Friday, May 31, 2013

Pearls Before Swine or the Potential Downside of Helping Someone Find Work

In future posts we are going to discuss ways that you, the working elite, can help your friends, the unemployed scum, find gainful employment.   But before we do so, we are going to have to discuss the possible downside of helping someone. Is there a possible downside?  Is it true that no good deed goes unpunished?

Mark Twain once told the following "joke":   Q. What is the difference between a starving man and a starving dog?   A. When you feed a starving dog he does not turn around and bite you.

At various times I have had the pleasure, or misfortune, of helping many, many people find gainful employment.   I think I have been so effective at it for several reasons including (a) the economy was different then, (b) the people I helped were earlier in their career, (c) there were less good people around who knew this kind of stuff (computers and media) back then, and (d) I am good at helping people find work.  But I stand before you today to testify that I have had cause to regret helping people get employment.

I think this is sad.  In all of the cases where this has happened, I had confidence in the individuals involved and wanted to help them get along in life and their career.   What were they thinking when they then turned on the person who helped them?   I believe that there are a variety of answers to this question including insanity, venality, and stupidity.

I also feel that there may be special problems in the field of computer animation and visual effects, particularly since it went 3D and digital in the early 1990s.   Some outside observers have noticed that the field does seem to be particularly made up of ambitious and narcissistic scumbags to an unusual degree.   This is of course rather different from the people who, for the most part, founded this field who both knew what a "zero-sum game" was and did not believe that they were playing one.  I once had an attorney tell me "Michael, we have to get you working with a better class of people ..."

But whatever the reasons may be, a thoughtful individual must ask themselves, what can one do to protect oneself against the behavior of these disloyal scum?  Along those lines, here is a lesson I learned from reading about the so-called Mafia in New York City.  The article was an interview with an anonymous FBI Agent about why the head of the Genovese family in NY, a fellow named Gigante, had not been convicted of a crime.   The FBI agent said that it was because "he had an amazing talent for picking loyal friends".

Gigante aka "Chin" was considered very talented at judging the character of his potential co-workers

So what can I learn from my experiences that I can pass on to you to help make you more successful and avoid some of the irritations and problems that I have caused myself through my own desire to help the downtrodden?

1. Ask yourself how well you know the potential recipient of your beneficence.   If not very well, then be sure to take hostages.  Usually a close family member or two will do.   First born son, favorite pet, that sort of thing.

2. If your management wants you to hire people, or to recommend them to be hired, agree to do so, but only if you have the right to fire them again if they do not work out in your sole judgment. Get this in writing.

3. If you start noticing aberrant or delusional behavior in the recipient of your goodwill, have the right to have them seek professional help, offsite, for several years, in a comfortable "therapy center".  A few years in a disease infected swamp in a country torn by civil strife and revolution would probably help the recipient of our good will build character.

4. Finally, if and when they try and stab you in the back, execute the hostages and have your friend conveniently disappear while you are home at dinner with your family. Be sure to remember the famous rules of thumb for such things: "no weapon, no motive, no body".

I would hope that anyone you helped would be loyal and not be like some of the crazy assholes I have had the misfortune of helping from time to time.  All of this and more leads to the following conclusion: helping someone is a tricky matter, discretion may be the better part of valor.

For more in formation on Vincent "Chin" Gigante, see: his wikipedia page.

Revised 7/2/2013
Revised 4/2/2014

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Reality vs Special Effects: The Case of the Deepwater Horizon

One of my favorite photographs of a catastrophe of all time is this photograph of the Deepwater Horizon blowing up in April of 2010.

Boom !

It is part of a series of photographs taken by an individual on a nearby boat, one of the boats which picked up survivors from this clusterfuck of environmental destruction caused by the shallow greed and criminal stupidity of large corporations.

Few photographs are of this quality and drama. It has spectacle, it has detail, it has scope, it has exotic technology. It elicits a sense of awe and wonder at the magnitude of the disaster caught in an instant by the photographer. It ranks with the great images of its type, such as that of the Hindenberg disaster.

When I first saw it, it looked fake to me.   

In fact, it looked so fake, I wondered why the usual suspects did not discuss in public the obvious implications that the event was planned by the CIA / Illuminati / Rothschild organization in order to raise oil prices, declare martial law, and put everyone in a concentration camp underground before Jesus returned and we left with the space aliens.

