Friday, June 28, 2013

Encouraging Free Expression by Users



I am having a phone meltdown and going through the hell of figuring out which provider, phone, etc, has minimal acceptable service for a price I can afford.

Here at Global Wahrman, we want to encourage the oppressed user to stand up for their rights, and along those lines, I pass on to you a first class review of Virgin Mobile that brings forth I think some important ideas.

From Ebony M on Yelp:

At first, I was IN LOVE with Virgin. I thought, "AT&T, you can kiss my big, black shiny hiney!" However, now that our relationship with each other has left the honeymoon phase, I see my chaste little Virgin for what it REALLY is: a greedy, no account whore.
WHY, am I constantly being billed for minutes I don't use? I just topped up. I have a boyfriend and a friend name Gerard whom I talked with last night only this billing cycle. My boyfriend and I talk for a few minutes, then we're off the phone. Where my minutes at, bitches????!!!!
Next, your "broadband-speed" internet is ass. It's slower than my mom's dial-up, and that fool's still using AOL. AOL, people. I didn't even know that company still existed. Can't watch Netflix. Got a faster computer but still can't watch hulu. And you KNOW I loves me some "Top Model."
So, now I'm back to f*cking around with whores: At&T, Verizon, Time Warner, come and get me, you skanks. Screw me and then rob me blind. I'll bend over and take it, just as long as the service is better than with Virgin.

http://www.yelp.com/biz/virgin-mobile-usa-walnut-creek#hrid:P8xHfZaT_Y9lBRXgjr5PLQ

The Fate of Giant Robots in Cinema


[in progress 7/1/2013]

There is some real content here: and it is the following.  First, that Pacific Rim is an example of a video game character / voice makes the transition from games to film.  In this case, its the voice of the computer in Portal and it is also the voice of the computer in the giant robot, I think.  It is usually the other way around (e.g. from movie to game).   Second, that water in visual effects is hard, very hard.  And big water, e.g. water that is scaled up is even harder.  I don't care how fast your computers are, although that helps, it is a very tough problem for reasons we can go into later.  Third, the plot device of the "neural bridge" has amusing psychosexual implications, I hope they make good use of it.  Fourth, its been a long time since we destroyed Tokyo in cinema, I hope the filmmakers are up to the task.

__________

Minor Spoiler Alert, but nothing you would not learn from any trailer.
__________

The very future of Giant Robots, the apex of sophistication of all cinematic art, is at risk.

This important subgenre, pioneered by the Japanese and others in the far east, was created and nurtured in the field of Anime. But then it jumped out of that subgenre and into the world of mainstream filmmaking through the genius of Michael Bay, that underrated director of robotic conflict, whose Transformers can be said to have changed the very face of the cinema, transforming, as it were, the worn and old-fashioned ideas of story, character, mere plot and nuance into a vigorous and renewed art form of the clash of giant robot on giant robot.

Whereas previous narrative was limited to "person vs nature", "nature vs nature" and so forth, we can now add "robot vs robot" and "robot vs alien" greatly expanding the range of narrative possibilities.

No more weak cop buddy movies for Hollywood, or High Noon in space, or a repeat of Halloween XIII, all were swept away by the magnificence of the Transformers films. But as geniuses are wont to do, Michael Bay became bored with the genre he had helped to create and lost his way. And the genre of giant robots itself fell into decay, fallen from its former glory.

Now the entire field of Giant Robots in the hands of a tyro, a beginner to the art form, Guillermo del Toro, who is an esteemed but imperfect filmmaker. His first Hellboy was a triumph, and so were some of his earlier low budget films to a varying degree, but Hellboy II was a disappointment for reasons that were entirely under his command.  He recouped some ground with Labyrinth of Pan, but one could hardly call Labyrinth a giant blockbuster hit and, as we all know so well, in American all that really matters is money.

Thus the fate of this important genre may ride on the box office performance of Pacific Rim. Hollywood being what it is, were Pacific Rim not a "monster" at the box office, and failed, it would impose a chill on the financing of other giant robot projects, no matter how worthy. That is the normal craven behavior of Hollywood and is just a fact of our lives.

The premise of Pacific Rim is sophisticated and rich in nuance. Giant aliens menace the earth from under the seas, not from outer space, and proceed to destroy civilization and small children while we are powerless to stop them. Perhaps we have a homage here to Godzilla, even though of course Godzilla was not an alien, but an earth creature mutated into its cinematic form through the plot device of nuclear mutations. So the first thing we know is that the plot premise "aliens attack and try to destroy earth" is totally original.


From out of the alien rift comes this aquatic menace to destroy Tokyo

The second important element of Pacific Rim is that all our weapons fail to stop this menace, and we are reduced to one last chance, one last resort, a vintage, early-model Jaeger, which is a giant robotic device controlled by not one, but two, humans in concert.

Is there any science in this fiction? Well, there might be. It is generally believed by those who study such things that a large part of the brain mass of different creatures is proportional to the size of the creature. In other words, whether or not an elephant or a gorilla is intelligent (which they certainly are), a certain amount of their very large brains is used up by the sheer mechanics of controlling their large bodies. The larger the body, the larger the brain, so this argument goes.


The two buddy giant robot controller team

Thus in Pacific Rim, we need not one, but two, humans whose combined brain mass, roughly divided left and right, is necessary to control the Jaeger in its sophisticated war against the sea aliens. The two humans are brought together in "neural fusion" which is a privacy destroying mechanism in which all their dreams, mistakes, fears, emotions and memories are fused. Anyone who agreed to neural fusion must be a very brave person indeed, who would want to be fused with their girl or boy friend? You would break up at once.


The incredibly hot Japanese martial artist teenage lust object robot controller

So through this plot device we actually have a nice undercurrent of sex/relationship politics. Do we have two beefy guys in a homosexual neural fusion, or do we go the heterosexual route, particularly with a hot oriental martial arts master. We do go the heterosexual route, indeed, and it could be fun. Will the neurally fused couple be able to stay together long enough to beat up the giant sea aliens, or will their relationship break apart, will they start throwing things at each other instead of the deadly Kaifu, leading to the defeat of all humanity?

For those of you who are interested in mere visual effects, there are a number of interesting challenges to this film and they generally have the word "water" in them, lots of water.  Water in scale.  Very hard to do.  Very expensive, very annoying.

Pacific Rim has another first to the best of my knowledge.  A voice character from video games has made the transition to feature films.  You may recognize the voice of "Portal" in key places in Pacific Rim as the voice of (what I think is) the computer that helps manage the Jaegers.  If you listen carefully near the beginning of this trailer, you will hear a very recognizable voice say "Pilot to Pilot connection: engaged".

http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=6irOTZ0WskU#at=16

So much is riding on this one film, I hope Guillermo doesn't "fuck it up" as they say.



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Pacific Rim on IMDB

Thursday, June 27, 2013

The Rich Make Sacrifices Too


Although it seems as though America has just in the last few years gone into a structural collapse, sending its manufacturing to an enemy who has vowed to destroy us, impoverishing vast numbers of Americans, it is not only the lower and middle classes which have suffered.   Not only do the rich care deeply about the poor and middle classes as has been shown by their creation of the right wing of the Republican party and their economic policies, but the rich themselves have suffered, terribly suffered, more than most people know.

I am here to testify to you that I have personally witnessed some of the ways that the rich have suffered. These sacrifices have been made behind the scenes and hidden out of shame.  Yes, the cold wind of poverty has blown on the faces of the rich as well as the poor, and yes even the owners of the biggest corporations who laugh at the misery of the poor, even they have had to cut back on essential services.

I got to witness this firsthand when my brother was by accident elevated to the upper classes on a trip to NY.   

