Sunday, April 20, 2014

Flight 370, CNN and Worker's RIghts

draft

Although we do not know what happened to Malaysia Airlines 370 beyond the certainty that it is a tragedy, we must remember that every cloud has a silver lining and vice versa. The pings may fade away, but an important principle of employee / employer relations has been reaffirmed. Now Americans, and indeed the citizens of the world, can sleep at night in comfort knowing that not a shred of dignity or security is going to be allowed the worker in our global society.

I happened to be staying at a friends' house when flight 370 went missing and the next morning we watched CNN (while getting the kids off to school, yikes, trauma flashback!) when they were first using a flight simulator of a 777 in Canada to demonstrate various ideas about how to navigate a 777 and what is involved in turning off a transponder. There was a pleasant looking CNN reporter and a very young, casually dressed technician, Mitchell Casado, to demonstrate the system and act as our pilot. Mr. Casado was very informed on his topic, well spoken, and presentable. I did notice that he dressed casually (but neatly) and that worked for me. His dress would not have been out of place in any Silicon Valley business except perhaps in the most formal of circumstances, such as a funeral.

Well it didn't work for the big boss. Apparently the owner of Ufly, the company that owns the simulator, received at least two letters from old women who complained that the demo guy was giving all Canadians a bad name. So he fired Casado's ass. Out the door, mother fucker, and dont come back.



Why this is important is as follows.

Government has worked hand-in-hand with business over the last two decades or so to destroy any semblance of workers' rights. The only people with rights are and always must be the owner of the company who has the complete ability to do whatever they want with the worker for any reason. “At Will” are the operative words here. In a downturn economy with 20% or more unemployment and underemployment, with a huge number of people on food stamps, you dont want to be left out in the cold. So you had better toe the line in all ways and all times and with every bit of your energy and will or that could be you out on the street.

By reducing the employee slave to a state of fear and anxiety the proper social roles are maintained.

Our congratulations to Ufly and all Canadians for making this important point about the rights of the worker. They have no rights, whatsoever, termination can be arbitrary and unjust and that is the way it has to be to maintain the sanctity of the free enterprise system that has done so much for the rich in our two countries.

The source for the picture and the news of Casado's just and necessary termination is here.


Monday, April 14, 2014

Choose Your Path to Hell: Windows 7 or 8?


A moment of pleasure, a lifetime of regret. That is how I see my decision to run Windows years ago. Back in the day, I had a Mac and an SGI and neither of them would run Java or PC - based games. Since I wasn't giving up the SGI and since two computers was my limit at the time, I switched to Windows in order to learn Java. Its been hell ever since. If at first you walk down the dark path, forever is your destiny affected.

The time has come to upgrade from Windows XP to another operating system. The Internet has become a cesspit of loonytoon right wingers and malicious code and one can no longer surf to your favorite porn sites at leisure without serious potential ramifications. Fixes to XP security problems will no longer be provided for the general public, so one must move on. But why run Windows at all at this point? The PC game business has died, and besides, any game I developed would not be for Windows. The only reason I continue to run Windows is that I have a handful of applications that I use in my work and I am loathe to give them up. One of them is Canopus ProCoder, a very good software only transcoder and there are a few others. Everything else, including all my writing and spreadsheets and so forth can be done very reliably on Linux.

So your "choices" for upgrade are Windows 7 or Windows 8. I already run 8 on a very inexpensive laptop and I can tell you flat out that I hate it. Maybe I will learn to love it, that happens quite frequently with me, but if so it hasn't happened yet.

In order to help others make this existential choice which will affect the rest of your so-called life, this are the reasons I chose to go with Windows 7.

1. There is a feature in Windows 8 that makes it impossible to delete a file unless you are logged in as Administrator. The only people who use this feature are people who write malicious viruses (virusi) for Windows 8.

2. But as distributed not only is there no Administrator account on Windows 8, the possibility of having such an account is deliberately disabled. So first you have to figure out how to go behind Microsofts back and disable the Administrator disabling code, and then create your administrator account and then, only then, can you delete a file on *your* fucking computer. Not their fucking computer, but your fucking computer. Life is too short for this kind of bullshit.

3.Windows 7 Professional has an XP compatibility mode that is actually a virtual machine with a licensed version of Windows XP already installed. By definition, this compatibility mode will work with your old XP application, albeit perhaps slower depending on things like graphics. Windows 8 hides this mode from you, and may have some other compatibility mode that may or may not work for you. Again, who needs it.