Here is why the image looks like a visual effect from a movie:

1. The perfect and dramatic point of view and timing

Rarely do we get to see a disaster from a perfect point of view at the moment of disaster. Generally when such things happen and there is a photographic record of it, the disaster itself is a distance away, or the timing is not quite right, or the photograph suffers from technical flaws due to the unexpected nature of the event. It might be shot through a window, or have someone in the frame that obscures part of what is going on, or there is significant camera shake. A beautiful example of this was the Russian "dash cam" view of the meteor through the window of the automobile.

2. The exquisite detail in part of the photograph

For reasons that probably have to do with the unusual lighting, combined with post processing in photoshop, we have here amazing detail of a large civil engineering artifact. Just look at the detail on the side of this contraption... its completely fabulous. I suspect that some variable contrast enhancement and unsharp masking has been applied. It has that look to it. I also happens to look like a painting on glass, as I discuss in the next item. The actual photograph was taken, I suspect, with a tripod and/or with an image stabilization lens. There is no camera shake worth noting.

3. The composition of the photograph appears to be layered.

Visual effects is generally a photomontage of different elements. Those elements might be photography on a stage, model photography, 2D painted elements and 3D synthetic elements. In the history of visual effects some of the most interesting matte paintings consisted of what was called "paintings on glass" where a painting had transparent areas where live action could be composited.

The probable layers front to back are: foreground water, with glint animation, painting of the Horizon leaning at an angle, first smoke layer, fire layer, second smoke layer, background sky layer, for a total of six layers.

4. The appearance of serious image processing.

Lots and lots of sharpening and probable variable contrast and lots and lots of screwing with the color curves has gone on here.

So whats the moral of this story ?   Seeing is not believing, and photography is easier than ever to fake, but sometimes even things that look fake may not be.



For those who care about what actually happened here, not the photograph but the disaster, the best article I have found was in the NY TImes Magazine and can be read here:

The story makes the point that most people assume that once the blowout happened that the destruction of the Horizon was inevitable. The article explains what happened and why it was not inevitable that the Horizon would have been destroyed.   The Horizon, it turns out, was filled with all sorts of mechanisms that would have allowed it (in all probability) to have survived the blowout without destruction or loss of life.  (In other words, the blowout underwater would still have happened, and with it the oil leak, but the Horizon would not have exploded as a result of it).

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

From Capitalist Pigs to Communist Pigs ?

The Red Chinese Communist dictatorship is trying to purchase an important pillar of the Commonwealth of Virginia's economy and culture, Smithfield Foods, for 7.1 billion dollars through their transparent Commie front company, Shuanghui International.

For those of you not blessed to have come from Virginia, we are the home of Smithfield ham, and there is nothing more Virginian than a biscuit with Smithfield Ham at Waffle House or a similar center of culinary excellence.

To a good Virginian, Smithfield ham is as important as soft-shelled crab from the Cheasapeake Bay, right up there with motherhood and Apple Pie.

Sold down the river to the Communists ?

Will good Virginians allow American ham technology to be transferred to the Communist war machine?  Will Virginians enjoy working for their new Communist masters, as this company is one of the pillars of the Virginian economy?    How will the incredibly right wing state legislature enjoy having lobbyists from Beijing in their hallowed halls threatening to destroy employment in the state if Virginia does not start approving China's foreign policy adventures in Washington?  Will Communist soldiers be eating Smithfield ham while they mow down freedom-loving protesters in Taiwan?

Where will it stop? Will Waffle House be next?  I may be a vegetarian, but I am also from Virginia, and I say, no, they must not pass.  Today Smithfield Ham, tomorrow the world.  They should have stopped Hitler at Munich.

I call upon all good Americans to oppose this alarming development and keep ham biscuits American.

The article from the Washington Post is here.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Towards Some Criteria for Judging Movies About War

Different genre of film have different criteria by which they are judged. Westerns are different from romantic comedies which are rarely the same as low budget horror films, and so forth. Each of these have different conventions that connoisseurs of the genre will identify and discuss. A good western will generally have a climax that involves a final encounter between good and evil, usually in the form of a gunfight. A romantic comedy will almost always end with true love overcoming all obstacles. It would be quite rare, I think, to have a successful romantic comedy that ends in a gunfight that symbolically presents the struggle between good and evil. One can go against genre and break the rules, but that is a tricky matter and requires great skill.