Many years ago, my brother, the famous film editor, came to NY to show the movie he was working on at a preview screening. The way this works is that the film editor flies out with a print of the film, works with the projectionist and makes sure that everything is done right, and then returns home with the film. These days of course, there is no film, and the film editor just loads the work print up on his thumb drive and flies to NY.   But back then, the editor flew with the film and kept it under his or her control.   In this case, I think the screening was for World War II submariners as part of a documentary being made for the History Channel, sometimes called the Hitler Channel, and the film was U571 (2000).

Although my brother is certainly not rich, his hotel reservations were made on the director's credit card, and when there was some sort of confusion, they did a complementary upgrade to a suite. And I visited him in this suite and got to see how far down the ladder the rich have been forced to descend.

The suite was a pretty good size, it seemed to be about one quarter of a floor of the 4 Seasons Hotel with a nice view of the Chrysler Building. There were several large bedrooms, and the main living room was of modest but acceptable size, you could have a party for perhaps 200 people in it.   Off on the side, there was a nice room which served as a library / study with built in bookcases. There was a goofy but expensive and large tube television (yes, must have been just before flat panels took over) that sank into a concealed space and then would automatically raise itself on command and other televisions, less ostentatious perhaps, in various rooms.  There was a kitchen for entertaining and a bar or two of course.   There were windows on three sides of the 4 Seasons and at least two entrances.   A sensible hotel room, with the basic amenities.

But you could see, you could tell, that already people were counting pennies and cutting back on essential services.

The suite only had four bathrooms, that I recall. The first three, the master bath and two others had all the normal features, with shower, bath, sauna, a telephone and a television. But the fourth bathroom, although it did have a telephone, did not have its own television.

Its shocking, isn't it, how far down we have come so quickly? One of the bathrooms does not have its own television, so its come to this? When I finally asssured myself that this was indeed true, despite my disbelief, when I figured out what this meant, I had to sit down I was so shaken.

That our rich should have to suffer so cruelly was a shock to me. America was such a great country once.


U571 on IMDB


Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Did Space Aliens Fix my Scion XB ? Mercury Retrograde and Other Issues


Mercury has just gone Retrograde again and it will stay that way for approximately three weeks.  I know that some of you do not believe that there is a lattice of causality that underlies the apparent coincidences of the material world, what Jung called "synchronicity", but he was a fool ! He never listened !   

Anyway, I have a story here which should convince even the most doubtful of you that cosmic energy forces must be at work, even if we do not completely understand them.  (I am joking of course, see note 1)

In a previous post we discussed the mystery of Reverse Mercury Retrograde Syndrome which says that the victim will spend most of the year unable to communicate or get much done but that when Mercury goes Retrograde, he / she will suddenly be able to communicate and get things done, things will start working and so forth.   And in this example, we described a case where cosmic energy forces manipulated me into a meeting with the relatives of a very colorful friend.   

You laugh at this superstitious belief, but just wait.

The following is a true story.

Understanding this story requires that you accept that I am *reverse* mercury retrograde, e.g. in this time period is when things go *right*.   

In the last Mercury Retrograde, I was at UCSD to file my paperwork to get a new passport as UCSD is by far the most convenient place for me to get this piece of official business done.  So I am on this beautiful campus, far away in a corner where some outlying administrative buildings are kept. As I come out of the passport office and approach my car I see a person in a pickup truck examining it. He asks me, am I the person with the Scion XB who needs his windshield replaced?

Well, in fact, I do have a Scion XB and it does have a cracked windshield, which I have not gotten fixed for a year because I simply do not have any money for it (sure I have the money, but one of the features of poverty is that you do not deal with problems that are easily solved because you do not know where the next check is coming from). Yes, I say, but I didn't order a new windshield. He looks at his form, he shows it to me, it is not my name, but it is someone else with a Scion XB who ordered a replacement for his windshield and he works in one of these out-of-the-way admin buildings in an obscure corner of the UCSD campus and had made an appointment for this nice person to order the part from Scion and come by at this time to fix his Scion.

In other words, a nice car repair person just happens to order a part for my car, the exact part I need, and delivers it to UCSD in the exact 2 hour period that I am on the UCSD campus (the second time in my entire life that I have ever been on that campus), at the exact place and moment that I am walking to my car (otherwise I would never have even known about this), but it is not for me.

Could this be just a coincidence or did space aliens arrange for the windshield to be there?



Carl Jung's Astrological Chart which must be relevant to this whole discussion in some mysterious way

I would not know how to even begin to calculate the odds of this happening.   People do not just drive around at random with replacement windshields for my car just in case I happen to need one.

Thats the sort of thing that happens to me when Mercury goes Retrograde: cameras start working mysteriously, a friend offers me a project, people appear out of nowhere with spare parts for my car that somehow they knew that I needed.

When the lattice of causality is on your side, any door can be opened, any windshield replaced, any obstacle overcome.

But when the lattice is against you, well, its best not to think too much about that.

______________________________________

1.  The funny thing about this, is that in fact it probably *is* just a coincidence.  But what are the odds and how would we calculate them?  What this really means is actually something more interesting but explainable/rational than Mercury Retrograde, something along the lines of:  our lives contain examples of "miracles"  (as defined by extremely small chances of occurring) but they probably occur because we are constantly rolling the dice, we just don't notice it.  This is not a new idea, but it probably needs more discussion than I have done here to make it comprehensible.  I admit it, cosmic energy forces or conspiracy would be the more amusing explanation.

2. In a Facebook discussion with Ken Cope, Ken pointed out that many people do not realize that Mercury does not go backwards, that this is apparent motion which is a result of the elliptical orbits of the planets around the sun.   But what is also interesting (to me at least) is that in the 3rd Century BC, if you observed the sky and did not realize about elliptical orbits, and just reported what you saw, you would describe a dot of light that appears to regularly move in a path in the sky, but then from time to time reverses direction, then resumes its original path.  That part was not superstition, that is what they observed, and you could observe it too, and predict when it would happen.   Astrology may be wrong as an explanation of phenomena, but in general it is based on real observations made as best they could at the time.


Sunday, June 23, 2013

How Mazewar Escaped from a Lab at MIT in 1977


[6/28/2013 See comments at end from MIT Alumni that fill in some details here]

This is the story of how an early multiperson computer game, way ahead of its time, escaped from a lab at MIT and ended up on networked computers on the West coast and from there out to the rest of the world.

This is also an example of how difficult it is to understand events that happened in another time, another period of history, when the technology was different than we are used to. When this story took place, people used minicomputers or ran batch on mainframes, there was very little graphics, local area networks were research projects, and on and on.

I was taking a break from college and worked at the RAND Corporation and had been on the ARPANET since 1973 which is about as early as you can be on the ARPANET. I had made a lot of friends at MIT at the AI Lab and what we then called the Architecture Machine Group.

RAND sent me on a trip to Cambridge and I stayed a few extra days and slept on Lee Parks' couch at the Architecture Machine. It was on one of these tours that I saw the Spatial Data Management System at the Architecture Machine, or "Put that There". Seth Steinberg was working with Bob Frankston and working on their product after Visicalc, something called TK Solver! which was spectacular.

For some reason, Charles Frankston, who was at the AI Lab then, took the time late at night to show me a multiperson game called Mazewar. Mazewar ran on a PDP 10 computer that had a bunch of graphics computers attached, something called an Imlac. An Imlac was a 16 bit computer all its own that could do dozens of vectors a second, barely. I remember a room with a dozen or so Imlac's against a wall, so I am guessing that this was a graphics lab at MIT of some sort.




The basic game was this: you were in a maze. You can see whatever direction you were facing, down the maze, at a wall, whatever. If you saw another player, you could see them as well, represented as an eye and the eye had a direction so you could see which way the player was facing. If they were facing away from you or at right angles it was quite possible they had not seen you. Using the keyboard (there were no mice), you could navigate (forward, backwards, to the sides), or turn right or left, or stop, or fire straight ahead. If the bad guy was ahead of you, and you fired first, you won. The other player would be reincarnated somewhere else in the maze. In modern terms, it was an early 1st person shooter.

