Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Late Breaking News: BOIDS tests from 1986 Found

Just as I walk out the door to NYC, I read some old email, and find that Tom McMahon has resurrected the long missing Boids tests from Stanley and Stella.

Boids are what we called the early behavioral animation tests by Craig Reynolds.  It was to showcase that technology that we did the film Stanley and Stella.   This is all shot off the screen of a very low res Symbolics window.






I thought these were lost forever.

When I get back from NY, I will add some more pictures.

The test video:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=96LIKfKcoxk#t=170


Leaving on A Jet Plane, Don't Know When I WIll Be Back Again


I am leaving for NY tomorrow and will be gone for about 10 days.  No doubt this will affect the blog as it may or may not be easy to make posts remotely.  The problem is not internet access of course, the problem is having the time to spend several hours to write something.

No doubt the trip will stimulate all sorts of topics for the blog, eventually.

As an aside, I find it very difficult to live my little comfortable prison here.  If it were up to me, I would probably just stay here and not move.  Not moving means not spending any money.  Less anxiety.   Putting a blanket over my head and leaving it at that.

And speaking of that, I plan to now go and put a blanket over my head.

See you in a week.

Comments on the VES "State of the Global VFX Industry" White Paper Part 1

(this is a draft and is in progress... send comments to michael.wahrman@gmail.com or leave a comment below).

The Visual Effects Society issued a report on the global visual effects industry right before SIGGRAPH 2013. I have been meaning to review this report for Global Wahrman for some time, but I have not because I did not understand it.

Its not that the report is unclear or badly written, it is in fact very well written in some ways. The problem for me was that I could not figure out what it was trying to accomplish or for whom it was intended. In particular, I could not figure out what its point of view was.

So now I have read it several times, and I think that I have the answer to my questions. It is studiously trying not to have a point of view, to be all things to all people, as it were. But to paraphrase Frederick the Great, he who defends everything defends nothing. And that is what I think we have here, a report that does mention many of the issues and many of the proposed solutions, and asks some of the right questions, but not all of course, but ultimately leaves us where we were before. Which is nowhere.

You are going to have to look up the report for yourself. Right now, Google Chrome is not letting me get the URL here for the report. Search for "VES global vfx industry report" and it should come right up.

As I understand it, this report was initiated because in light of recent events, particularly the demise of Rhythm and Hues in the aftermath of Life of Pi, the VES felt that it had to do something, anything, to respond to the dismal situations of so much unemployment, uncertainty and so forth. So they assembled a group of worthies in the industry (leaving out many who could equally be there) but certainly including a group of people who I would want involved in such a report. Nancy St. John, Mike Fink, John Nelson, Scott Squires, Bill Taylor, Peter Chiang, Ray Feeeney, Warren Franklyn, Sari Gennis and so forth. All of these people are worth listening to, that goes without saying. I felt that it was a little light on the VFX workers (e.g. digital artists) themselves, but whatever.  There was one token technologist that I noticed.

Ok, yes, there are some things I could quibble with. Did I see a mention of ageism?  I dont think I did, but hey maybe I missed it. I felt that the issue of proprietary software needed expansion, the situation is an icky one and one is kind of screwed either way (damned if you write your own software, damned if you don't). I felt that the section of what describes "the business model is broken" could be greatly expanded and frankly it would be a very dark part of the report.  IMHO the so called business model never really ever worked.  Two of the biggest problems that I see in visual effects, the fierce competitiveness between facilities and between individuals that leads to things such as underbidding a project to put a facility out of business and the character assassination that is an everyday occurrence are not mentioned that I noticed.

But I think that the problem here with this report is actually structural with the VES.  In other words, the same problem that the report has the VES has.  Arguably.  The VES does not want to say "end subsidies" because there are lots of international people out there who like subsidies (of course) even though subsidies are the number one cause of the demise of a dozen worthwhile visual effects firms in this country.  Thats pretty darn politic of them, an outsider might say, or one might use the word spineless as well.  The VES does not want to complain about facilities making people move all over the planet then laying people off, because they are also trying to represent the interests of the facilities. Somehow the VES does not see recent events as a complete disaster (the laying off of not less than 1000 people in the west coast in the last year by my estimates). Somehow the demise of the Los Angeles visual effects community is not a cause for concern (which it may not be).  The VES does not want to take a position on the massive oversupply of artists (quote end quote) but until that is dealt with no one but the facility owners or studio executives are likely to have a secure job in this field, except that these two groups don't have secure jobs either.


Subsidies? What subsidies?


Before I get into some specific suggestions, I want to pose to you the following question: is visual effects a reasonable career for a young person (or any person) to get into? Is it likely that they will have a career that lets them do such things as have a family, have a life, build a retirement fund, all those boring things that become so important as you grow older and do not have a trust fund. Is it? Is it a reasonable career? I want to suggest to you that it is not, except for a privileged few and that is the fundamental dilemma here.   To be specific, I am saying that visual effects is not a reasonable career for a person to have and that people are being duplicitous and unethical by encouraging people to go into it.   I have written much more on this topic, you can find the posts on my blog if you care to look. 

