Romans built their homes to have layers of public and private space. Any upper class Roman was a patron and would greet clients every day in their home. So a big part of the Roman home was designed to admit the clients into an outer part of the house where they were formally greeted and often received a gift.  This might be the first atrium of the house, a rather large space.    Then there would be other social spaces further in the house for those few admitted within. Beyond that would be private places for the house where the owners and family slept. Then above or below would be cubicles for the servants and slaves. The idea I want to emphasize was that even the public spaces had a hierarchy to them.  

3. My father used to struggle heating a home in Virginia that was designed to be wasteful of energy.   We put in insulation in the attic and a heat barrier (basically a door) to the basement and reduced our heating bill by half.  This is a well understood topic in America today, that there are much better ways to heat and/or cool our homes. I spent one winter at 8000 feet in Colorado in a large house that was entirely heated by one freestanding wood fireplace with an exhaust chimney made of metal that extended through the air for 10 feet on its way to the outside. There are particulate (e.g. smog) issues if everyone burns wood, but there are ways to mitigate this problem if one wants to. Am I suggesting that you heat your house with wood? I dont know, I am just pointing out how well it worked in a really cold environment and how economical it was.

On another occasion, I spent some time in the traditional adobe house of a friend of mine in Taos, NM. It was about 1/3 underground and the walls were very thick and made of some sort of compressed earth and straw, I think, and then covered with plaster. It was completely astonishing how well it kept the house cool during the very hot days and warm during the very cold nights.

The point here is not that one should heat ones house with a wooden stove or build an adobe or even that one might build the main level of the house such that 1/3 of it is below the ground, although one might do any of these things.  The point is that these ideas have real merit and are not hard to implement if one wanted to and designed it in from the beginning.

4. Not only is building underground a good use of the available space, it is especially well suited for things that should remain relatively cool and with a stable temperature.   Which is why most older American homes in the east coast and the midwest would have a basement for storage.   We would expect to use the basement for food storage, wine storage, but also computer media, storage of film, and possibly also the location of other types of house infrastructure that does not have to be upstairs in the main living, entertainment or working spaces, such as computer servers.

5.  I have always tried to keep a spare bedroom or at least a couch and made it available to friends from out of town. In Manhattan, I was very well set up for that, which is very unusual there and I wish more friends had taken advantage of it.  One of the lessons of that space is that one can accommodate guests in a way that is completely unintrusive into the rest of one's life.     When one reads novels or sees plays set in England, one often reads about families that extended  hospitality to friends and family for long periods of time, years at a time.   You might have a distant cousin or the son or nephew of an old friend who graduated from Cambridge and has no way to make a living.  So you put him up in a guest house and he tutors your daughter in mathematics.  That sort of thing.  (Arcadia). 

6. Castles in parts of Europe were built with access passages such that fireplaces in guest rooms could be lit without actually going into the room. There was a whole infrastructure behind the scenes for the servants which allowed them to come and go without disturbing the rest of the house. This also provided storage spaces for artwork that was not currently being used. The big idea is to consider building such passages, whether overt or covert, into your house for a variety of reasons and purposes. This might be special access from the kitchen to the outside entertainment area. Or it might be dumbwaiters between levels for various functional rooms of the house.

7. I recently spent the night at a hotel where I was given a room that was built to ADA standards. I loved it. The bathroom was one huge shower stall, nothing to trip over, and a nice seat to sit on while showering. There was nothing to trip over in the entire room.

8. A variety of techniques can be used to blur the outside with the inside. A good skylight or series of mezzanines can completely open up a space. A projection system designed for screenings in the house could perhaps also be designed to be redirected to project on an outside screen for those parties and events on a warm evening. In this way one can also entertain the whole neighborhood in the same way drive in movies used to. A friend of friends has built their master bedroom in Telluride such that the bed is mounted on rails and can be easily be moved outside to sleep under the stars or pushed inside out of the rain.

9. Wherever possible, combine functionality with character. The classic door knocker is of course a lion or some other creature. I always thought gargoyles were just decorative, but no, they are used to redirect water away from the stone cathedrals.



10. The Romans often built interior design into the s tructure of their homes. A painting might be implemented as a fresco and last for much longer than merely being painted. A floor was usually a mosaic made of stone.




11. The British and the Italians were particularly active in building formal gardens. There are some great books on this.

12. All Roman houses in the country were really working farms. I am not sure you want to go that far, but a nice greenhouse or container garden would be useful. Maybe make your own olive oil?