This was probably 1977.

I return to LA and go back to school to get my degree, and my friends leave RAND and move to Xerox where they are working on a secret project. I get a demo of some of their technology, called the Alto, and I am blown away. This is the future. It is the Alto that Steve Jobs was shown when he came up with the idea for the Macintosh, so they say.




The Alto was perfect for Mazewar. It had the screen, the user interface (keyboard/mouse), the network to communicate. It did not have a central computer like the PDP 10 so we came up with a distributed architecture for the game played over the network. Jim Guyton at Xerox did most of the programming. I described the game (Jim had never seen it) and figured out how to make the graphics efficient. Jim releases the game inside Xerox.

My friend Marc Cantor, founder of Macromind aka Macromedia, sees it and does a Mac implementation. Jim is asked to write an article about the Alto implementation for Byte magazine and he does in 1980. This turns out to be one of the first, if not the first, network distributed multi-person game with various points of view, in the public literature.

I am sure we were not the first. But apparently we were close to the first to talk about the ideas in print. Jim now becomes an expert witness to break weird patents on networked games. So do I.

Anyway, Mazewar has a loyal following, it even had a 30 year reunion that I did not know about.

The point is, that back then, people helped you, you shared ideas, it wasn't about making a fast buck, it was about showing these ideas would work when no one but us believed it would.

Now of course, things are different.
________________________________________

We got the following comments from MIT Alumni:

From Tom Knight on 6/24
That would have been in the Dynamic Modeling group Imlac installation, on the second floor of 545 Technology Square.The Imlacs were connected by serial lines to the Dynamic Modeling PDP-10, running ITS, one of three KA-10 ITS systems on the 9th floor of Tech Square at the time. JCR Licklider, who ran DM, didn't like those new fangled bitmaps. In my opinion (and that of many others) the Imlacs were a programming and support nightmare. The epitome (with the possible exception of the similar GT-11) of the catch phrase "There is a special name for a little bit of intelligence. It is stupidity." Cleverness in the console program led to unending complexity and failure in the mainframe.
From Ed Schwalenberg on 6/24
Fascinating!
Here are a few things I remember:
The Imlacs were owned by the Dynamic Modeling group of MIT LCS, headed by Al Vezza.  Vezza was not fond of Maze, because randoms like you would come in at midnight, pound on the keyboards and break them.  So the installed version of Maze was typically neutered; you had to have a guide like CBF to know where to find a good copy.  Also, there was a screensaver for idle Imlacs; one of the images was a Maze playing position where user AV (Vezza) was directly in front of you, his eyes directly on you.
The cognoscenti also knew how to activate various cheat modes. A regular shot had a propagation delay to the target; control-mumble-cokebottle eliminated that delay.  Another patch activated keystrokes that would let you remove walls in your copy of the maze.  A third would show you the positions of others in the overview.
SAIL had some Imlacs, notably one at John McCarthy's home; I wonder if that was the first "home computer"?  I also wonder whether he ever played Maze on it.
Dynamic Modeling or Dynamod was located in what was then NE43 aka 545 Technology Square. I well remember (from midnight tours led by KLH) the room with a bunch of Imlacs, but I don't remember the room number.  That building has been engulfed (the east wall is now the west side of an enormous atrium) and renumbered 200 Tech Square; it's now Novartis.
Dynamod the research group, and DM the machine, played another role in gaming history, employing the hackers who wrote the original Zork.
Kris Karas adds
Imlacs not withstanding, DM was also home to MDL, a wonderfully cuspy
language, if anybody remembers it.  (I still have my MDL software
reference, forlornly gathering dust on a bookshelf.)  I probably owe
some personal success in the field of software to MDL, MACLISP, and DM.
I taught myself elements of good software structure and design from that.
Bill York adds
I remember that as an early MIT student, getting in to the 2nd floor of 545 TS to play Maze was one of the rarest of privileges, and as others have said I owed my access and my Maze training to Charles.
As Ed mentioned, the key gameplay difference between the standard Maze game and most FPS games was that you weren't so much firing a gun as dropping a time-delay grenade in the hallway. This made for very challenging game play, allowing you time to avoid getting killed if you could manage to duck into a side passage in time, or to doom an opponent by baiting him into chasing you into a corridor where you had left a nasty present waiting.
In addition to Zork (which I lost much more time to than Maze) the DM group (or at least individuals) also produced one of the first wide-area multi-player games, an ongoing trivia contest based on user-submitted content. I believe that there were players from all over the ARPAnet-connected world. I think that Peter David Lebling (part of the Zork creation team with Tim Anderson and Mark Blank) wrote and maintained it. He also perpetually occupied the top ranking slot with a commanding lead over the rest of us peons, though I held down 2nd place for a while. Anyone else remember this?

________________________________________

Mazewar page on Wikipedia

Xerox Alto on Wikipedia

Friday, June 21, 2013

Should SIGGRAPH Encourage People to Go Into Computer Animation ?


This essay is an editorial on the role I see SIGGRAPH playing over the years to encourage people to go into the field of computer animation in spite of very serious employment issues in the field.  Let me be clear that I am not referring here to the technical part of SIGGRAPH and the role they have played to publish research in this area, nor am I referring in any negative way to SIGGRAPH as an institution in some greater sense, I am however trying to get people aware that people attending SIGGRAPH are making life decisions based in part on the impressions given at SIGGRAPH and that they are being given what I think is a false impression of the likelihood that this field will be able to support them economically.   

I hear a lot of people say "Computer Animation has changed so quickly in the last few years!!". I hear some people say "The business model of visual effects is broken!!"

That is what I hear them say.

Its true that in the last six months over 1,000 people have been laid off of work.  At least 500 at Dreamworks, an unknown number at R&H but well over 500, an unknown number by Sony in Vancouver and an unknown number by Cinesite in London.   And those are just the ones I know about.  1,000 at least.

But I disagree that there is anything surprising about this.   Everything that is happening today was obvious 10 years ago or more, modulo a few details of this corporate takeover or that merger and acquisition. And the business model of visual effects is not broken, not in the least, it never worked to begin with. Nothing has changed, not for a long time. People just didn't want to know. They were too busy selling a vision that they wanted to be true. And many still are selling that vision.


Computer animators lining up for SIGGRAPH

But now one hears that there is a crisis and so people say "What can we do about it?" There are a number of things that people can do about it, but they probably won't because it will violate every bone of their rah-rah, marketing positive body.   Ok, that is not entirely fair.  But the writing has been on the wall for over a decade or more, and people / groups have not taken action until recently, and even then I am not sure that the actions that they are taking are going to help.

The first thing that SIGGRAPH could do that would be responsible here is for them to stop encouraging people to bet their careers and their lives on this field without first understanding what the likelihood of success will be. To encourage people to choose computer animation as a career, whether in technical, research or production, without a clear understanding of what the actual opportunity is would be irresponsible on SIGGRAPH's part, and yet year after year I see SIGGRAPH doing the same thing.   Which is to say, pushing the field and making it appear glamourous and rewarding in spite of the hardship, the collapse of employment, the nature of the companies and business in this field, the failure to establish computer animation outside of a few niches in entertainment, and most of all, ignoring the genuine hardship and poverty of people who have gone into this field, helped to create it, and now struggle to make a living, or fail to make a living, as the case may be.

How many black kids want to grow up and be professional basketball players? A lot, I hear. But in fact there are a very limited number of positions for basketball players even if most of them do turn out to be black. Basketball is a good way to get some exercise, and some fun if you are into that sort of thing, and work off some aggression. I used to play basketball badly, and I went to UCLA for part of my so-called higher education, so I take (college) basketball very seriously.