4. Windows 7 has been out for a while and is a mature OS. Windows 8 is a new OS. All new OSs are buggy, period. Its a law of nature. Just like all new rendering technologies are slow.

5. The only reason to use Windows is because one has learned to be productive on it. The Windows 8 UI is completely different and all productivity goes to hell.

6. One can get around the Windows 8 UI with third party software that tries to defeat the new UI and bring back the old one. These third party programs work pretty well, but the new UI creeps in occassionally in spite of this and then you waste minutes trying to figure out how to get out of it and back to work.

7. I hate the way the new UI looks.

8. I hate the way the new UI works.

9. In order to download updates or "apps" you need a Microsoft account so they can violate your privacy and track everything. I don't think I have any privacy on the Internet but I am still loathe to be forced to give Microsoft marketing information on me just to download updates that contain their bug fixes. Its not that big a deal, but I do it under duress. I believe that the concept of your Microsoft account, to let you use their "cloud", big whoopee, is integrated throughout Windows 8.

So down another path to hell and Windows 7 Professional it is.



Saturday, April 12, 2014

Interesting Article on Ageism in Silicon Valley


Every once in a while we will just refer to an article or articles that we think are interesting and hope our readers will as well.  This one is on ageism in Silicon Valley.

http://www.newrepublic.com/article/117088/silicons-valleys-brutal-ageism

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Proper Social Conventions When Someone Insults You to Your Face

Warning: this post uses nasty and derogatory terms about ethnic groups as part of describing an event that happened to me this week in Beverly Hills.

Do you recall the first time someone slandered you to your face based on your sex, or color or ethnic group? Perhaps if you are black, it would be when someone used the "N" word?  Or if you are a woman, that you could not possibly be a scientist? Or sorry, as a Jew there is really no point in your applying for membership?   Or that you were a "fucking mick" or whatever?

Its a wonderful experience and I recommend it for everyone.  It builds character and moral fiber and also lets one evaluate one's response to a potentially confrontational social situation.   What is the right response to being insulted to your face?  Sarcasm?   A witty remark?   My own approach to this situation is to make a sharp comment about their mother and invite them to join me the next day on the field of honor.   Shall we say "pistols at dawn"?   But that is just me.

For those of my white friends who have never had this experience, I know of one very good rendition of it in film: and it is an oddly powerful soliloquy from the beginning of that little-known cold war comedy, The President's Analyst (1967).    In the movie, CIA agent Godfrey Cambridge is evaluating whether the character played by James Coburn is suitable for becoming the psychiatrist for the President of the United States.   So, Cambridge lies on the couch in Dr. Schaeffer's office and tells him the story of how as a young boy he did not know what the word "n*gger" meant and how he found out.   Its really a remarkable scene and not what one expects from a light-hearted comedy.


I believe that one's response to a vicious and/or ignorant insult should take into consideration the other person's circumstances.   What was their family life like, or their education?   Maybe society is at fault and we are not giving the individual enough slack?  What if the insulting piece of garbage we are interacting with has the misfortune of being stupid, pretty and rich?  What then?

We who come from what was formerly the middle class in this country  can not really relate to the hardships of growing up rich. The agonies of whether or not to fuck the non-gender specific musician friend, the issue of what to wear to the opening in Berlin, the problems of dealing with your dreadful little brother!   "Daddy! Preston got an airplane for his birthday and I only got a new car!  Its not fair!" Yes even these life-destroying traumatic events can occur to our rich and self-entitled elite causing them lifelong psychological damage.

You should keep these extenuating circumstances in mind as I relate this story.

I am sitting in one of my many doctor's offices this week in Beverly Hills when an attractive woman of perhaps 30 or so comes in, incensed with anger.  The name of the doctor she was going to see for the first time was not in the directory downstairs!   And when she tried to confirm her appointment she left voicemail about 1/2 hour ago and no one called her back!   In fact, the doctor had not gotten her message and gone out on an errand and they were trying to reach her.  Oh my God, that is so unprofessional she said.   She was confused and flustered, and being young and overdressed, she sat uneasily on the couch and typed madly at her latest model iPhone.