This essay proposes some suggested criteria by which a movie about war, or which takes place during a time of war, could be judged. I base some of my criteria in part on the notion that war is a very serious, morally ambiguous phenomenon and that some of the criteria and judgments about such a film, even a comedy about war, must have some sense of the seriousness of the subject matter, even if it is not acknowledged explicitly. One way to look at these proposed criteria is as both story structure and aesthetics that are genre-specific.

War, as I use the term, is organized violence between states, ethnic groups or political movements. Although there can be a "war between individuals", for our purposes we restrict it to between groups of people sponsored either by a state or by a faction, e.g. a political movement. I am excluding gangster and espionage movies, although both may have organized violence, and both may take place during a time of war.

Often times, movies about war are not about the war itself, but take place during a war. Apocalypse Now is a film about the Vietnam war, in part, even though we do not review any of the specific battles of that war in detail.  The Good, The Bad and the Ugly takes place during the American Civil War in the West although it is not a film about that war. Das Boot is certainly about war. 

So here are my criteria.

1. A good movie about war would convince you that you really, really did not want to be there.  This is particularly true the closer you get to the front.  If the movie implies that war is fun, and everyone is just having a grand time, then it is probably a terrible movie about war.   By this criteria, Mash is certainly a movie about war, but McCale's Navy is not. Sure, there were entertaining moments during a war, and some of those moments were very entertaining indeed.  But most of the time the soldiers are bored and miserable, or just bored.  And some of the time they are saying to themselves, please Jesus just get me out of here.

He really doesn't want to be there

2. Details matter, so get them right.  There are a lot of details in war and those details may mean the difference between victory and defeat or between life and death.  Often a filmmaker can not afford to show reality because for practical reasons it is just too expensive.  But most of the time, they just get the details wrong because they did not care to find out what happened. And as a result they present something that is not true or possibly not understandable when they do not have to. Sure you can violate this rule in the interests of farce or sarcasm or for other reasons but at least you should have a reason.

3. It should be real, but not too real, please.  At some point it is better to allude to the issues and leave them as just that, allusions. I am not sure there has ever been a good film about the Ardennes Campaign in World War 2 (the Battle of the Bulge), although I am aware of one pretty good one that was low budget.  Did you ever wonder where 250,000 or so men in the dead of winter who are unexpectedly shooting each other went to the bathroom or who exactly picked up the dead or what a person looks like after being caught out in the open by an artillery shell?  Good.  Real, but not too real, please.

4. If the movie presents or has scenes at or near the front, it should attempt to portray the unbelievable chaos that is the characteristic of essentially all battles I am aware of.  The plan didn't work, no one knows much about what is going on, there is total madness, people are getting hurt and killed all around you. Even when not in a battle it might not make any sense and in a battle itself, forget about it.   I felt that Saving Private Ryan captured some of this feeling at times very well.

Nobody knows what the fuck is going on

5. People exhibit extraordinary behavior during battle that they would not exhibit anywhere else.  A total idiot may suddenly exhibit extraordinary presence of mind when being shot at. Some of the crazy stories you hear about someone in times of war or battle are actually probably true as far as we can tell.  However, if one is going to use that in a film it is probably best to draw from history even if what you are writing is fiction so that you can defend yourself when someone says that what you showed was impossible.

6. Some of the smartest and most ethical people who have ever lived have fought in a war, some of the dumbest and most shallow people who have ever lived have fought in a war.

7. Different cultures fight wars differently.  Some cultures which are believed to be very different may in reality be very similar.

8. Very few of the people in the millitary on either side are evil.   There are some evil people in war and in peace but the military of most countries are not blessed with a particular excess of them.  Military people, particularly leaders, will often seem cruel or uncaring, but that is the nature of the activity, at least as perceived by someone who does not need to deal with the situations they deal with on a daily basis.

It is good to remember that when the movie is over, at best you have an impression of what it was like to be there.

I am going to argue that Apocalypse Now is one of the best and most realistic films set during a war, and that any of the Star Wars films are among the worst films that are ostensibly about or taking place during a war.

Revised 12/27/2015

Monday, May 27, 2013

What Really Happens to Priceless Artifacts in War-Torn Countries

The following pattern has now happened at least three different times in the recent past. The press and the public are told that priceless ancient documents or artifacts are stolen or destroyed by thieves or stolen by an invading army or militia. 

The press reports all this as true and the world wrings its hands in despair and raises its eyes to heaven. 