But as much as I think it is great to encourage kids to play sports, I would consider it irresponsible for people to go around and tell a bunch of ghetto kids that playing basketball is going to be their ticket out of poverty. It isnt, not for all but a tiny percentage of them. Hard work, education, learning skills that people want to pay for, becoming a lawyer or a computer programmer or something else that is practical will get them out of the ghetto, more likely than not.

I bet that pretty much anyone who wants to be a poet when they grow up, or a writer of american musical theatre, or a photojournalist, or a film editor or a contemporary artist of some sort, is well aware that they have a hard road to travel. In general, I would not advise anyone to try to become a professional writer of the sonnet if that is how they expect to make a living. If they can make a living another way, and then spend all their time being the best writer of sonnets that they can be, well that is a different matter. If they are independently wealthy and do not actually have to make a living when they grow up, then indeed it is a reasonable strategy to spend all your time writing sonnets.

But what if you are not independently wealthy, and you have a family to support, and you are expected to be self-supporting, and you discover that in fact there are very few real jobs in this business and you, unfairly or not, do not happen to have one of them? And you are 35 or so years old or older? And you went to SIGGRAPH for 15 years and never is heard a discouraging word? What are you going to do then?  Well, whatever it is they or you are going to do, SIGGRAPH is not going to be there to help you.  They do not even recognize the problem exists.   At the very least, new people should have expectations set correctly, and then they can perhaps make their own choices and take their own chances.

The University of Oxford Graduate Program in Archaeology is arguably the best program for archaeology in the world (or at least it is up at the top of the list) and it used to have a notice on their website that I thought was completely remarkable. I think it said something like
"We hope you will apply to our program and that you will attend. We would love to have you. But you should know that there are very few jobs for Archaeologists in this world and it might be better if you also had some other way to make a living."
I have looked recently and I have not been able to find this notice, maybe they took it down, maybe I don't remember correctly where it was. But I thought to myself, what a classy thing to do. Wouldn't it be great if SIGGRAPH would start doing the same thing?

But they won't, not in a million years.

So what I am saying here, in case it was not clear, is that SIGGRAPH could do a lot better job of letting people know how risky this field is to be in and give people fair warning.

One panel after all these years is not enough.   A Keynote speech that presents successful animation directors is unlikely to be a hard-hitting, no-holds-barred, analysis of where we came from and where we need to go.   Its much more likely to be another in a series of Hollywood promotion events: "See how glamourous and rewarding it is to be a director of computer animation? "

I wonder, did anyone at SIGGRAPH stop to think how this Keynote might appear to someone who has been laid off again and again, whose various companies have gone bankrupt around them, who has to work 80 plus hours a week for people who are not fit to be their assistants or who has been unemployed for years?  "Here are the successful ones, they became directors," SIGGRAPH seems to be saying,  "Too bad you are not one of them, you must be a failure."

Until we as a community come to an understanding of who can be supported economically by this field, I think it is ethically wrong to let people think that they can have a career here.   And if they can not have a career here, then I think that SIGGRAPH ought to try at least to help those who have an investment in this field to find another way.  We, as a community, and SIGGRAPH as our leading professional organization, needs to get on solid ethical ground.

I have some suggestions on how we, SIGGRAPH, can do that, but whether you like my suggestions or not is beside the point.   First, we have to agree that we have a problem here.

Reviewed 3/7/2014

I Am The Most Guilty (Administrative Notes 06/21/2013)


Mea Culpa, Mea Maxima Culpa.

I am guilty, I am the most guilty.  It has been hard, very hard, to face reality of another summer here and another SIGGRAPH approaching.   Although I am starting to work and having a little money is an amazing change in my situation, even so the real problems, the 800 lb chickens, are all still coming home to roost, and I am powerless to stop them.

There are about 10 blog posts in progress, each of which needs a solid dose of energy, focus and courage to finish.

The topics include:  when design and story combine with visual effects (an example from television), why the current changes in computer animation are not at all a surprise or even really a change, comments by real people as drawn from the internet about the bankruptcy of computer graphics in film, why and how SIGGRAPH lures children to their doom, why the recently announced Keynote speakers for SIGGRAPH is unbelievably cruel and uncaring, what it is exactly that I think SIGGRAPH should be doing that they are not, whether or not I have had some impact on a recent policy change at SIGGRAPH, the current dismal state of film in cinema.  Not to mention some of the history of computer puppeteering or at least my small part in it, as well as a discussion of the origins of the .obj file format, and other trivia.

I am not entirely sure who is reading this blog, but apparently people are so, thank you, whoever you may be.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

The Failure of Moral Progress: The Tragedy of Javascript


From hope to despair, then to hope, then to despair again, is that the fate of all civilizations? To give in to sloth and decay, their monuments to reason covered with the slime of intellectual and moral weakness? To sink again and again into corruption, incompetence, venality and death ? Is hope for progress mere pablum for the weak minded to keep them enthusiastically at their tasks until it is too late and their fate is sealed?




Something has been revealed to me recently that would make me think so.

A computer language is many things but one of them is a (usually formal) specification of a grammar and a syntax that is useful to the bipeds in expressing their ways of doing things, what are sometimes called algorithms, named for the jazz trio of Johnny von Neumann, Alan Turing and Alonzo Church whose band, The Algorithms, dominated avant garde jazz in the 1930s up into the 1950s and whose influence is still heard today. Although writing computer algorithms is a very personal and idiosyncratic form of expression, the notation that the individual artists (and groups of artists) use to express themselves will subtly affect the elegance of the algorithm and can by its nature guide and channel what can be expressed. They may all be Turing equivalent at some theoretical level but they "feel" very different.

There is no one such formal language, there are many, and there will be many in the future. Like music and music notation, they will evolve and some will be appreciated by an elite, and some will be used by the masses. Some, like SNOBOL are esteemed but not in current usage. Others like C++ (pronounced "C Double Cross") are as common as flies on shit and just as attractive.

As in all things there is the matter of taste and the issues of elite style vs common style. The avant garde must by its very definition be avant, changing and moving forward.

Even so, we can look on in horror or at least puzzlement when something that is fundamentally flawed, something that we know is just not going to be good, becomes established and then through the vicissitudes of the uncaring fates explodes onto a hundred million computer screens to become encrusted into just as many computer programs and taught to our children and then to their children in perpetuity.

I have just looked more closely at HTML 5 which is already everywhere and soon will be truly everywhere. One day there will be an HTML 6 no doubt but until then it is HTML 5 that will be used to mark up what our civilization has to say about itself. HTML 5 is a synonym for Javascript, as Javascript is integrated into the very essence of HTML 5. There can not be one without the other. Where you find HTML 5 you will find Javascript.

The more I learn Javascript the more I realize that Satan and the Illuminati, another band from the 1930s, must be chortling with glee at the little joke they have played on our world. For Javascript is a pastiche which pulls a little from column A and column B and column C and Java and Scheme and C and blows smoke in our face. It is a tale told by a billionaire, Mark Andresson, who was in a hurry at the time and would we have done any better if we were in his shoes?     I would hope that we would, but it is very hard to know until we are tested, and we probably never will have that opportunity.   It is what it is, however.

Javascript is not the best we, the computer community, can do in a perfect world.  But it is not a perfect world, and at least Javascript is not the worst that there is out there.    At this point, it is just a fact of life.

___________________________________

HTML 5 Working Group
http://www.w3.org/html/wg/

HTML 5 on Wikipedia
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/HTML5


Monday, June 17, 2013

NSA, Surveillance, Secrets 5: Motivations, Congressional Approvals and Legal Remedies

[Revised 6/22/2013]

As we learn more about what is going on here, I have to feel that that there are some surprises, but nothing too exciting.  The UK and the USA is using massive metadata collections to do social network analysis and find people.   Many people are surprised by this, I am not.   I am surprised however by some of the vagueness in the approval process.     Whether what Snowden actually released will turn out to be a clear and present danger is unknown at this time.  