As I am talking to her, trying to calm her down a bit by telling her that these events are not about her, they are always disorganized a bit at this office.  Its part of their charm, I say.  As I am saying this, I just happen to notice that she is displaying a rather elegant, rather large watch.   Back in the old days, we would call this a more masculine watch, but of course that is not at all what we would call it today.  Something about that watch seemed familiar, and it finally occurred to me that it was very similar to the $15,000 watch that my friend Ed from England was fond of.    Now in fact I am not sure if this was really a $10,000 watch or a $20,000 one, they come in different models of course.  What a nice watch, I said.  Oh, is it, she replied?  Its something my mother gave me.  


The watch in question was in gold and seemed to be similar to this very expensive Rolex

Then I happened to notice that on her other hand she had several rings but one of them was obviously an heirloom of some sort.  It was clearly an antique ring that probably could benefit from a good polish of the setting.   These things are hard to judge if one is not an expert and can examine it under a loop, but my impression was that we were in the multiples of 10s here (10 thousands of course).   Just a guess.


This specimen is in the $35,000 range but does not accurately portray the ring in question which had a more elaborate array of diamonds around it.


So I decided to try flattery.  Noticing that she was very adept at typing at that little virtual keyboard, I told her so.  She replied with a sneer: "Its a generational thing" and went back to typing.

Thanks, babe, I really appreciate it. Old Granddad here knows the people who invented the technology you so stupidly claim as your own and in my humble opinion you should probably go fuck yourself.   But I didn't say that.    I stared at her in disbelief while I tried to think of something funny to say, and she ignored me.

Oh it must be such a burden to be rich!

_____________________________________________

For a list of watches priced between $10,000 and $20,000 see here.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Apparently Not Everyone Realizes that Poetry is Down Market


I have often said on this Blog and in real life "everyone who goes into the business of writing sonnets or the short story pretty much knows that it is going to be a hard way to make a living".   This has been part of an argument that people who go into Computer Animation do not in fact know that their employment possibilities are limited (in other words, if they go into computer animation they had better be rich because otherwise they are destroying their lives).

Well, I was wrong.  And when I am wrong I freely admit it, because I am an idiot...  no, wait, its because I am fearlessly honest with myself and with my readers!  

Apparently not everyone knows that studying and writing poetry is a very non-economic thing to do, and I cite as evidence the following article and comment from the Chronicle of Higher Education: The Danger of Victimizing PhDs by Elizabeth Segran.  The article is about whether or not PhDs who can not get a tenure track position but must labor away at being an Adjunct have only themselves to blame. The article correctly points out that the whiners could get a job doing something else that they are qualified for in this depression economy, such as cleaning sewers, for example, or programming web sites that sell violence and pornography.  There are plenty of things for them to do in our dysfunctional society that only favors the rich and lets the others fend for themselves as best they can (as long as they don't break the law that favors the rich, of course).  The free market is not only always right, it is just (as in justice) as well, Dr. Segran seems to be saying.


 Doomed to the life of an adjunct?

But it is a comment to this article that I found so interesting. Quoted below without permission:
Christina Hitchcock  miamisid • 2 days ago 
The simple answer to your question is that our undergrad professors and advisors listened to our plans and never once told us that we might be going into a field that will have no jobs for us. I specifically asked some of my English professors if I should pursue an M.A. in Literature or an M.F.A. in poetry writing. Not one of them instructed me that an MFA was a terminal degree and would help me to get into the job market whereas an M.A. would be a worthless degree. I, for one, did want to teach. And I am, indeed, a career adjunct now teaching online. I received my M.A. at the age of 50 - an age when other options were not that available. So, yes, there is a big problem with the use of adjuncts, and I'm glad that the writer was, indeed, able to get a full-time tenure track job, but each year it gets harder and harder to break into academia, yet schools accept graduate students and even scholarship them through.

So clearly we were wrong in thinking that students-of-the-sonnet would know what a bad career mistake they were making if mere employment and making a living was a requirement.  Choosing to go into pig slaughtering would almost certainly pay better and have greater opportunities but these innocents did not know this, just like our typical computer animator does not know how badly their choices have fucked up their lives.

Destined to a life of poverty and unemployment in the modern globalized economy?

Apparently the business of education is willing to lead pretty much anyone into self-destructive poverty whether the subject is trendy computer animation or poetry.  And what is the alternative, surely not everyone can or should go into Business Management or Typing school? 