So here are some specific suggestions, some of these may be redundant to the report, but it doesn't matter. I am sure I am going to be ignored anyway.

1. Finally put together a matrix of positions / skills in visual effects to try to bring some order out of chaos of who does what and what you need to be qualified for it.  

2. Issue a strong statement about a union, I think that visual effects should have one in order to represent the interests of the workers of the USA in visual effects. An organization that can ask why their elected representatives have sat on their hands and looked dumb while thousands of jobs left S. Cal without worrying about whether it annoys the studios. Of course it annoys the studios.  (By the way, why did our representatives sit on their hands while thousands were unemployed and have to leave the county?  It must have affected their tax base.  It couldn't be slavish obedience to the studios, now could it?)

3. Issue white papers whose purpose is to educate clients on fundamental principles. A fundamental principle might be to explain why changes late in the day might be easy, or it might be very hard and explain why.  I doubt it will do much good but 1 in 100 producers actually wants to do a good job and not just fuck people to make a dollar, and so that 1 person will benefit.

4. Help create a professional development path (paths) for people in the field. This is what they should be learning, doing, whatever if they want to progress in the field and be better professionals.  Instead of just saying every person for themselves, yahoo, go say you're an effects supervisor, no one will know the difference anyway.

5. Help create a way for out of work individuals to have access to the tools they need to stay current. Without the tools, they can not practice and their skills will get both rusty and out of date and then they are completely, as the French say, es fucque.

6. Take a strong position on subsidies.  Subsidies destroyed employment in Los Angeles where a huge number of your workers have/had lives.   Sure LA may be a sucking sewer of smog and corruption, but it is *our* sucking sewer and we should defend it.

7. Finally I think that one of the largest problems visual effects has is that everyone tries to be like everyone else.  As long as they do that they will be treated like the commodity that they are.   Only by creating their own vision as artists will they be unique and be able to command a better price, or so I argue.  We do see a little bit of that in this field, but I think we should see a lot more.

I will elaborate on all of these in future posts.

I want to thank the people who took the time to write the report. No, its not what I would ideally want, but it may be the best the VES can do, given the various interests they have to accommodate, and it certainly was a lot of work and I certainly appreciate it.


Monday, October 28, 2013

Russians Discover Chinese Home Appliances Designed for Crime


We are told to accept Globalization as inevitable and beneficial. Just trust us, says Congress, as they pass free trade act after free trade act, and pass exemptions to polluting transport companies to lower costs for container ships. It may be that most Americans are impoverished in the short run, says Congress, perhaps for the first 50 or 100 years, and are thrown out in the street giving up all hope of having a home or family, but ultimately no doubt Globalization will benefit all Americans and not just the rich, they promise. Really.  One day.

But what if all those cheap devices that flood our shores contain Trojan Horses that are secretly working for our destruction? Sound far fetched? Maybe not.

We believe that Americans are in denial about the extent of cybercrime and cyber-espionage that is going on in the world. Russia in particular seems to be the home of cybercrime whereas China seems to be home of cyber-espionage, although all countries dabble in all the black arts, perhaps.

Many Americans have come to rely upon their home appliances.  What could be more trustworthy than a coffee maker that helps us wake up in the morning?  Or a blow dryer that dries our hair?  What about a blender or food processor?   We rely on these instruments of modern convenience and it is inconceivable that these items could be turned against us.   They are as American as Apple Pie even if they are no longer made in America in order to increase the profits of the wealthy.

Now something has happened that may yet wake Americans out of their complacency, and it comes, ironically from the Russians. They have been discovering for some time covert cyber penetration devices in home appliances manufactured by that supposedly "friend of cheap manufacturing", the People's Republic of China, and they have gone public with this shocking news just recently.

Home appliances of all types including irons, blenders and even the beloved toaster oven have been found kitted out with the most devious of devices, including and especially WIFI hardware designed to penetrate any unsecured WIFI within 600 feet or so of the appliance. Once such a WIFI is found, the innocent-looking home appliance transforms itself into a network-based spy (or "Snowden" as they are known these days) and tries to penetrate any computer it can find on the local network in order to insert viruses (virii?) into the defenseless computers. Of course these home appliances phone home to their masters in Beijing as well.






Are these innocent looking home appliances in fact criminal devices from the East?


The Russians believe that the primary purpose of these devices is to find and make robot slaves for Spam delivery, but we don't buy that. The Chinese are guilty of the largest espionage program in history in their attacks against the United States and have totally raped this country of both military and industrial intellectual property. The theft is vast, persistent and hostile and we are just now starting to calculate the costs, billions of dollars, of changing various military-related apparatus (e.g. electronic warfare) based on the knowledge of this theft. I propose that countries only do this level of espionage if they believe that they are going to war.