Here are some references to articles about how the NSA uses the metadata, a brief discussion of how congress and the judiciary approvals in the process and my own personal opinion that the foreign policy and intelligence uses of this kind of data are so important that we will never get them to stop.  The best we can do, I think, is to control what other uses the data is put to.   This is a somewhat cynical opinion on my part.

I am disappointed to read that the NSA can turn over material that they inadvertently quote end quote stumble upon to the domestic agencies.   I can not see why that would be a good idea; it would not be used directly in court as that surveillance was done without an explicit warrant, (if I understand the law correctly and I probably don't), but I suppose that information in that surveillance could be useful for other parts of an investigation which could be used in court.   The point is that since such surveillance is done under a blanket "warrantless" procedure on metadata, it seems like a very bad idea to use that information for any domestic criminal matter.  It seems to me like you are just asking to get people mad at you over their constitutional rights.

0. So far the best article I have read on the issues here is this one:
http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2013/06/17/evil_in_a_haystack_nsa_metadata?page=0,0

1. The NSA could not care less about your pornography.

You should have concluded from the previous discussion of where the NSA came from that the NSA has bigger fish to fry. They dont read your email and then hand it over to the FBI. Now, on the other hand, the FBI may very well read your email so you should start encrypting it. I don't trust the FBI as far as I can throw them.

2. Approvals

Congressional approval of this cluster of conflicting intelligence agency actions is a work in progress and a subject of debate and acrimony.    The various agencies are under the control (nominally at least) of the executive branch.  The executive branch is supposed to inform Congress of any operation in progress in a timely fashion.   But what is timely and what happens if you have 24 hours to stop someone from doing something bad?   So there are a variety of compromises in place and I will inaccurately try to characterize them here:   (a) Not all of congress needs to be informed, just the select committees on intelligence of the house and the senate.    Between them, that is still quite a few people, about 40, and it is very difficult to keep secrets when 40 people know something.  Nevertheless, that is the basic procedure.  (b) A fallback from that is to brief what is known as the "Gang of Eight".  The Gang of Eight consists of the House and Senate Majority & Minority Leaders, and the ranking bi-partisan members of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees, for a total of 8 people, a much more manageable number.    (c) For many activities, particularly where surveillance is involved, a special court has been set up involving especially cleared justices to review whether a proposed surveillance can go ahead.   For this purpose, basically a special court/judge has to be on call 7/24.    There is considerable debate about whether this is a real process or whether these courts generally rubber stamp the requests.   This last item is under a body of law that has changed over the last 30 years known as FISA or the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act  of 1978.

What you want to do if you want to understand this is to read about FISA and how it is has changed and what the controversies are.

But in the case of the current matter, when Pres. Obama says that "Congress and the Judiciary were informed" he is probably referring to the briefing of either the Gang of 8 or the full intelligence committees (I am not sure which) and the special court set up by FISA.

I promise you that this is all complicated and you will spend time understanding how it is supposed to work, and then how it is alleged that it does work, or, depending on who you talk to, does not work.

https://www.fas.org/irp/agency/doj/fisa/
http://www.cfr.org/intelligence/crs-reauthorization-fisa-amendments-act/p30877

3. Future Direction

You will never be able to get the intelligence community to give up looking for the next Zimmerman Telegram.   But it might be possible to make the fruits of surveillance less useful to the state apparatus. The simplest way is to make information gained by surveillance inadmissable as evidence in criminal or civil court.  Furthermore, it would be useful to make the release of surveillance material for purposes other than national security a criminal act.   If they are just sneaking around for national security purposes, then there is no need for them to be able to use the data for anything else, like violations of the criminal code.   Furthermore it should be possible to sue for damages for the non-national security uses of their research.  These changes in law, which may or may not be possible, would certainly reduce the harm that came from surveillance, a surveillance which I should say is probably inevitable.

The jury is out about whether these recent events are net positive or net negative. 99% that has been revealed is the least bit of a surprise to me. (Note, ok there were some surprises when I read more details about FISA and how that works.)  Maybe it will activate people to outlaw even this kind of surveillance, and that might be good.

We will see.

NSA, Surveillance, Secrets 4: Four Case Studies

[Revised 6/20/2013]

The National Security Agency (formerly known as Never Say Anything or No Such Agency) came into being from a variety of other preexisting organizations doing similar work in the Department of Defense. They were combined and given new resources because of at least four events (and possibly more) that made it abundantly clear to the Truman administration that this was important work. Three of these happened before the NSA was created, and the fourth was in progress when the NSA was founded.

The four events/activities are (in chronological order) Zimmerman, Enigma, Midway and Venona. These four events all changed history and all of them involved intercepting and reading internal communications from one part of a foreign government to another part of that same government by way of electronic media, in this case cable/telegraph and radio.

1. Zimmerman

During World War 1, while the USA was still neutral, a variety of events occurred such that all translatlantic cables between Europe and the Americas ended up going through a single cable. Without telling anyone, the British listened in on that cable and made copies of everything. The German Foreign Secretary sent an encrypted message to his ambassador in Mexico City with the following instructions. Germany was about to begin unrestricted submarine warfare against the British in the Atlantic. They, the Germans, were concerned that this might cause the USA to enter the war on the side of Great Britain. Were that to happen, the Ambassador was instructed to open negotiations with Mexico to see if they would open a front against America, which Germany would support financially and materially. The British decrypted the telegram and found a way to give a copy to the Americans such that it would not compromise how the British got ahold of it, and also answer any questions about whether the telegram was authentic. In other words, prove that the British had not forged it as part of a scheme to get American into the war on their side. The Americans made the telegram public and it was a significant factor in the USA coming into World War 1 on the side of Britain and France.

In other words, the British were spying on all communications sent by cable (e.g. telegram) between Europe and N. America and decrypted and cherry picked one of those communications to change the course of the war.

See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zimmermann_Telegram

2. Enigma

In World War 2, short messages between various parts of the German command were sent encrypted using a very famous device called Enigma. Longer messages were sent another way. The British (and later the Americans) attempted to intercept as many Enigma encoded messages as they could. These messages were sent by radio. The British, with Polish help, were able to break Enigma and read a certain number of these messages on a daily basis within a few hours of their changing the code (which the Germans did daily). This information, a closely guarded secret, allowed the allies to read internal German communications for a large part of the war. Enigma was unbelievably useful.

See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Enigma_machine

3. Midway

This is one of the many great stories of World War Two and it is amazing the number of people who do not know it. After Pearl Harbor, the Japanese navy planned an operation to complete the destruction of the American fleet. The United States had a variety of radio intercept stations where they tried to intercept messages from various parts of the Japanese Fleet to/from Tokyo. There were several different codes in use at different levels of security. Station Hypo in Hawaii was able to decrypt enough information to know about the Japanese plan to attack Port Moresby which led to the Battle of Coral Sea. The Doolittle Raid of Tokyo took place which caused the final approval of the Japanese attack on Midway. Station Hypo was able to decrypt enough of the plan, the order of battle, etc, to cause Nimitz to plan an ambush, possibly the single greatest ambush in naval history. Most historians of that war believe that this was the turning point of the war in the Pacific.

See http://www.ibiblio.org/hyperwar/PTO/Magic/COMINT-Midway.html

4. Venona

Trying to condense Venona down to a single paragraph is nearly impossible. During World War Two, the Russians had many offices in our country to help coordinate the various activities that we were doing together, such as Lend Lease. These offices sent thousands of messages to / from Moscow as part of their trade activities in encrypted form. We collected 10% or so of those messages and did nothing with them. They began trying to decode/decypher these messsages during the war, but most progress was made after the war was over.   A stack of these encrypted messages was given to a three person group to see what they could get from them. They weren't looking for anything in particular, and they did not particularly think that the Russians were doing anything bad. It was more of an exercise, I think, than anything else. The details of this are fascinating but besides the point, it turns out that the Russians had a mistake in one of their five encryption systems and that we could read parts of a few hundred of these messages. And what we discovered is that the Russians had been conducting massive espionage against the United States the entire time, and that they not only knew about the Manhattan project, but had completely penetrated it from nearly the beginning and that the FBI and other counterintelligence groups had been completely unaware.