At Global Wahrman, we are fearless at pointing out our mistakes.  We admit them, we dont exactly cover ourselves in glory by doing so, but I am sure that those who are reading the blog now and in the future will appreciate our integrity.
  
Yeah, right. 

Sunday, March 30, 2014

What Are Those Damn Pirates Mumbling About Anyway


In Pirates of the Caribbean at Disneyland there is a place near the start of the attraction which involves some different voices warning you of something (the accursed treasure, as it turns out). For years I went on that ride but could never quite make out what they were saying what with the rushing water and the screams of the people in front of you not to mention the cheerful yet ominous pirate music that is coming in and out of focus as you move through different areas.

Jwalt Adamczyk, renowned impressario and real-time animation performer, pointed me to the following Youtube soundtrack from the attraction and I finally know what they are saying. I have transcribed it here for other people who have been anxious to know (not that it really makes a difference, the intent of the voices comes through clearly: we are being warned of some terrible danger, and really that is all we have to know).

The soundtrack can be found here.

There are three voices. A Distant Voice which is muddied and always repeats "dead men tell no tales" and two other voices, which I will call the Dark Ominous Voice (DOV) and a crusty less ominous, but still concerned, voice (Voice 3).

Distant Voice:

                          Dead men tell no tales. Dead men tell no tales. Dead men tell no tales.

Then we have an interlude of cheerful music that suddenly becomes ominous in tone. The music changes instrument to be (primarily) harpsichord to help set the time period in which our dark ride takes place.

Dark Ominous Voice (DOV):

                         No fear have ye of evil curses, says you. Ha (chuckle). 
                         Properly warned ye be, says I.
                         Who knows when that evil curse will strike the greedy beholders 
                         of this bewitched treasure.

Distant Voice:

                         Dead men tell no tales.

Voice 3:

                         Perhaps he knows too much. He has seen the cursed treasure;
                         he knows where it be. Now proceed at your own risk. These be
                         the last friendly words you'll hear.
                         You may not survive to pass this way again.

Distant voice:

                         Dead men tell no tales.


And that is what they say.

I am sure you will sleep better knowing this.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Segue from National Security to Vegetarian Tamales

You may ask what is the relationship between a recipe for vegetarian tamales and national security, not to mention story structure in theme parks.  The answer is clear: there is no relationship whatsoever.  As part of my experiment in poverty, I never eat out (way too expensive) and make all my own food and the result has been a real improvement in my cooking skills.   One thing we noticed is that good vegetarian tamales are a rarity.   The following recipe is the result of about 10 experimental tamale episodes over the last year.   I wrote it down to remember it, and post it here so I can find it again.  I hope you, or someone, finds it useful.  No doubt it will change over time.   

One of the very few advantages of living in southern california is access to inexpensive and fresh ingredients for Mexican cuisine. Authentic and traditional Mexican tamales are not vegetarian as they are made with lard, chicken or other broth, and often pork or other meat for the filling. There may in fact be an authentic vegetarian Mexican cuisine, but it is not one that is well known north of the border. The following is a combination of many recipes found on the Internet and modified to be vegetarian (defined as no meat but some dairy). To make it pure vegan, substitute more corn oil for the butter and use another filling ingredient for the cheese (e.g. steamed potato).

Tamales are made with various types of fillings and this recipe is suitably vague on that topic. It is assumed that when the tamales are assembled that there will be a corn husk, a layer of masa, a layer of green sauce and then a filling which might be: some cheddar cheese and a slice of hot pepper, or some pinto beans, or a slice of pepper and some steamed potato. Many variations are possible.

This recipe makes enough for 10 - 12 tamales.

Time required: about 2 hours to make the ingredients and assemble, about 2 hours to cook.

Equipment required: blender, steamer, string or twine

1. Masa

1-1.5 teaspoon cumin seeds (or powder)
1-1.5 tblspoon ground red pepper
1-1.5 cups of corn oil
1/2 stick of butter or substitute corn oil
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups water
2 cups masa harina
1 large serrano or jalapeno pepper chopped fine (optional)
1 cube concentrated vegetarian soup stock (optional)

1.1 Combine masa harina, cumin, salt, red pepper and corn oil in a bowl
1.2 Microwave water, butter and soup stock for a minute or two, stir, add to bowl
1.3 Mix thoroughly adding corn oil or water if too dry
1.4 Let sit for at least 30 minutes and add more water or corn oil if too dry
1.5 One possibility is to use some of the green sauce to moisten the masa

Note: I have found that I keep adding more water and corn oil to get the masa moist enough. You will see what I mean.