Now on top of the previous attacks, we learn of the Russians under attack by home electric appliances. Are Americans also under attack in the same manner? How can we tell? I call on the President and Congress to pass a Homeland Appliance Defense Act and investigate this potential threat to our freedom at once.

For one article on this emerging crisis, see here.



Sunday, October 27, 2013

Sexual Perversity in Blog Posts or What I Have Learned from Blog Statistics


One of the reasons for writing GlobalWahrman is to get first hand experience about what is involved in writing a blog. As part of that I am writing various meta-posts, posts about the writing of the blog, from time to time.

This blog meta-post discusses some of what I have learned about who reads my blog and what that says about the blogging process, at least in my case. There are some surprises here for me, but mostly what I have discovered is both encouraging and even somewhat positive.

I know its hard to believe, coming from me, but its true, a lot of what I say below is along the lines of "hard work is rewarded".

1. The more energy I put into the blog, the more the readership increases. In other words, I can increase readership, in both the short and medium term, by putting more energy into the blog on a regular basis. The half life of any improvement is several weeks, perhaps.  (For this discussion, short term changes in readership is measured in days, medium term in weeks, and long term in months).

2. Inversely, when I am not contributing actively to the blog, this is clearly reflected in the statistics particularly in short term hits, but also in the medium and long terms but more slowly.

3. There is also a fine art in increasing readership on top of the above "hard work is rewarded" meme, and that involves how one structures posts to be found by search engines and the extent to which I promote some of the posts in social media. If the goal of this blog was to demonstrate a large readership, there is a vast number of details and things that one can do to help people find the blog that are ethical. There are also unethical ones, which lots of people use but I find obnoxious.

4. Some posts become perennial favorites and generate a large percentage of the total usage. It is interesting and surprising to see which ones these are. Some may be by accident (e.g. "Bin Laden" in the title getting a hit on a search engine) but some are not. Some of my favorite posts are completely ignored.

5. The theory that a blog has to reach a critical mass of content before it finds its stable readership is not contradicted by the data. I figure I am roughly two years at least from basic critical mass. I think that there is some luck involved here as well.  In other words, a post may have to go viral in order to introduce the blog to a larger group of people, some of whom may become regular or occasional readers.   I also suspect that critical mass will require paying serious attention to the issues discussed in point 3 above.   Global Wahrman is intended to be eclectic, whatever its long term readership may be, it is unlikely to be a mass market blog.

6. Understanding the statistics requires work. They are not well documented and there are default options that need to be changed to get rational numbers. Basically all defaults are set to generate the largest possible numbers, e.g. counting your own page hits on your website and counting someone reading 10 pages as 10 different users.  One must penetrate the incredibly badly documented blogspot/blogger infrastructure and change the settings or the numbers will just be inflated or wrong.

7. Underlying all statistics is a constant murmer of fraud and crime from Eastern Europe, Russia, China and India. Occassionally also Brazil. In other words, the BRIC countries. There is some theory in the blog forums that what the criminals are doing is getting paid for every page hit that they stimulate on certain web sites. Why anyone would pay them for that I do not know, but that is the theory.

8. The post about "repressed lust of CIA analysts" generated the most traffic on a single day in the history of Global Wahrman.  In other words, "sex sells" just as we have been told.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

GlobalWahrman Reveals Highly Secret NSA Project from the Cold War !!


From time to time when working at the RAND Corporation, I would occassionally pick up information that I was not supposed to hear. It was very rare, and no harm was done. In all cases, the specific information had been printed in the NY Times or similar venue anyway.

I do have one story that I think is amusing and which I plan to tell you here.

I hope that by telling you this, I don't accidentally become internationally famous, have my picture in every newspaper, have beautiful women throwing themselves at my feet, get offered huge fees as a freedom-loving journalist, and be acclaimed a hero. I doubt however that any of these things will happen because by telling you this story I am not intentionally or actually damaging America and violating trust based on narcissistic self-delusion, unlike some self-righteous assholes people I could name.

The RAND Corporation was an early site on the ARPAnet, which was the prototype of what we now call the Internet. Much, but not all, of the fundamental technology of the Internet was invented for the ARPAnet and then scaled up.   (Actually, this becomes less and less true every year as the Internet evolves, but it was true at the beginning).

Among other things, the ARPAnet allowed heterogenous computers to communicate in a way that was reliable even if parts of the network went down. This is the famous "packet switching" concept, in which a message is disassembled into packets, the packets are sent by the best available route, and reassembled at the destination.