The best discussion / introduction to Venona that I have found is the following preface on the CIA website.   It is odd that it is on the CIA website but that is a nuance to be discussed only if you believe other parts of my post.

See  https://www.cia.gov/library/center-for-the-study-of-intelligence/csi-publications/books-and-monographs/venona-soviet-espionage-and-the-american-response-1939-1957/preface.htm

Why this matters.

History has proven that intercepting the enemy's internal communications as sent over cable or radio and reading it can change the course of a war. At the same time, it proves that protecting your communications from the other side doing the same thing to you is critical.

What does this have to do with reading your email? The answer is, they are not reading your email. They are looking for communications signals between members of foreign governments and non-government organizations (e.g. terrorist groups) and technology has changed such that they have to collect a great big bag of shit and then sift through it.

They could not care less about your pornography, your cheating on your taxes, or your infidelity.


NSA, Surveillance, Secrets 3: General Background


Here is some necessary background to understand the context of the NSA brouhaha currently ongoing.

Everything here is based on public sources and everything here is, I think, somewhat necessary to understand what people are talking about. To the best of my knowledge, nothing I am saying is or should be the least bit controversial.

1. The following issues have always been subject to debate and controversy in this country, since the very beginning (1789 and before):
What can be held secret from the people of the United States and under what circumstances? How can the citizens of the country know what their government is doing? When can the government of the United States of America violate the laws of other countries? What controls need to be in place so that American's rights are not violated?
2. The answers to these questions are changing constantly as are the procedures put in place to manage them and to see that there are no abuses. But the system changes, the system is complex, there certainly are abuses, and so forth. Furthermore, while there may be a working concensus in Washington, that does not mean that the American people would necessarily approve of the result if it were in some way brought to a direct vote. But, like everything else in America, there is rarely a direct vote on issues. You vote for representatives, and they vote on issues.

3. We may not know the details and the specific programs but a lot of this is discussed in public and what is generally going on is available to you if you wish to know about it. This is because people are always arguing over who gets what resources, who is in charge of whom, and so forth. But they do not take ads out in the newspaper, there is a certain skill involved in knowing what is happening, and you have to pay attention.   I list various sources here.   (1) 

4. You also have to realize that different parts of the US Government are very different from each other. They are not a "communal" group mind, they do not necessarily cooperate, and they do compete. For example, the FBI, the CIA and the NSA are not interchangable. They are very different, and most of the time, historically speaking, they do not talk or cooperate with each other. There are some notable exceptions to this, when they did work together, but they are notable exceptions and we will mention a few later.

5. One of the essential contradictions of the activities we call "intelligence" is that it often involves breaking someone's law, if not exactly ours. And the question is what is the legal procedure when we do this? When we spy on the military secrets of Russia, we are clearly violating their law. When can we legally violate their law?

6. For all the attention given to the CIA and the NSA, the agency that seems to have violated the rights of American citizens the most egregiously seems to have been the FBI and perhaps the IRS. I am referring in particular to J. Edgar Hoover activities and the various activities associated with COINTELPRO.

7. If you want to understand the NSA and their culture, there are four events/projects that you need to be aware of. They are: Enigma, Midway, Zimmerman, and Venona.   There are certainly many other projects, but these four are public and these four have been acknowledged as being foundations of the NSA and its mission.

Part 4:
http://globalwahrman.blogspot.com/2013/06/nsa-surveillance-secrets-4-four-case.html


___________________________________________

1. Here is an example of what I mean by being able to know what is going on in general, without knowing the specifics.  There is ample evidence that our various submarines are regularly used for covert missions of various types, including listening to and measuring signals from up close to various nations, inserting and extracting people from foreign nations, and other highly secret intelligence collection methods including tapping underwater cables and tracking Russian submarines.   I do not know what they are up to today, but I know that the Navy has increased the latest submarine, the Virginia Class, ability to do these things.   Therefore when some underwater project of this type is discussed and announced breathlessly by the sensationalist press in the future, I will not be the least surprised unless it is truly audacious and original.   Otherwise, I will say, what else is new?

NSA, Surveillance, Secrets 2. Open Sources


A tremendous amount of information is in the public domain about the NSA and other intelligence agencies. It is true that you will not be told the details of specific programs, but you can get the general direction of most of what is going on, and rarely be completely surprised when the truth comes out. There are several reasons why this is true, e.g. that the information is public, but the major ones are: policy debate inside the government, competition for scarce resources, and various interested outside organizations that maintain archives of information and analysis in order to influence policy.

Here is a short list of my favorite sources in the areas of intelligence and national defense policy. There are many others.

1. George Washington University's National Security Archive http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/

2. The Federation of American Sciences (www.fas.org)

This pro-arms control group maintains an excellent collection of background material on matters related to defense and intelligence, in conjunction with www.globalsecurity.org.

3. The CIA Online Library  https://www.cia.gov/library/index.html

4. The NSA Web Site  www.nsa.gov

5. The Washington Post and the NY Times

Pretty much everything involving defense and intelligence is discussed in the Washington Post and the NY Times. The Post is better for details of Washington push and shove, both are good for broad strategy and policy issues. Any given article in the Washington Post is likely to have 100s if not 1000s of comments by crazed, angry partisans of one side of an issue or another.


6. Congressional Research Service

The CRS is a branch of Congress that prepares reports on various topics for the House and Senate.  I use the Open CRS archive and the FAS archive for the most part which can be found at:

http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/
http://www.opencrs.com

For example, here is a report on "Covert Action: Legislative Background and Possible Policy Questions".

https://opencrs.com/document/RL33715/2013-04-10/

Part 3:
http://globalwahrman.blogspot.com/2013/06/nsa-surveillance-secrets-3-general.html

NSA, Surveillance, Secrets 1: Why Should We Trust the Government?


My theory is that the brouhaha about the NSA and surveillance is only partially about the NSA and surveillance.    It is about two other things as well: (a) Americans do not know anything about how their government works and (b) Americans do not trust their government.  I think that the former is regrettable and that latter is a fair judgment, the government has proven to not be trustworthy on many occasions.

There have been many occasions in the last 40 years when the US Government explained events or actions in ways that have not held up to scrutiny.     Exactly why certain things happened may or may not point to conspiracy to defraud the American people, I very much doubt that it is any one conspiracy given the wide range of actors and policies.   These are not subtle matters at the fringe of American life, these are matters of central importance.   It may be that there are explanations for each of them, but I have looked, and for the most part, they are not obvious.   Some like the Gulf of Tonkin may indeed have a degree of screw up to them instead of malicious intent.   But the fact is that most people in America do not believe the Warren Commission, whatever the truth may be.  Whatever happened with COINTELPRO, gross violations of American law by the FBI and their paid informers were never brought to justice.   Leonard Peltier is still in jail and he will die in jail for a crime we all know he did not commit.   The supreme court pissed on the constitution in public when they put G. W. Bush in power in 2000.    There were no WMD's in Iraq.    Each of these are different events with different causes and different factions and the only generalization that I am drawing from them is this: the American people have been given ample reasons to be skeptical about what their government tells them about any given matter.   Any given explanation should probably not be taken at face value if the issue is of importance to you, and further study is warranted.  That is certainly the case with the recent NSA brouhaha which I personally think is not even close to what most people think it is.

Nevertheless, I think that people are right to look closer and try to understand it and not take the government at their word.

Think of these recent disclosures as part of a giant civics lesson: you now have an opportunity to learn how your government works.   I don't think you are going to like it.