2. Green sauce

1 lb or so tomatillos with their paper wrapper removed
1 or 2 serrano or other hot pepper
1 medium onion
1 or 2 cloves of garlic
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 bunch cilantro (optional)
2 or 3 tablespoons corn oil

2.1 Boil tomatillos and hot peppers (whole) for 10 minutes until they change color, dump water
2.2 Roughly chop tomatillos and add to blender
2.3 Clean peppers (chop off end, decide how many seeds, etc you want to keep), add to blender
2.4 Roughly chop onion and garlic and add to blender
2.5 Wash and destem about 1/3 of the bunch of cilantro and add to blender
2.6 Pulse blend, it doesnt have to be too smooth
2.7 Heat corn oil to pretty hot and add the contents of the blender. It should sizzle
2.8 Turn down heat and simmer for 15 minutes or so
2.9 Put aside until assembly

3. Filling

The filling is highly improvisational. It might be cooked pinto beans, or it might just be roasted chiles and some cheese, or potatoes that have been steamed or microwaved and cut into vertical slices. Everything has to fit unobtrusively into a tamale so think about pieces being 1/4 " x 1/4 " by 2 "s for example. During assembly, these will be combined with the green sauce.

4. Corn Husks

These are the large dried corn husks found in mexican supply stores or most s. california markets in the back where they keep the mexican spices.

4.1 Soak in hot water for about 1/2 hour or more.

5. Assembly

1 piece of string about 2-3 feet long for each tamale
1 or 2 corn husks, soaked for each tamale
Green sauce
Fillings

5.1 Lay out 1 or 2 corn husks on board (overlapping)
5.2 Add with spatula a layer of masa
5.3 On top of that add green sauce and your filling of choice
5.4 Roll up and fold corn husk and secure with string
5.5 Place in steamer
5.6 Repeat for each tamale
5.7 Your first tamales will look weird but taste fine.
5.8 You must practice and develop your technique.

6. Steaming/Microwaving/Etc

6.1 Place some sort of plastic bag over the steamer, or use a pressure cooker
6.2 Steam for several hours, being sure not to let the steamer dry out
6.3 When you get tired of waiting for the steaming to be done, microwave them for a few minutes.

7. Serve with ... 

7.1 If tamales are dry then something went wrong with the masa or the steaming
7.2 Serve with homemade salsa, I use salsa fresca because it is easy and fool proof
7.3 For those who are not vegetarian, sour cream is a also a good addition along with the salsa.
7.4 Depending on how spicy you make these, the sour cream can be used to cool them down.
7.5 Salsa and sour cream are the traditional ways of moistening a tamale that is dry.

8. Other Notes

8.1 You will be amazed at how much moisture the masa will absorb. .
8.2 All ingredients can be prepared in advance but be aware that the green sauce in particular seems to lose spiciness every day it is kept in the icebox.
8.3 My life would be a lot easier if I had a real steamer or a pressure cooker.
8.4 There is a real art to making these things look beautiful.
8.5 Tamales last several days in the icebox and can be frozen for a long time.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Lets Put the National Reconnaissance Office in Charge of Film Production


Although Hollywood is awash with so-called 3D films, more properly called stereoscopic, there are many of us who doubt their commitment to the medium. Hard to believe, I know, that Hollywood would not be completely sincere but in fact when people say that Hollywood is run by shallow and greedy scum whose only interest is in maximizing the amount of money they make that day/week/month, they are romanticising the situation.

Whether this lack of artistic intent is true in general in studio executives, it is certainly true in the case of stereoscopic films. This stereo "fad", which has lasted longer than I would have guessed, is based on two motivations: a desperate effort to do something that will bring people into the theatre and as part of a larger play with consumer electronics manufacturers to help them sell new televisions to consumers. Beyond that they don't really care.

In addition, stereo projection was enabled by an artifact of digital projection, so it cost the exhibitors very little to be able to reliably project stereo movies. "Very little" is a lot to exhibitors, generally speaking, so there may have been some cost sharing between studios and exhibitors (I recall the discussion, I just don't remember how it turned out... now checking). In other words, studios could hedge their bets by making a stereo version of the film and not have to outlay a lot of money to do so, and in return are covered if stereo exhibition or television becomes very popular.