How could this be allowed to happen, some angry academic screams in the media.

But three different times, that isn't what happened.

Not in Afghanistan when the Soviets invaded.  Not in Iraq when the U.S. was accused of standing idly by while hooligans looted and burned Iraqi museums.  And not in Mali when Islamic militants occupied Timbuktu where ancient Islamic documents had accumulated.

In Afghanistan, the priceless artifacts turned out to be in the back of the bottom vault of the Bank of Afghanistan where some smart people from the national museum had stashed them, and then conveniently neglected to tell anyone.   Hey what happened to all those priceless gold artifacts ?  Oh, those artifacts, they would say, we don't know, they just disappeared.  Maybe the Soviets took them, they would say.   The Soviets say, what artifacts?    Then, mysteriously, 20 years later, they look in the back of the vault and they find these mysterious trunks.

Anybody seen that big gold thingie ?   You know, the one with the dragons and weird guy with the circle on his head?

In Iraq, it turns out that all most of the allegedly stolen artifacts were in the basement of the main museum.  Where they had been put.  Then when people did come by to loot the museum attendants would say, gee, someone must have already taken them.  Better ask the Americans, they would say, its all their fault.

And finally in Timbuktu, we discover that the priceless manuscripts were smuggled out of town in an operation described in the Washinton Post, see "A Daring Rescue in Timbuktu"

What is going on?

What is happening is that when a country or city is occupied by foreign troops, a militia, or descends into chaos, responsible people who love their country's history put the items away, secretly, for safe keeping. Then when the bad guys show up and ask for the stuff, they are told that someone already destroyed them, or stole them, or that they are no longer there. 

And of course the press reports them as stolen or destroyed because (a) that is what they are told and (b) the last thing you want to do is to tell everyone where they actually are because then they might actually be stolen or destroyed.

So the next time you hear about some cultural disaster, be concerned, but do not despair. There is a good chance that things will show up again, eventually.

But one footnote.  Although it would be a shame if a document were lost, how could it be that they had not already been scanned and put in a dozen libraries around the world?  That is the real story, don't count on reading that story in the press anytime soon.  Way over their heads.

Also see:

Hidden Treasures from the National Museum, Afghanistan

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Star Wars Production Stills Circa 1976

Someone has posted over 1,000 production stills from the first Star Wars film on imgur.

They are great. It is fabulous to see photography from the late 70s visual effects production process, back when we had cameras and models and not just a bunch of computer weirdos.

The model photography would probably have been shot at the original ILM, on Valjean in Van Nuys, where Apogee was later located.  There are also photographs from the shoot in England and Tunisia.

This would have been about 1976 for the most part.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Reality vs Visual Effects: The Case of the Boeing Dreamlifter

From time to time, we will review photographs that are real but look like they might be visual effects and ask why that might be so.

In this case, unlike some others we will feature, it is not because of photoshop processing, or unusual lighting, or juxtaposition of elements, or any of a host of other things. In this case, it is because the key element itself just seems implausible. It is huge, it is unusual, it is quite beautiful. We do not see things of this scale around us every day. So when it shows up in real life it looks fake.  The essence of its implausibility is, I think, the cleanliness of its design, combined with the scale.

In a similar way, when I saw an Airbus 380 flying over Los Angeles on approach to LAX, it also appeared fake, probably because of its scale.

This might be an establishing shot of an airport that our character had just landed at. In the background, the giant Dreamlifter would casually be landing

Whereas this would be a more dramatic shot that illustrated a plot point.  Perhaps we are waiting for the Dreamlifter to deliver an important plot device.

But if this does look like a prop, perhaps it is from an older movie about the future.  Perhaps a movie from the 1950s, which might make it more reasonably in black and white.  It would need to be from a time when the future involved jet aircraft technology, instead of more modern anti-gravity or vertical thrust.  Here we have traditional jet technology circa 1990 combined with a futuristic and implausible over-sized body.

The pictures here were lifted from

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Coming Soon !

We begin a series of essays on some of the facts of life about a variety of topics on the economics, history and morality of various aspects of computer graphics development, research and production. The build up to these essays has been coming for quite a while, since the beginning of this blog in fact, and we now get to some of the heart of the matter.

I have no doubt that in the process of making these observations and recommendations that I will annoy many of my friends and colleagues in this glamourous and rewarding field. That would only be normal as I have managed to do that, annoy people that is, off and on my entire career. The only difference now is that I know it is occuring, whereas early on I had no idea.