The computers that handled all this disassembly, re-transmission, reassembly, etc was all in the background and were called IMPs and TIPs and they were highly reliable, special purpose computers built by Bolt Beranak and Newman (BBN) under contract to ARPA. Although very reliable, BBN had maintenance people in various places to fix anything that broke. One of those maintenance people, the one who handled the west coast, was a good friend of ours, for some reason. He had long hair and a beard, was a surfer, was very straight and had a Top Secret / CRYPTO clearance.

CRYPTO is the clearance you need to handle cryptographic material. All cryptographic material is managed by the NSA.

Why he had that clearance was not entirely clear to me, but I think it was because there were places he had to go to fix various computers that were inside places where people did highly secret work. The ARPAnet was completely open and not secret at all, but we were aware that there was a secure version of it inside the basement of NSA, there was a version used between some military commands called MILNET, and so forth.

One day my friend got a call from his boss who told him to grab his kit of spare boards and his passport because they were sending him to London and he was leaving that afternoon. All he was told was to keep his kit of spare boards with him, fly to London, go to his hotel and wait. He would be contacted. I am not exactly sure when this was, but it was probably 1978 plus or minus a year.

So he did that. He got on a plane to London and checked into the hotel they told him to go to, and when he had been there for a few hours, trying to get some sleep, some people came to his hotel and asked him to take his parts kit and whatever tools he needed and come with them. They took him to the basement parking garage of the hotel, put him in a car, put his head down so that he could not see where they were going, and proceeded to drive over an hour somewhere.

At some point, the car stopped and they let him sit up. They were in another underground parking garage for a different hotel somewhere, but of course he had no idea where he was.

They took him upstairs to a hotel room and there, in that hotel room, was an IMP, sitting there looking completely alien and out of place. It had obviously just been moved from somewhere else. They told him it was broken and could he fix it please. Indeed it was broken, he ran diagnostics, swapped some boards and fixed it.

The people who were escorting him, and who stayed with him the entire time he was fixing the computer, then reversed the process: they took him down to the basement, put him in the car, put his head down, proceeded to drive somewhere for an hour or so, and delivered him back to the basement of the hotel he was staying at. They thanked him and told him he could go home now.

So he did.

What does it all mean ? It probably means that there was a special project somewhere that was using a very secure version of the ARPAnet for communication. It was so secret that when one of their IMPs broke, they took the trouble to move it someplace else to have it fixed, and then presumably took it back to where it was being used.

So far as I know, we never heard what project it was.

Friday, October 25, 2013

The Mighty Sphere


About two years ago, I decided to learn NVIDIA's GPU programming environment, CUDA. I wrote a volume renderer in it which can render anything you want as long as it is a sphere.

The problem of course with volume rendering is getting data to render. Volume datasets are usually associated with scientific visualization and when you can get them at all they are not trivial to process. They are real data about real things and it requires serious work to make something of them.

So, for my tests I used normal 3D objects but made every vertex a sphere. It turned out pretty well. Here are two test images, one with glowy spheres and one with spheres that were more hardedged.

You get extra credit if you can figure out what they were originally.








Give up?  The one on the bottom is an upside down SR-71.   The one on top is something with a backbone, you can see the vertebrae clearly.  Dont remember what it was, though.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

The Repressed Lust of the CIA Analyst in ZDT

[revised 11/24/2013]

I just saw ZDT, or Zero Dark Thirty, that controversial film by Kathryn Bigelow. I expected to hate it, but I actually loved it and I believe, modestly, that most people have misunderstood this movie but that I understand the director's vision.

This is not a movie about Osama Bin Laden, terrorism, torture, or any of that.

This is a movie about the repressed lust within obsessed CIA analysts.








This is a beltway bodice ripper 1 about Maya, the waif-like, strong yet vulnerable, intelligent yet feminine, CIA analyst who single handedly finds the bad guy and saves the world. Why don't you men just listen to me?, she seems to be saying. I am woman! I am strong! I wear a conservatively tailored suit!

But deep inside that slender, athletic, neurotic, nearly anorexic female form lurks a hot volcano of repressed sexual desire.

In the shadows of the secret hanger, surrounded by 30 or so alpha males any one of which could rip her apart like a fried chicken wing, Maya is turned loose by her long-suffering CIA bosses to tell these bearded, athletic, casually dressed, men what their secret mission is.  

Does our angry CIA analyst enjoy the intense attention that these men pay to her?   They *do* pay attention to her, in the hanger, in the desert and God only knows where else.

And Kathryn Bigelow knows only too well what men like our Seal Team 6 find attractive: sports, stealth helicopters in secret hangers, and intense 26 year old repressed redheads.

Completely deadpan, the total professional, she basks in their attention and explains where she believes Bin Laden is hiding.   The men are gruff, uncertain, hostile.   A mistake could land them in Pakistani prison for a very long time.

But her confidence wins them over.

Notice how much more relaxed she appears after spending a week or two "training" with her men in the desert.   There in the desert the M-to-F ratio is probably about 75 to 2 or 3.   If that.   She could have her pick of the litter.   