Most of the filmmakers share this lack of passion and overt cynicism. A tiny percentage care about stereoscopic and work to explore what it means to filmmaking and the rest just accommodate the requirement as part of the deal they had to make with the studio to get the project financed. Their cynicism combined with the studio's unwillingness to extend shooting days to allow for the complications of stereo during principal photography is why the filmmakers choose to "add" stereo in the post-production process with the "dimensionalization" techniques. What is interesting about these post-production stereographic techniques is not that they work well, but that they work at all.

The dreary prospect about the lack of passion is the danger of the self-fulfilling prophesy: the filmmakers and studios do not care and the films thus produced are lackluster at best in the area of stereo and the audience senses this and gets bored. And one more time, an opportunity to create a vibrant stereo cinema art form is lost as it has been lost before.

What then can the believer in stereoscopic cinema do to avert this mediocre result? Is there a solution? I think that there may be and that the solution is to put someone in charge who believes in stereo, and has a proven track record of standing firm and putting their money where their mouth is. Is there such a person or organization? I know of only one: the National Reconnaissance Office.


Notice that the NRO logo image is in the 2.35 widescreen aspect ratio.  This shows that they are already aware of filmmaking conventions.

The NRO is one of the famous secret three-letter agencies of our country's intelligence community. It was and is the one with contract authority to build and launch the satellites and broker the result to the various other agencies and departments such as the CIA, the Dept of the Air Force, and so forth. For decades it has had the largest budget of any three letter agency because the satellites are so damn expensive. Although cloaked in secrecy, the NRO recently declassified their history, or part of it, in "A History of Satellite Reconnaissance" which can be found on their website here.





I think these NRO mission badges are hilarious.

A careful reading of this document will show that various groups inside the NRO have shown a passionate commitment to stereo in various satellite projects as well as an excellent track record for sponsoring the creation of new cameras for reconnaissance, 70mm, counter-balanced, and with other exotic attributes, as well as new and better high resolution film in collaboration with Kodak. They have a proven track record for managing large complicated projects and yet holding firm to what is important. They have integrity and vision.




A stereo project that was managed by the NRO would not be able to get by with shallow and uninteresting post-filmmaking stereoscopy tacked on at the end. No, they would insist on stereo being designed in from the beginning with principal photography being shot in stereo.

Lets end this mediocre effort by the traditional studios who neither understand nor care and put the NRO in charge of all feature film production in Hollywood and get some decent stereo films for a change.

I call upon all the stereoscopic partisans of the world to rise up and write your congressman or whatever the international equivalent may be and demand that the NRO be given this new assignment.  The stereoscopic cinema has been given another chance, lets not throw it away this time.

Visit the NRO on the Internet at www.nro.gov.



Thursday, March 20, 2014

Story Structure in Theme Parks and the Mystery of the Self-Illuminated Ears


On March 14th I visited the new Disneyland Resort in Anaheim for the first time since it ceased to be Disneyland and earned its second gate and the "resort" label. For only the second time in my life I was hosted by the Walt Disney Company which surprised me but which was certainly very courteous, not to mention unexpected, of them.

To put this in context, I used to go to Disneyland at least once a year when I lived in Southern California after college depending on the timing of visitors from out of state who often wanted to go there.  I used to give an informal tour of Disneyland called "Transcendental Style in Theme Parks" or how theme parks have become a spiritual experience for our volk, who hold hands around the magic castle as the fireworks go off and the luminous Tinkerbell miraculously appears. Then I moved to New York, the economy collapsed, and a decade went past before I could visit again.

But now I have returned to that happiest place and wish to review for you something amazing that I learned at the new World of Color show at the California Adventure Park. During this show I witnessed the unexpected transformation of a key Disney, and hence American, symbol: the mouse ears. Yes, the mouse ears have changed, wildly and radically, as I will describe.

Even the most dull among us must recognize that Disney represents an aspect of our culture, our time and our "civilization", such as it is. To ignore "Disneyland" is elitism of the most egregious sort for it ignores one of the fundamental phenomena that makes America what it is in the eyes of the world. For better or worse, the Disney company, in all its contradictions and complications, is embedded in our consciousness. Were the Disney parks ever to decline then I think it would signal the decline of American civilization as a whole.