How do I know this stuff, you may ask.  Years of dedicated study, wasted years that will do me no good and only alienate me from my fellow biped who does not know this stuff and does not want to know.    A tremendous amount of this information is public even when the details of specific operations aren't.

So I am going to outline a basic introduction on how and why certain types of Intelligence matters are handled in this country, specifically NSA.   Using public sources, of course, what else?  But at the end of the day, if you do not trust the government, and if you do not believe that I know anything about this, then it won't make any difference.

I also realize that I am held in complete contempt by my friends who do not believe that I could possibly know anything about this stuff.   This has been made extremely clear to me in the last few days.   Be that way, see if I care.

Part 2:
http://globalwahrman.blogspot.com/2013/06/nsa-surveillance-and-civics-sources.html

Saturday, June 15, 2013

All Will Be Well in the Garden (Summer 2013)



In the garden, growth has it seasons. First comes spring and summer, but then we have fall and winter. And then we get spring and summer again.  

My status report on the 1.5 year experimental container garden is as follows:

-- gardening is expensive, you will not save money, except for maybe an herb garden
-- plants are weird
-- plants have enemies, lots of enemies. your only hope is to proactively spray with copper spray and neem oil unless you go non-organic.
-- all substances must be bought in quantity and mixed yourself or you will spend even more money. specifically, I mean potting mix, copper spray and neem oil.
-- potting mix is not dirt
-- throw away diseased plants and potting mix. do not reuse potting mix after one year.
-- replenish with time release fertilizer and immediate release cool aid
-- tomatoes are a pain in the ass, get all sorts of diseases, are very picky about their watering and fertilizer.
-- there is good information on the internet and there is crazy information on the internet. You will have to find out which is which.
-- buy disease resistant plants/seeds or you will be sorry
-- inspect every day
-- harvest the peas and beans relentlessly or the damn things will stop producing.
-- buy vining and indeterminate, stay away from determinate and bush.
-- concrete mixing bins from home depot / lowes make good garden containers
-- use wire to trellis
-- plant serially, use nature's simultaneity to your advantage. when harvesting basil from a productive plant, start the next plant so you will have something in three months.
-- using the simultaneity and economies of scale are the keys to successful gardening
-- if you want to improve your quality of life and save money, just do an herb garden, and leave it at that.

The quote above is from Being There.

Other notes, 6/18/2013

-- relentlessly remove diseased leaves or parts, and throw into trash
-- be aware that some of this is spreadable, so take some care not to spread disease by
contact, wash hands, etc
-- plants must be placed separate from each other to provide good ventilation, this helps stop the spread of disease
-- you must have full 360 access to plants to remove disease parts, inspect them etc
-- I use a green translucent ribbon to tie up plants to metal supports
-- I make use of hanging plants a lot to achieve separation and to keep plants off the ground where different pests like to live (e.g. slugs, etc)
-- yield will be greatly increased if you have something like a simple greenhouse or cold frame
-- if you are working from seed you are expected to cruelly thin plants, e.g. choose a winner and clip off the losers in any one area so that plants are not crowding each other.


The Suspension of Disbelief, James Bond and Skyfall


In an economy destroyed by globalization, the formerly prosperous citizens must look to entertainment of various forms to distract themselves from the poverty and despair of their lives. That is one of the reasons why such entertainment has an importance far beyond its nominal place in society. Thus the failure of a film to properly entertain must be seen as not merely a disappointment but a form of betrayal.

All fiction requires some "willing suspension of disbelief" in the audience to be effective. This by itself is not a problem. That the spaceships in Star Wars made whooshing noises as they went by never caused me the least concern. The audience wants to work with the filmmaker and be entertained. We want to believe that the mysterious "man in black" can climb the Cliffs of Insanity and win a duel with the fabulous swordsman Inigo Montoya, all in the name of true love. But when the authors of a piece go too far and stretch our credibility, then the suspension of disbelief may be revoked by the audience and the film may fail to serve its designated role in our formerly great society. That is a terrible fate for any work of fiction, and is to be avoided.

Everyone in the world knows that James Bond is fiction, not reality. The author, Ian Fleming, and his imitators, was writing entertainment fiction, occassionally informed by the author's experience in Naval Intelligence during the war, but not too often. Unlike LeCarre's George Smiley, Bond is intentionally the slightly disreputable scion of a noble family who drinks too much, sleeps around too much, and works as an elite operative of the double-nought section of British Foreign Intelligence. Although the original novels vary in their believability, only occassionally do they throw reality completely out the window, and when they do, they make up for it with colorful villains and so forth.  No, I never believed that Honor Blackman was really going to be able to take Fort Knox, but I was willing to go with it.  

There are no hard and fast rules here. The line between belief and disbelief in fiction is a fuzzy one, but when one steps over it, then the road to hell is slippery and the fall is complete.

Expectations may lead to an even greater fall from grace, and that was the case with me and Skyfall. I had heard generally very good things about this film, and I expected a lot. I had heard that the new villain was very interesting, and he is/was. The performance by the Komodo dragon was exceptional as well. Even Q was generally amusing. But one is asked to suspend a lot of disbelief here, an awful lot, and I just couldn't do it.



The Komodo dragon may be simulated but at least is not completely unrealistic.  I think they toned down the blood in this scene. 


1. Nobody survives that fall

The fact of the matter is, when you are shot with a high powered rifle and fall off a moving train 200 or so feet into a rocky stream, you are extremely unlikely to live. Every bone in your body will be broken, you will have internal bleeding, you will probably be unconscious and you will drown, assuming you are still alive. You will not be able to pull yourself out of the water, nor will you be able to make it to a nearby town. Even if there was a rescue team at the bottom ready to apply critical aid and care and rush you to a hospital, you are unlikely to make it. 

2. There is no reason for Q and Bond to meet in a museum

They are in London. They should meet in a safe house or other secure facility. If for no other reason than they will have to adjust the biometric sensor on the revolver. Its not as if they have to do the handoff in Moscow or something. Also, most museum galleries these days have guards and/or surveillance. Why bother ? 

3. There is no reason to send Bond out alone if he is not in good shape.

If he doesn't pass the tests, he will know it. If they want to send him out anyway, then generally you team these people up, rather than send them out as a loner (which you never do anyway but which is part of the conceit of a double-nought agent). There is no reason to lie to him about his condition. But most of all, there is no reason for M to violate rules to send him out. If something goes wrong, she is vulnerable to criticism. MI6 is not a little terrorist group reliant on a single person. If they need to borrow someone from the SAS then they will. 

4. Helicopters are very noisy.

All of a sudden we are subjected to an immense number of plot holes. First, I don't know where MI6 got 3 helicopters worth of special forces in a hurry, unless they planned this, but lets go with that, because worse is coming. Helicopters are noisy, and they are on an island. I live near two Marine Corps bases here in Rincon del Diablo, and they are very noisy.  Oh are you saying that they did not have a lookout posted? And even if they did not notice those incredibly noisy helicopters flying over the water in daytime towards them, his many guards are armed with machine guns and I would not be surprised if they did not have an RPG or two in their facility. I certainly would. You can do a lot of damage with some machine guns and a few RPGs on those big helicopters just hovering there.




Or maybe you think he, the bad guy, wanted to be captured so he could confront M with her crimes. Sure, that would make sense, except it doesn't. Once you put yourself in your enemy's power, anything could happen. Someone could put a revolver to your head and shoot. Its a terrible idea. There are lots of other ways of confronting M, if that is what you want to do. 

5. M turned Silva over to the enemy.

This is just crazy. No matter how fucked up someone might be, he's your guy and he knows all kinds of stuff about your organization that you don't want the other people to know. He was your station chief in Hong Kong for Christ's sake. They turn him and he could make your life hell. No, you recall him and put him in a dark hole for the rest of his life.