Whereas the smart thing to do would be to keep my mouth shut, there does not seem to be much percentage in doing that either. The field has gone to hell in a handbasket, in my humble opinion, there are winners and there are losers and if you are one of the latter, then you have paid a significant price for being in this field. To make the statement a bit stronger and more accurate, you have paid a significant price for helping to create the field.

So why not talk about it?

Among other topics, we will discuss (a) why the business of running an independent production company is not at all like what Walt Disney does, not even a little itsy bitsy bit, (b) what exactly is the business and economics of running a production company, (c) why no US production company could possibly survive in the face of foreign subsidies, (d) why SIGGRAPH can be accused of callously luring children to their doom, (e) why computer graphics is a total and complete failure outside of entertainment, and so forth.

But now I have to run to LA, what fun.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Abstract Animation by Michel Gagne

There is in this world a small number of devotees of an obscure artform known as "abstract animation". I was first introduced to abstract animation by filmmaker Larry Cuba who took an entire evening to screen for me the work of Oskar Fischinger on 16 mm in his Venice bungalow. Since that evening in 1977 or so, I have been an intermittant viewer of such films, occassionally dazzled but not always. A great abstract film seems to be particularly hard to do, so it seems, and the field itself is filled with the most painful and obscure politics, to the point where it makes one want to flee in horror, screaming. Of course that would be too representational.

There are several dozen or so great works in the genre and a dozen or so artists in this field including but not limited to the aforementioned Cuba, Whitney, Norman McLaren and others. They are a very select group of people and films. They are not for everybody.

There is a relationship between the early history of computer animation and the field of abstract animation.  The two intertwined once, the new technology was seen as a way of creating abstraction.  Some of the earliest computer animation was therefore also abstract animation.

Recently, Chris Casady, an abstract filmmaker himself, and founder of the famous Roto Effects of America, brought a new film (new to me, anyway) in this genre. I was very impressed, and think it is one of the best I have seen. It is abstract, modern, and yet a subtle homage to the feeling of symbols of the 50s and 60s.

I have no doubt that my few paragraphs here have managed to annoy some of my friends and colleagues in this little circle, but I have taken that risk in order to bring this wonderful short film to your attention.  

This film is called Sensology by Michel Gagne, and it can be located here:

Be sure to turn the resolution up to 720.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Why China Attacked Google

In a brilliant stroke of counterintelligence, the cyberwarfare arm of the People's Republic of China raped Google's servers and aside from picking up their most proprietary intellectual property (their search engine core) they targeted and no doubt got their database on which individuals had been targeted for legal surveillance by court order.

First, let us review why this is excellent counterintelligence. Then, why I mention it to you and what it may mean for American policy.

When country A is spying on country B, it can do so with various means and approaches, the most famous of which is often badly represented in films: the clandestine agent or spy. (1) The clandestine agent may be a citizen of the target country, or he/she may be a foreign national masquerading as a citizen. The clandestine agent may be working at a sensitive position in industry or government, or socialize with such people, or recruit and then manage networks of people who pass on confidential information.

Since country B knows that country A is spying on them, they organize their resistance and defense against such spying and call it counterintelligence. But since country A knows that country B is protecting themselves, they have an incentive to hide and protect their sources, and this is also called counterintelligence, although it might more properly be called counter-counterintelligence.

Still with me?

China is spying on the US. The US investigates the spying. China wants to know who the US is investigating so that they can hide their agents, protect them, tell them to do nothing incriminating for a few years, or find some way to mislead the US about their spying.

How does China find out who the US suspects?

In general, when we use surveillance on a person in the USA, we need a court order. This is not trivial to do, but it is done all the time and requires a judge to agree that it would make sense to do surveillance as part of a criminal investigation. Court order in hand the counterintelligence agency can go to various organizations like the phone company or the internet provider and request information about what the user is doing and ask for records to be kept.

Naturally, the phone company or whatever keeps a record of who they are looking at. What China did was to penetrate Google, find their database of who they had been requested to keep information about, and steal it. In this way they can know a great deal about who we suspect may be a Chinese spy. They can then look at this list and know to a large extent how far we have gotten in our defense against their attacks and make adjustments.

This they have done. It is a fait accompli. All counterintelligence in this country that involves HUMINT and the Chinese is dead as of that date. New investigations may now come into being, but they will probably be compromised as well because China is massively attacking all such targets for this and other information.