She looks more relaxed and happier, somehow.

ZDT on IMDB

____________________________________________________

Notes

-1.  The sequence of the briefing of the Seal Team by Maya is also a brilliant example of an explanatory scene, the highest form of filmmaking.  In explanation cinema, the characters just talk to each other and explain things, no actual action is necessary.   In this case, notice how the Special Forces guys make the context switch between thinking they are there for a mission in Libya to the much more interesting project of taking out UBL.   Their reaction is very amusing and is one of the reasons that I think that this movie has value.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6kG4k21PoCs

0.  The day that this post went live my blog received the single largest number of views / hits of any other single day in its life.  Proving one more time that sex sells.

1. A bodice ripper is a type of romance novel. Wikipedia has a good introduction to the categories of the genre and how it has evolved.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Romance_novel

2.  Has "Beltway bodice ripper" been used before?   Did I just make it up?   The Beltway, for those who don't know, is the term locals use for Washington DC.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Why I Did Not Attend the Keynote Speech at SIGGRAPH 2013


When I declined to attend the SIGGRAPH 2013 Keynote Speech, a friend was surprised and concerned. The Keynote speech was a collection of talks by successful directors of computer animation as organized by the Academy (of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences). He simply could not understand why I would not want to listen to the publicity machine grind out more material about those chosen by the powerful to be successful, but I will try to explain.

The reason was not because I fundamentally believe that a Keynote speech by a healthy organization is going to be by someone in the field who helped to create it, and who has something to say about how the field is doing, where it has been and where it might be headed. SIGGRAPH has gone away from that years ago, in fact the last talk of that type that I recall was Ed Catmull, president of PIXAR, and even he might have been selected for the wrong reasons.

But I understand why we do not have a keynote speech of that more serious type, and instead usually have someone else who has nothing to do with the field.  The reason is that SIGGRAPH uses the Keynote speech as a way of advertising the conference to the people who might not attend otherwise. Its also a way to generate publicity for the conference, seeing as how our media could not care less about a computer science conference, but give them Hollywood and they jump to. So they choose people who have media appeal to give a "Keynote" speech that isn't.

But that is ok with me because I think that they do need to attract people and there are other ways to get the effect of a Keynote speech. In fact, I think that the Awards speeches which was initiated this year come very close to what I am looking for.

I did not attend because of something else entirely, something ineffable. Something about my past. Something about being in computer animation in Los Angeles in the 1980s.

Voice echoes and camera defocuses to indicate a flashback.

In the 1980s, I chose to destroy my life by working to help invent computer animation. (1) Being an intellectual out of water (any intellectual in Los Angeles is out of water) I attended no less than 20 or so courses at UCLA, the American Film Institute, and attended many lectures at the Academy. Had I not been a complete idiot, I would have enrolled in a degree program and gotten my terminal degree in some field, that would have done me some good. But instead, I decided to learn about the glamourous and rewarding motion picture industry from a series of continuing education classes taught by working professionals. Not less than 300 individual lectures by my reckoning.

And I had a wonderful time. I attended Robert McKee's story structure course when it was ten 4-hour lectures (and not the weekend thing it became). I attended classes with Lynda Obst, Debra Hill, Lauren Shuler, John Dykstra, Bruce Berman, the VP of Finance of Warner Bros, John Badham, Richard Donner, Joel Schumacher, George Roy Hill. Directors, writers, producers, and even a few "movie stars" (Jody Foster, Women in Film, etc).

Writers on writing. Producers on producing. Directors on directing. And I learned a lot, I think. But after a while one has a diminishing return from such things. Hearing Martha Coolidge speak at WIF is entertaining but it does not pay the bills. Hearing Douglas Trumbull talk about doing all the effects on 2001 is enlightening until you realize that he did not do all the effects on 2001. He just managed to figure out how to get the credit for the work (2)

Then, as with anything, knowledge and experience begins to show you the dark side of these innocent events.

So what do we have with these seven so-called "directors of computer animation".

First, very few of these people are directors in the way that term is used in the rest of the motion picture industry. They are at best managers of part of the production process whose creative content (e.g. script, design) has been created by a studio system that may have nothing to do with the director, who in general is partnered with another person to spearhead and organize the production process.

Second, the people chosen to be directors are chosen for a variety of reasons, of which talent and accomplishment are only two, and probably not the most important ones. The people doing the choosing are people who do not have a clue about computer animation, for the most part.

Third, how many of the people up there sacrificed anything to help bring computer animation into existence? None, I reckon. Why in fact, one of them is a stop motion animator who hates computer animation and was dragged into it kicking and screaming.   To glorify such a person at SIGGRAPH is at best ironic but probably worse.

Fourth, isn't it rude to have a presentation celebrating and glorifying people who had nothing to do with inventing a field at this conference while so many of the inventors of the field are unemployed and impoverished for doing so, are walking around outside?