13. All homes should have an observatory of some sort to check out the countryside for hostile forces or perhaps to observe the universe.

14. All homes should have major built in bookcases, perhaps used as entrance ways into storage or corridor areas.

15. Of course we have to consider how to hide the computer infrastructure so it is not intrusive.

16. And it would be only sensible in 21st century America to consider how we house the slaves. No need to go overboard here, a little cubicle with a stone bed was enough for the Romans and it should be enough for us.

17. One of the odd triumphs of S. California was the Arts and Crafts Movement of the early 20th century.  One might consider recreating some of their designs or setting up a workshop to do so on site or in some way to feed into your house construction.

18. One might research current artists and workshops capable of creating decorative stone or bronze work. And select an artist or two to work from their workshop or at a workshop you create to feed decorative elements into the house.  If one did create frescos one would need to find artists capable of working under those very wonderful and strange constraints (the key to a fresco is to paint it while the plaster is wet, and essentially without making any mistakes).

20. One could set up to do bronzes with the lost wax method but use 3D printing (there I go with these modern techniques again) to create the molds.

21. One might want to create and store spare parts for the house from the very beginning. It would be easier to make spare parts, tiles, sculptures, etc while the workshops that are creating them are building things for the house and just put them underground and wait the 10 or 20 or 50 years until they need replacement.

22. If you do use concrete, recall that Roman concrete is better than Portland cement and that there should be a discussion here.

23. If you do build mosaics, consider designing them with a computer and using some sort of automatic stone cutter or even 3D printer to create elements.  Remember a key to a mosaic is longevity, so it might be better to automatically cut stone or tile than to print with modern materials.

24. When working at Robert Abel & Associates, I would often walk down Romaine to visit Opamp books, which is now out of business after a long decline.   On the way there I would pass a building that was a ruin, uninhabited, that fascinated me.  At some point I noticed some sort of ironwork railings, and older leaden glass in the windows.  I eventually discovered that this was the old Hollywood headquarters of Howard Hughes in the period when he made movies.   The older glass was fascinating.  Consider using handmade or leaden glass, even consider stained glass.  Glass does not have to be boring.

and finally,

25 A carillon is a series of bells, usually played by a kind of keyboard that is below it, that has at least 24 bells or three octaves.  A chime is the same sort of thing but with at least one octave or 8 bells, but not as many as a carillon.   There is a famous chime at Hollywood Forever but it is not playable and would need restoration.   Maybe you can buy it?   I have always wanted a carillon! See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carillon


The carillon in St. Petersburg, Russia.


[By the way, if you look closely at the bells above, you will see that there is type extruded on the surface.  Do you have any idea how hard that is to do?   Its amazingly difficult if it was put there as part of the pouring process, which I think it must have been.  This was an aside.]


That is enough for now.

This needs to be rewritten.


UC Berkely article on Research into Roman Concrete

Cistern on Wikipedia


Moat on Wikipedia


Fresco on Wikipedia


Sunset Magazine reprint on making your own olive oil

An entertaining narrative by someone who ended up with an olive grove in New Zealand


Sunday, August 2, 2015

Administrative Notes 8/2/2015


One purpose of this blog was to write down my thoughts about the process of writing it in the hope that this might in some way be useful either to readers of this blog or possibly to those of you who are considering writing one yourself.

Mostly this blog is accomplishing what it was intended to accomplish even though nothing is really finished yet, there has been good progress in a variety of areas. It was not a total surprise how long it takes to write a good post that has some substance to it. It was a surprise however to see how many drafts never see the light of day and are generally rewritten at a later time.

What has been surprising to me is how I have taken to writing this blog as a form of positive procrastination, more positive than many other things I could be spending my time on.  As I type this, I have unfinished posts on our performance character animation at Siggraph in 1988, a post on the recent Marlon Brando documentary, a post on design ideas for a house, a post on what we do know about the Southern Reach trilogy by Vandermeer, a post on using techniques from Nostradamus to write a genre of entertainment fiction, and several other besides.

But right now I am a week away from Siggraph and I am way behind on things that need to get done now, and by the end of the year. I have to focus and that has often been a problem for me. Thus it turns out that at various times writing for this blog has become an activity I can do to avoid doing things that are more time critical.

This further supports the idea that when someone is sincere about procrastination that he or she will find a way to procrastinate in spite of the obstacles. There is always a way to avoid doing what really needs to be done if you put your mind to it.