This is one datapoint of many that indicates that China is waging an undeclared war against the Untied States. It is not a hot war in the sense that thousands of people die each year, but it is a war of intelligence among other things and dozens of people die each year. When countries execute massive intelligence campaigns against other countries, it is in preparation for real war, or in anticipation that there may be a real war.   And if there is a real war, which there very well may be, then thousands of people will die because of the intelligence gathered by the people who China has now successfully protected.

Again this is just one datapoint. There are many such datapoints, and if you doubt me, look up the euphemism "advanced persistant threat" and look for yourself.  

Since China is executing a campaign of massive espionage against the United States, possibly the largest in history, this helps to explain why we finance them by sending all our manufacturing to China, right?   This is why the Republicans defeat any attempt to require American business to protect sensitive information, right ?   Its the price we have to pay to make a fast buck.
A respectable article from the Council of Foreign Relations:

See this link for a truly wonderful editorial on the implications of all this for private industry. It is of the great Internet rants, this time of the so-called INFOSEC world.



1. Modern intelligence takes many forms and the number increases with time. The classic clandestine spy is called HUMINT in todays jargon, e.g. human intelligence. Other types include SIGINT (signals intelligence), IMINT (imagery intelligence), MASINT (measurment intelligence), open source intelligence and the emerging field of cyber intelligence. The CIA keeps an excellent archive of declassified intelligence research and it is worth reading for background.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

System 360 and the Light of Ancient Computing

Once upon a time, a long time ago, April 7, 1964 to be exact, IBM announced the System 360 family of computers.  (1) It was a bold move, to create a unified line of computing from small to large, with a compatible operating system and set of peripherals. It was fabulously successful and used in industry, research and education throughout this country and the world.

The IBM logo of the period which was also designed by Paul Rand as is their current logo.

This was so long ago that computers were not mere vehicles of commerce, shallow consumerism, crime and government oppression and surveillance, as they are today.

Back then, computers could be seen in a more naive and positive way, as a force of positive social change. Of course, IBM was not seen as a force of social progress back then, not at all. It would take a real idealist to see them in that light and only a few did. But there were a few who recognized and appreciated their role as part of a larger movement that might one day help to change the world. I doubt anyone serious could hope for a positive role for computing today, with its squalid consumerism and oppressively bad design, but back then there was an elite who hoped for and worked for that day, a day which never came.

The front panel for the IBM 360 Model 75

Say what you will about IBM and its role as a pillar of Decadent Western Capitalism, as we used to affectionately call it, they knew a thing or two about design and a lot of good research and development took place on their computers which set the stage (in part) for other well-intentioned initiatives of our so-called civilization.

I remember that one day in the 1970s, leftist radicals took over the Computing Center at UCSB to protest something or another. They were so stupid that they thought that by turning off the main console that they had turned off the computer. Those of us who knew better used remote consoles in Physics and elsewhere to keep working while Campus Security was negotiating the removal of this would-be revolutionary vanguard.

Had our well-intentioned lefties only noticed the big glowing bank of lights on the IBM 360/75, they might have deduced that in fact they had not turned off computing for the campus as they had hoped, but that the work of the military-industrial complex, as the 360/75 symbolized to them, went on, uninterrupted.

Today, no working IBM System 360 is said to exist.

I doubt that this is completely true, but it is true that only a few remain, the rest being melted down for their copper or otherwise disposed of, their bulk making them very difficult for all but a few to store for the long term. Perhaps we will find a few front panels stashed in the garages of the world, waiting like arrays of diamonds in the night to be rediscovered.

An antiquarian has collected for us an array of symbolic representations of the System 360 front panels. Each model had its own front panel, which represented the internal implementation of that particular design in some abstract manner.

You may find his web page with its various graphics representations here:

The front panel of the 360 / 75 that I have included above is from his page.

Today, the front panel is a concept of the past, destroyed by manufacturing principles of cost reduction. Gone without discussion. Gone beyond any hope of retrieval, like our hope that these technologies of which they were a part would be used one day to help people and not merely oppress them.


A good introduction to the System 360 can be found here:

The Wikipedia page on the System 360:



1. The Press Release from IBM for the System 360 may be found here:

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Computer Human Interface in Cinema: An Example from Patriot Games (1992)

In general if we ask the question "Is it too much to ask that Hollywood represent the use of computers with some authenticity or correctness?" the answer would clearly be "Yes, it is too much to ask".