Sure it is easy to dismiss people walking around in Mickey Mouse ear hats, but that is to shallowly ignore the semiotics of identifying with, and indeed emulating, the most famously endearing rodent in all our history. Mice are certainly cute as long as they are in their place and not rummaging around the kitchen while you are trying to sleep and these are not just any mouse ears we wear, these are symbolically Mickey's ears, the ears of our charming ubermouse.

Those ears, those very mouse ears, have been technically updated by Imagineering R&D in a way that is oddly symbolic of our technological present and future, as we discuss below.

The World of Color is the latest in a long tradition of climactic end-of-day shows that have appeared at Disneyland. The first of these was almost certainly the classic fireworks show around the Fantasyland Castle, a choreographed and carefully designed show over the iconic castle which concluded with the miracle of the arrival of Tinkerbell, who will only appear if you believe in her, the divine made flesh as the sky explodes in a crescendo of fire and light. 

This type of end-of-day show has an important place in the structure of a day's visit to the Park, I believe.  And I speculate that the people at Imagineering are very conscious about this when they design not just an attraction, but the park as a whole, and the nature of the experience that a visitor will have at the park.   This end-of-day show is the climax of the visit: an event that visitors make special provisions to be able to see, often with their family, before they slowly and regretfully leave the park, either to drive home in the classic Southern California version or to make their way back to their hotel in the resort version.  In story structure terms,  this show is the climax, the obligatory scene, the required event, after which the slow departure from the park would be the slightly sad denouement: the regret that it ever has to end.  I suspect that the importance of this type of event to the day's experience gives it a priority in park planning and budgeting.   And since things must not stay still or they become embalmed, the show must be recreated in new forms but still serving that same purpose in the structure of the day.

From fireworks, this type of show evolved in many ways at the various gates which are the larger Disneyland entity. Two other examples would be the Electric Parade with its synchronized and abstract design and characters or the IllumiNations show at Epcot which combines fireworks, fountains and music. Both of these two later shows were immense and impressive. World of Color continues that tradition in a pure water, color, projection and music show.

A vast and wonderful Triumph of the Mouse 

To set the stage, the World of Color happens in the lagoon in front of the Ferris Wheel / Rollercoaster at California Adventure. At a later date I will review some of the architectural issues of the new park, and at that time I will be rather puzzled. But the rollercoaster and the ferris wheel are the exceptions: they have a grandeur and presence that architect and Minister of Armaments Albert Speer would have approved of. The great big beaming face of Mickey within the wheel that encompasses our fate shines down on the World of Color and grants His approval. 

The World of Color has many impressive show elements more or less combined into a larger show. Certainly the most striking are the fountains which can shoot a stream of water 200 feet into the air, is illuminated at the base by LEDs, is illuminated in the air by projectors and lasers, and whose direction of spray is controllable on an individual fountain basis. And how many fountains are there? The press release says 1200 and that might be true: if one does a back of the envelope calculation of 50 per row and 20 rows, the numbers add right up.  So its believable. The water is all recycled of course as it falls back into the pond and is reused, but that trivializes the accomplishment of pumping that much water simultaneously at that velocity at once and over a 30 minute show. I would love to know the numbers.


There is a vast infrastructure that we do not see to support such an extravagant expression of water at pressure.

For those who are surprised that the colors can be so vivid or that one could project onto a wall of mist very recognizable images, remember that in a laminar flow fountain we have removed most of the turbulence so the spray and the droplets are for the most part symmetric and reflective. The surface tension of water provides the projection screen, a moving and transforming one, and that works very well.

A lot of effort was put into creating interesting abstractions with color and water as synchronized with audio, and when it was abstract I felt it was always rewarding. But this is Disney after all, and there have been criticisms that the new park was not tied in with Disney characters enough, so the World of Color created a pastiche of elements from many Disney films and used them as projections on the water. I felt this was overdone and that their purpose would be equally served with a few carefully chosen properties. But I admit that I am not in the important demographic here, and perhaps the audience wants to see their favorite characters, or other considerations.  I could remedy the situation in my case by defocusing  my eyes if I cared to and, voila, abstraction returns.

Do these colorful self-illuminated ears contain a secret menace?