I think it is rude.

There are two other reasons why I did not attend.  First, I do not have enough time at SIGGRAPH as it is to do the work I need to do there and thus consider it a waste of time to listen to talks I could just as easily hear at some other time or venue.   There was nothing about those particular talks that was unique to SIGGRAPH.    Second, I know, from vast personal experience, that while talks of this type might be entertaining, they do not lead to anything.  Ever.

So that is why I did not attend.

_____________________________________________

1. In order to do so, I had to turn down opportunities that almost certainly would have made me independently wealthy. Those opportunities are gone, they were part of that time. And being involved in computer animation did not result in being able to make a living. Therefore, since I did not come from a wealthy family and since being wealthy or being able to generate wealth is a sine qua non of our society,  I had destroyed my life by making this choice.

2. He was so egregious at this that Stanley Kubrick took out an ad in the trades reminding everyone that the credits for visual effects for 2001 had five names, the first being Stanley Kubrick.  I think the ad ran about 1982 but I am not sure.


Friday, October 18, 2013

Bad User Interface Design: Celebrate the Nightmare from Hell that is Gimp


Many philosophers over the centuries have asked: "what makes bad user interface design?" Oh the arguments that have raged over that apparently simple question. Is it all inspiration, accident or genius that leads to bad user interface design? Are there principles we can deduce to help new and inexperienced designers write bad user interface code, maybe even dreadful user interface code?

I believe that the answer is yes, we can help people design and write bad user interface code, code that demeans the user, insults the user, makes their life worse, and makes their work impossible or nearly so. True inspiration may be beyond our capability to teach, true genius may break these principles we write down here, but for the great majority we can deduce principles that can act as guidelines for a truly bad user interface or "user experience" as we say.

We will take the case study approach as pioneered by Harvard Business School and from these case studies try to create principles to apply to new situations.

I recently sat down to learn GIMP, the Gnu Image Processing program, and was thrilled by its bad user interface ideas. From these I derived some principles and will then discuss how GIMP achieves these worthwhile goals.

Principle #1: Make a bad first impression.

If you can make a bad first impression, then you may even be able to make the user give up entirely. But how, specifically, can one make a bad first impression?

Principle #2:  Increase frustration by focusing on what the beginning user has to do and make that more difficult

In other words, concentrate your bad design into those areas that the beginner has to work through, it is less important to inconvenience the advanced user as they are far fewer in number and have more capability and skills to work through your stupidity.

Principle #3:  Use a GUI design or principle from a similar program that  the beginner almost certainly knows but give it a completely different meaning, and actually hide something important that the user needs to do under that category.

Our third principle here is a particularly nasty one. It solves several problems at once, it confuses the user, and makes them less confident that they bring skills to your program that will be useful.

Let us examine how GIMP achieves these three principles in a truly elegant manner. What is the first thing a beginner of a "paint" program might wish to do? Well I would argue that finding a paint brush and setting a color is pretty much right at the top of the list for a beginning user. What Gimp does for this is to make it ok to find a paint brush, although there is some good confusion there, but then it completely makes it inscrutable to choose a color. How does it do this?  It does this by hiding the pick-a-color function under a glyph that means something else entirely in Photoshop.

Then ask yourself how many new users of Gimp will have been exposed to Photoshop? I would argue that at least 80% of any user of Gimp will have learned at least something of Photoshop and the percentage may well be higher. Then what could be more devious and self-defeating than to hide "pick a color" under a graphic that has nothing to do with picking a color from Photoshop? And that is exactly what they do. In Gimp, pick a color is carefully hidden under the following icon:




which means of course to exchange a foreground color with a background color in Photoshop and has nothing to do, actually with choosing a color.

What genius ! What mad genius ! What a clever and nasty person whoever did this must be !!

No one would ever think to look under switch fg/bg color, and they have to look up how to pick color in Gimp on the internet (of course there is no online documentation for Gimp) and eventually they find it, but not after many minutes or even hours of frustration and hairpulling.

So our first case study suggests: find something a beginner certainly has to do, and hide it in a place he will explicitly not look for it based on previous experience.

In future posts we will examine other examples of genius bad user interface design.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Global Wahrman Retreats from Dynamic Views


I think that I must have unrealistic expectations about how these things are documented.  It makes perfect sense to me that I would want to have my posts truncated to 4 lines, no, wait, that doesn't make any sense at all.  In fact, that would be nutty.  Oh well, I guess making billions of dollars as Blogspot and Google do is no guarantee of quality.  

We temporarily retreat from dynamic views, but we will return to the subject one day soon!


Global Wahrman Tests Dynamic Views


We are testing a new blog format.   I have my doubts, but apparently the only way to find out is to try it, so I made a backup and here we go !