Authenticity is a dirty word in Hollywood and computers fit the rule, not the exception. A computer in a movie serves some generally shallow plot points: the computer acts as an oracle, or a dictator, or whimsical child, or God knows what. These shallow ideas generally mirror the genuinely sincere shallow level of understanding of the filmmakers. Water seeks its own level, and in this area its a pretty low level.

But I came across a scene in a stupid movie called Patriot Games (1992) starring Harrison Ford and the sequence has an excellent representation of a classic late 60s, early 70s computer user interface, complete with user.

The sequence watches a preemptive strike on an IRA training camp in the desert somewhere (maybe Libya?) through a classic spy satellite, probably a KH-11 or 12. In the Intel vault we watch a perfect example, an authentic recreation, of a female computer programmer from the late 1960s or thereabouts controlling the imaging from the satellite in real time. She types commands one line at a time.

Serious of purpose, her fingers fly over the keyboard

Notice the innovative command structure.   One command per line.  A concise 2 or 3 letter command abbreviation.  Commands such as zoom (zm), rotate (rot), and name (nm).   Intuitive and facile, our user is a power user, confident and on post.

Its feels completely authentic to me.

A modern user of computing must only shake their head in confusion at the above display.  Where are the helpful advertisements for irrelevant products?  Where is the cheap violation of privacy, the contempt for the user's time?   All we see is a few lines of serious endeavor, clearly represented.   Its failure to demonstrate cheap consumerism and sellout marks this ancient computer interface for what it is: an artifact from a time which had more integrity than our own.


You can see the sequence here:

NB: The BG voices have good information in this sequence.

Patriot Games on IMDB

KH Satellites on Wikipedia

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

The NSA Guide to Using the Internet

The NSA has released a guide to using the Internet.

The document was written for internal use and released under the Freedom of Information Act. Because the NSA had no trouble releasing it, it is easy to be cynical about what it contains. It seems to be a general introduction to the Internet for someone who is not particularly Internet savvy but is not intimidated by computers.   The document itself can be found here:

For those who are unaware, the NSA or National Security Agency is a key component of the US Intelligence community, responsible for protecting the communications security of this nation and attacking that security of other nations.  Communications security is a fancy way to say code breaking, by the way.   For many years it is believed that NSA had the largest computer room in the world, underground, in Fort Meade, Md. Now it is not clear if it has the largest, e.g. how does it compare with Google or Facebook?

This document is probably only of modest interest.  It is the concept of an NSA "Guide to the Internet" that is amusing.

Table of Contents: 

Friday, May 10, 2013

Designing a Latin Motto for Your New Crime Organization

Most American's have realized by now that if they are on the outside of the vast wealth in this country, that the only way to change that situation is through the time-honored American tradition of crime.  All great fortunes in this country started with a crime or crimes, and people are not being metaphorical when they say that. (3)

But if you are going to have a criminal organization, particularly an international criminal organization, then you are going to have to have a motto to inspire your members, and that motto has to be in Latin.  There are strict rules about such things: from Annuit Coeptus to Semper Fidelis to In Hoc Signo Vinces, (1)  our mottos in the West are required to be in Latin even for criminals.

Since our educational system has for years fallen into decadence and shame and failed to teach everyone how to read and write Latin, it is permissible, under the circumstances to use certain Internet-based crutches, such as the recent Google Tranlate English->Latin and Latin->English service.

You may find this useful capability here:

We all know that the United States has mottos designed by Freemasons under the control of the Illuminati, hence the mottos Annuit Coeptus and Novus Ordo Seclorum.   Its fun to have people deny that there was Freemason influence in the creation of this country and show them the Great Seal of the United States.

One interpretation of the "Eye in the Pyramid" is that the Egyptians built the Pyramids with sacred knowledge, but that knowledge came directly from Satan.   

Some of our most notable mottos / slogans are in fact fictional, including my favorite from Edgar Allen Poe's A Cask of Amontillado.  In this short story our hero, Montresor, lures his enemy into a dungeon, secures him with chains, and imprisons him up behind a wall of bricks to leave him to die of starvation.  The motto of the Montresor family is Neme Me Impune Lacessit or "none may attack me with impunity".    (2)

So now what would constitute a good Latin motto for a crime organization, whether international or local?   Presumably the motto would indicate either a lofty goal, or an act of revenge, or in some way indicate what made our criminal group a center of excellence, e.g. the very best bank robbers, the very best despoilers of virgins, the best at repressing justice hand-in-hand with the politicians, that sort of thing.   In the case of organizations rising up from oppression, one could imagine an oddly paranoid phrase as a contender, and I included one below.