But now to the discussion of new technologies at the park and the shocking revelation of networked and distributed mind control of enslaved mouse ears.

Yes you read correctly.

As I was waiting for the World of Color to begin I noticed that many in the audience wore a new type of mouse ears, these had a more robust skull cap and large, well-lit colored ears that would change color and blink happily and at random. Each pair of ears would do its own thing and while they were amusing, I wondered if it might not interfere with the show. The ears were bright, the lights were about to go down, those ears would be a distraction I thought.

I should not have worried.

As the show began I noticed that the ears seemed to turn themselves off all by themselves. Of course I am not looking at the ears I am looking at the show over the water. But as the show continued I realized that something quite odd was happening with the ears. Interspersed through the audience there were several hundred pairs of ears that from time to time would all blink together as if in synchrony with the music.  

And then I realized the truth. These innocent looking hats must have a radio controller in each one, such that they could be slaved to a signal and then controlled from a central source. The individual mouse ears had become unwitting slaves of a master show controller and now mindlessly served the greater good by dedicating their photons to the centrally directed World of Color.

My sources tell me that this project was the brainchild of a mysterious Imagineer and CTO by the name of Scott Watson.  Surely this could not be the same Scott Watson I knew from the early 1990s? He seemed like such a nice guy.   [Note: Mr. Watson has not replied as of yet to my emails.  I suppose he is just too busy hanging out with his real friends].

People are foolishly concerned about the NSA when perhaps they should worry about things closer to home.  What are the privacy and first amendment issues of these new mouse ears?   Are our positions being sent without our knowledge to some mouse server in a vault?  Is this project part of a larger collaborative effort to develop mind control technology with the CIA?   Is Burning Man somehow involved?  These and many other questions flashed through my mind all at once but I have none of the answers.

But this is certainly a topic that needs to be discussed in a public forum and ultimately our loyal public servants need to determine whether or not there should be regulation to protect the freedom and privacy of mouse ears everywhere.  As with the use of unmanned aerial vehicles in public skies, this technology has policy implications.  

Oh brave new world to have such mouse ears in it.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Second Case Study of Mass Transit in Southern California


We have a second case study here of the mass transit system in Southern California. This time the itinerary was Escondido to Los Angeles, to Culver City, then up to Pasadena and back to Escondido.

As before, the experience was generally quite positive and as before where the system exists all is well. But when you fall off the edge of the different individual systems, when you fail to fit their profile as it were, then you are thrown on the mercies of the normal non-transit transit system of Los Angeles and may God Help You because you are doomed.

It is always important to remember that in Southern California in general and Los Angeles in particular, there is a well defined status system in place that is based on the automobile. Those who do not drive are untouchable, unclean, and are the despised dregs of society who deserve nothing more than a quick death.

But when you are on these new, partial, discontinuous transit lines, then things are pretty good. I used five different train lines on this trip: the NCTD Sprinter, Amtrak, and the Los Angeles Metro Red, Expo and Gold lines.

The Sprinter goes to/from Oceanside/Escondido and it is $2.00 each way and runs every 30 minutes. It is such a surprise to see this train, and it is so much better than what Los Angeles had anywhere in its system until recently.

The Gold line goes from Los Angeles to Pasadena and again it is very nice. I am not sure how often it runs, but often I think. The stations took me very close to where I was going and it even had a place by the curb for people to park temporarily to pick up and deposit passengers.

But getting from the Culver City Station to Beverly Hills requires descending to the brutal, traffic infested nightmare that is Los Angeles in the new century. It took an hour and $25.00 to get about 3.5 miles. What a piece of shit. The whole trip from San Diego to LA costs $26.00, so a cab ride for $25.00 for a few miles is not rational. Nor is the traffic rational.

In other words, if you get stuck in LA without a car, you are fucked.

The final problem is an interesting one and it is not clear to me what they should do about it. The way Amtrak works is that you have exactly two trains southbound to San Diego from Los Angeles, the 7:30 PM and the 10:00 PM. That is it until dawn. The later train arrives in Oceanside at least an hour after the last Sprinter has run inland. We live in the country out here and people go to bed early. The point is that if you need to take a taxi from Oceanside to Escondido it will cost you $70.00 and that is in the middle of the night when there is no traffic.

In other words, all is well until you diverge from their system, and then you should expect to pay through the nose to get home.