MW

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

The NSA and the Mystery of Tito and Eliza Doolittle


As everyone knows, the rain in Spain falls mainly on the plain.   Poor Eliza Doolittle had to repeat that phrase over and over again, under the tutelage of her cruel taskmaster, the domineering patriarch Henry Higgins in order to achieve the goals not just for herself but for her language teachers.  She wanted a chance to elevate herself from desperate poverty, but her masters wanted to put one over on British society, to fool English society into believing that this poverty-stricken seller of flowers, Eliza Doolittle, was in fact of the upper classes.   Technically speaking this was a conspiracy.

In a similar manner,  we have a story from the Cold War, a mystery if you will, about someone who did not learn to pronounce his H's properly and so was unmasked as an impostor.  Of course in his case, since he was the ruler of a Communist dictatorship, it didn't really matter.

This person was probably a plant of a Russian trained agent to lead the resistance of communist and other partisan forces in a war they expected with Nazi Germany.   The mysterious Russian, if he was Russian, whose real name we do not know, was secretly proven to not be who he said he was after WW II and during the cold war.  It was his failure to learn to pronounce his H's, figuratively speaking, that revealed him.

The organization that succeeded in revealing the truth (secretly) to our leaders was the newly formed and much maligned National Security Agency.   Yes, that poor, misunderstood guardian of freedom, the NSA.

Our story begins in the 1930s in what was the Kingdom of Yugoslavia, formed after WW I out of parts of the Austro Hungarian Empire and the Kingdom of Slovenia.  A former locksmith and metal worker, Josip Broz of Kumrovec, near Zagreb, took the underground cover name of Tito, and led the Communist faction of the partisans in resistance to the Germans who had occupied their country.

When the Germans were defeated, he was able to keep the Kingdom united and create a new country that included Croatia, Serbia, Slovenia and five other distinct provinces and ethinic groups.   He was able to forge his own path for his newly Communist nation, separate from the Soviet Union, and create his own version of Socialism.  (1) When he died, the country split apart violently along ethnic lines. Without him, it could not hold together.

The problem is, or the mystery, is that it was not clear, it still is not clear, who Marshal Tito was.  But whoever he was, it isn't who he said he was.

Marshal Tito was supposedly born Josip Broz in 1892 in Kumrovec to a Croat Father and a Slovene mother.  His first language was Serbo-Croat.    He fought in the Austro Hungarian army, was captured and imprisoned in Russia, fought in the Russian revolution, and returned to Yugoslavia where he was involved in various activities that also got him imprisoned.  After serving time, he went underground and joined the Yugoslav Communist party.   From there he rose in prominence in the Party and led the resistance to the Germans.

But mysteriously the people of Kumrovec did not recognize him.   And when Josip aka Tito spoke his native language, he made mistakes that no native would make.   Serbo-Croat was apparently not his native language.

One job of our intelligence community is to understand what is happening in the world and what is likely to happen. Who the leaders of important countries are, and what they are likely to do, is part of their job. Its a nearly impossible job to do, but certain things can be done. But one is certainly at a disadvantage if you do not even know who the leader of a country is.

What does any of this have to do with the NSA?

The NSA is considered one of the centers of excellence in linguistics in the world. They took a speech that Tito gave and analyzed it, asking the question of whether Tito was a native speaker of Serbo Croat. I do not know when the report was originally written, but it was recently released.  Their answer was: he was not a native speaker of Serbo Croat.  He was an impostor, just like Eliza Doolittle!  But an Eliza Doolittle who did not learn her lessons!  (2) 








So whoever Marshall Tito, one of the great revolutionaries of the 20th Century and a national hero of the former country of Yugoslavia, was he wasn't who he said he was. Most people who know about the issue speculate that Tito was a Russian who was put in place of Josip Broz sometime in the 1930s, well before WW II. But it is speculation.

For a good discussion of the Tito mystery, see this post.

Wikipedia claims this story isn't true.  Well, maybe.  As you would imagine, partisans of Tito would want to deny the story.  Finding out the truth here would be difficult, it might in fact, be impossible. (3)

I hope this little story will help to convince you of two things.  First, the importance of studying musical theatre for understanding the Cold War.  And second, to give you some idea of what the NSA does for a living.   They do not give a fuck  hoot about your pornography or your mistress, they have other fish to fry.

The original report is on the NSA web site at:

__________________________________________________


1. In Stalin's desk after he died was a letter from Tito. It said that they had caught another Soviet assassination squad trying to kill him (Tito) but that they had missed, and that if Stalin tried that again Tito would send his own squad after Stalin and they would not miss.

2. My Fair Lady, of course.

3. One could imagine exhuming the body of Tito, extracting DNA, and comparing that DNA with the DNA of other living members of his family, if any exist, or with people from that part of the world.  One might then have evidence that he was related to those people or not.   This is not something that I, or anyone I know, is going to cause to happen.


Monday, October 14, 2013

Should I Run A Write-In Campaign for the EC of SIGGRAPH ?