6. Silva is so fucking brilliant that he thinks its a good idea to get into a gun fight in Parliament?

I mean what the fuck? Manipulate a jetliner to fall on them sure, but a gun fight? 

7. What is this about the train crash ?

Huh ?

8. Attack Scotland with a crew ?

Why bother. Go home. Enjoy life. M will come after you and then you will be in your place and they can find whatever you want them to find. You don't really care about M anyway, you have all that money to manage, and that takes time in this volatile market.

9. Password in the Encrypted Text

But worst of all, in this day when cybercrime is so important, the idea of finding the password in the clear in the bad guys encrypted data is just laughable.  That is too stupid, I am sorry.

I just don't buy it. I love secret tunnels and old mansions but I just dont buy it. And why is it called Skyfall? Is the sky fallling? Did I miss something?  I must have missed something.

I loved the villain, I love the homosexual seduction scene, but it was not enough.

Not nearly enough, Mr. Bond.

I hope you will do better next time. If you need a script consultant, do not hesitate to call.
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For more about Ian Fleming and his fabulously wealthy family see:




Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Ubuntu Linux Now Controlled / Owned by the People's Republic of China


For those of you who care, Ubuntu Linux is now for all practical purposes owned by the People's Republic of China. I doubt very much if you care, but since we are in a war with the PRC (an undeclared one), the PRC will be putting a variety of trap doors and other compromises into the system. Now the fact is that it is very unlikely that anyone who reads my blog is going to be doing anything serious for national security, which will no longer be able to use Ubuntu, so it doesn't really matter.

Of course if you do proprietary technical work, you should think twice about using Ubuntu Linux because pretty much any Chinese hacker can get access to it.   Of course that might be true using any OS given all the energy the Chinese put into stealing intellectual property.

Just thought you should know.

Here is an article that goes over the public elements of the deal.



Sunday, June 9, 2013

The Garden of Allah: An Editorial About the Preservation of Architecture in Los Angeles


Whenever you read about a famous building in Los Angeles, you are pretty sure that the story is going to have an unhappy ending. Los Angeles as a community, as an economy, and as a culture is very clear about the buildings and architecture that at one point made it famous: it doesn't give a fuck. LA will tear down anything to make a fast buck, no matter how significant, architecturally or culturally.

It is easy to be critical of this policy, but I think it misunderstands what Los Angeles is all about, and tries to make it something that it is not. The people of Los Angeles are not pretending to be shallow, they are shallow. They are not pretending to be stupid and corrupt, they are stupid and corrupt.

Once you understand this, then the clouds of confusion will lift and a positive spin can be placed on what otherwise might seem to be an obscene and offensive disregard of their responsiblity to preserve cultural resources of our civilization that happen to be placed in their district.

In other words, destroying buildings that are an important part of Los Angeles history is not in any way a bad thing, it is a good thing, because it is the true and valid expression of the beliefs of the people who own and run Los Angeles. To save historically significant buildings would be false to their nature, and hypocritical.

I spent about 10 years or so of my life (1982 - 1992 or so) in a little cabin up Laurel Canyon, 8726 Lookout Mountain Ave. My landlady had been married to Bundy Marton, 2nd Unit Director of Ben Hur (1959). My neighbor across the street was Eddie Dmytryk, one of the Hollywood Ten. This was not a rich neighborhood, this was a funky neighborhood. I lived up the street from Pat O'Neil of Lookout Mountain Films, and when we did our test for The Abyss, we shot the footage in that cabin with the YFS camera and took the footage to Pat for compositing.

I had a bank account at an anonymous little branch of some appalling financial institution in an undistinguished building on Sunset Boulevard, a block or two west of Crescent Heights. In the lobby of this branch, against the wall, was an architectural model of some building enclosed in a glass case. One day I looked closer, and I saw that it was a model of a small cluster of buildings, called, rather grandly, The Garden of Allah.



The Garden of Allah had apparently been an apartment complex made up of many, 20 or more, little cottages, what we call bungalows, each of them themed, it seemed to me, as something out of the Thousand and One Nights. Although it did have an Arabic feel to it, it also felt right at home in the Hispanic bungalow tradition of that part of town. A sign next to the model at the bank explained that this was a famous apartment complex that used to be located on this site that it had been torn down to build this bank, and that it had something to do with famous actors, actresses and writers of Hollywood in the days of silent pictures.

That was an understatement.

This was The Garden of Allah.




Our story begins in 1879 when a young girl named Miriam Leventon was born in Imperial Russia, which in case you did not know, was not the best place in the world to be born, particularly if you were Jewish. She decided to become an actress and studied with Stanislavski at the Moscow Arts Theatre, which is incredible just in itself. Moving to NYC in 1905 she co-founded with her boyfriend a Russian language theatre on the Lower East Side. It was not successful, she broke up with her boyfriend, he returned to Russia but she stayed. The director and actor Henry Miller discovered her and placed her in a play in 1906. She had a very successful Broadway career for 10 years under her stage name, Alla Nazimova.

So one more time we have a brilliant but poor immigrant who comes to America to fame and fortune. But our story is just beginning.

She was brought to Hollywood's attention in the very early days and from 1916 to 1918 she was a successful actress under contract to Selznick. She made a fortune, and apparently threw it away making her own films that were not commercially successful. Easy come, easy go, I guess. But with a few million left in the bank,  a financial advisor suggested she do some real estate development as a long term investment and income property.

So at last we come to the part of the story which is The Garden of Allah.


Alla Nazimova developed a property on Sunset Boulevard that was a themed hotel and apartment complex whose name, The Garden of Allah, was a pun on her first name, Alla. I don't completely understand the sequence of events, but she went broke building it, sold it to someone, but continued living there in one of the Bungalows for the rest of her life.

And her life was very colorful. For those of you who find the stories of wild Hollywood sex with famous celebrities interesting, you could do worse than study Alla. She was apparently a pioneer of the Hollywood lesbian subculture and a very active participant. It was she who came up with the term "ladies sewing circle", and there are apparently many rewarding chapters of her activities in this area for those who study such things.

Many stars, writers and producers, stayed at The Garden of Allah if they were working in Hollywood temporarily.  

Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, Dorothy Parker.  Not to mention Ernest Hemingway, Robert Benchley, F. Scott Fitzgerald, George Kaufman, Charles Laughton, Frank Sinatra, Tallulah Bankhead, John Barrymore, Marlene Dietrich, Ronald Reagan, Jane Wyman, Errol Flynn, the Marx Brothers, Greta Garbo, Ginger Rogers.   Dorothy Parker was staying at the Garden of Allah when her husband died. When a neighbor asked if she needed something, she famously said "Another husband".

The Garden of Allah had a main building with lobby, a restaurant, the bungalows, presumably some rooms in the main building and of course a swimming pool and some palm trees. It was torn down to build the most stupid of boring boxes that we put banks into here in Los Angeles. You can see this atrocity even today.

So let us be clear. The Garden of Allah was a distinguished and important landmark of early Hollywood. To tear it down would make as much sense as tearing down the Chelsea Hotel in NYC. Those who did so should be held accountable, even if they are dead.  There are lots of ways of punishing the wicked after they are dead and we will write a separate essay on how to do so.

Los Angeles, if it wishes to be held in any respect by the rest of the world, needs to start paying attention to these landmarks and not destroy them. They must stop their cultural vandalism in desperate search of a fast buck, but they never will. This is who they are, this is who they want to be.

Shallow criminals who do not give a fuck.

Today, if you wish to see the Garden of Allah, you must go to Universal Studios Florida where they built a replica in their park. It stands unused, mysterious, alone, in Orlando.

Maybe Alla walks the abandoned halls at night.

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A write up of Gardens of Allah

A description of the Garden of Allah at Universal Studios Florida

The Youtube (unofficial) tour of the Garden of Allah at Universal Studios Florida

Reviews of Alla Nazimova

Someone's partial list of lost Hollywood