To inspire complete and efficient vengeance, perhaps

     Debent Omnes Morimur  -- They Must All Die

     Occidite Eos Celeriter  --  Kill Them Quickly

To inspire discipline and accuracy among our members, we might have

    Stultus Est Errare  --  To Err is Stupid    

To remind us what our goals are, consider

    Pecunia et Potentia  --  Money and Power

    Carpe Pecuniam  --  Seize the Money

    Nisi Mentis Inops, Pauper Est  --  Only an Idiot is Poor

    Furantur a Divitibus  --  Steal From the Rich

Finally, my favorite, for those of us with low self-esteem

    Omnes Me Oderunt  --  They All Hate Me

Here are a few thoughts on the technicalities of using Google English / Latin / English translator. Remember that Latin is an inflected language (defined in a moment) and English has lost most of its inflections.   By inflected, linguists mean that the form of the word changes depending on its use in a sentence, and specifically, the end(ing) of the word changes.  In English, I may call someone stupid, and stupid bacially has one form.  But in Latin, it may have six forms, depending on its uses.   I am fucked, he is fucked, you are fucked, we are fucked and so forth, has one ending in English but would have six in Latin.  Why should you care?

Because in using the English to Latin translator, giving it a few words, a short phrase, is much better than giving it a single word, e.g. a verb.  "They are stupid and must die" is much better than "Stupid. Die" because of how the languages work.

I hope that this has inspired you to design a motto for your new career in crime and I look forward to reading some of your efforts in this area.



1. They mean "he knows and approves", "always faithful" and "by this sign you shall conquer" respectively.

2. You can find this story here on the Internet, below.  "For the love of God, Montresor! Yes, for the love of God."

3. Real honest to gosh crime is meant here.   You know, guys with guns, that sort of thing.  But with good politicians and friends in high places to make it all look good and cover it up later.  You know, like the Railroads, or the Trusts or the slave labor (Chinese and Irish) use to build the railroads and so forth.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

A More Personal and Analog Approach to Computer Art

Those of us who worked to create a new art form(s) with computers have been gratified by some of the progress in the creation of computer generated art. But we must also acknowledge that the process of exploration has been uneven, with some areas going from triumph to triumph, and others lying neglected and underappreciated. Sure, it is easy to be enthusiastic about vast expense paid to create impossibly stupid movies with computers which are sequels to impossibly stupid movies that make a half a billion dollars.   Indeed, how could we not celebrate them as clearly they are the very highest form of art that our society could aspire to. And this is shown in the most sincere way we prove these things: by success at generating commerce. Without commerce, some would say, there is no real art.

It is easy to celebrate a film and a director who publically dismisses as irrelevant the technologists and artists who made his lead character of his film, in this case a tiger. A director who laughs at them in their misery and impoverishment. It is the fate of these so-called digital artists to suffer as they are worthless scum and anyone can be hired off the street and be trained to do their job. In fact governments spend hundreds of millions of dollars to impoverish and destroy their places of employment so that they may have the glamour of computer animation facilities in their own country. That is only natural and correct. (1)

Since we must acknowledge that doing computer animation as it was traditionally performed is a failure in this country, with a few exceptions, it is time I think to reexamine our roots and look at other forms of expression with computers. For example, a friend of mine, Tom Brigham, sent me an interesting youtube video of an unknown artist (unknown to me) doing an art experiment by applying the power of a neon sign transformer to a former LCD television. Thus the artist experiments with the interface between the analog represented by the voltage from the transformer, with the digital, as represented by the cracked LCD display, in unexpected and creative ways.

All potential practitioners of this process are reminded to be very careful with those high voltage logic probes.

Although the final work is not a success, the process demonstrated by the artist clearly has potential and I hope that many will also experiment with creating new art in this way. Of course, I hope they are very careful with the power transformers, and avoid death by electrocution, which would be unpleasant.

LCD TV vs Neon Sign Transformer

Ed Systems on Youtube


1. Examples of such countries include Canada, the UK, Taiwan, the People's Republic of China and New Zealand.

modified 12/5/2013