As many of you know, I have felt for years that SIGGRAPH should be working to change their approach in a number of areas. (See, for example, this or this.)

And although I had good email dialogs with the chair of last year's SIGGRAPH, I have basically gotten nowhere in having any kind of a discussion with those who run SIGGRAPH, and of course I have had no influence on their policies (except for maybe one, and even in that case I doubt it was because of my efforts).

So when a notice went out encouraging people to run for the Executive Council of SIGGRAPH, as member at large, I nominated myself. I was interviewed by five people at SIGGRAPH who represented the Nominations Committee. There were a number of interesting questions and most of the committee seemed to have an open mind on the issue of whether I would be permitted to run for the EC. Although I was surprised by the interview, nevertheless I was flattered that they would take the time out from their busy schedule to meet with me.

Anyway, I was notified that they had very strong candidates this year and that they were not putting me on the ballot. This is what I expected.

As I also expected, there was no hint of how else I might contribute to national SIGGRAPH. It seems to be a club to which you need to be invited, not apply.

There are several possible responses to this. I could wait until next year and nominate myself again, and see what happens. I could try to find another way to participate with national SIGGRAPH, but that has never worked so far. Or third, I could run a "Write In" campaign to get myself added to the ballot. To do that successfully, I would need to get 1% of the membership of SIGGRAPH to sign a petition to nominate me.

It seems to me that 1% of the membership is a very reasonable number, and that possibly I could get that many if friends at a few facilities were to help facilitate that (e.g. put up petitions at Pixar, Sony, DD, ILM, etc. ).  On the other hand, I am severely under resourced and seem to have a lot of trouble just getting up in the morning let alone fighting powers that ought to be grateful for my contrbutions, imho.

The question is whether I should attempt this. If I do, the time frame is November and December for the write-in campaign to be considered for the fall ballot.  I can not do it if I do not have support, so please let me know what you think by comments here or email.   In the mean time I will write a position paper on "where I stand" although one could probably deduce that from what is already written and posted on this blog.


Friday, October 11, 2013

Is Anyone Home at Khronos / WebGL ? Hello ?


Is anyone home at WebGL / Khronos ?   I mean, does anyone work there?  Or is it just a front from some sort of criminal organization or venture capital firm that is involved in corporate fraud or something similar?

Maybe, if someone does work there, they could get them to update their documentation, so they do not waste everyone's time?  

About two years ago, a flaw was found in WebGL security and a fix was implemented by Google and Mozilla that completely broke using texture mapping.   There is a work around it for those who want to use texture mapping, but it requires implementing something known as CORS and most people have not.   So bye bye texture mapping.  Who needs it anyway?   No problem.

However, isn't it odd that Khronos and WebGL don't say a word about this on their web site?  Its been over two years since this was broken and they don't mention it once, nor is it mentioned in the few tutorials that they have on their web site that happen to be about texture mapping.  So the question is, what are those people thinking?  A few words on the topic could certainly have saved me some time.  Of course WebGL makes it clear, your time doesn't matter to them.

There is more misinformation out there about WebGL then there is genuine up-to-date and helpful information.   Good old internet.  Gotta love it.  Bold new paradigm, you know.


See how Perlin noise adds a certain grunginess to our rocketship without using texture mapping per se.  Hey, I have an idea!   WebGL could have had noise in specification instead of making everyone implement it on their own.   Oh, that would have been too much trouble, I guess.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Information about WebGL for the Graphics Professional


There are many aspects of WebGL 1.0 that are somewhat documented and somewhat undocumented. These lacuna are very annoying. Well-meaning web pages that repeat tutorials for absolute beginners over and over again clutter the search engine space and make finding solutions diffiicult.

This post does not have information for beginners or dilettantes.   These notes are for the serious graphics person who is trying to get work done and wants to be more productive. Some of what follows are hard facts or details, some are loose impressions or generalizations.  

-- WebGL is deeply intertwined into Javascript, DOM and the browser, so you must know exactly what you are using because there are differences.

-- Chrome's javascript does not allow "const" in strict mode
-- Chrome's browser throws security violations when attempting to load a texture map
-- Firefox's javascript allows const and does not throw security violations (on linux)
-- Failure to test on your selected OS & browser delivery targets will bite you in the ass
-- You must be very aware of this as you desperately try to get information from the internet

-- Do not assume anything from other OpenGL's will be there.

-- WebGL is not OpenGL ES 2.0
-- WebGL 1.0.2 is derived from OpenGL ES 2.0, but they are not identical
-- WebGL is closeer to OpenGL ES than any of the other OpenGLs though
-- There are almost no carryovers of concepts and ideas and intent from the earlier OpenGLs
-- This is a VERY low level graphics interface, you will reinvent the wheel over and over
-- The WebGL shader language is the same as the shader language of OpenGL ES 1.0 GLSL.

-- Documentation is broken

-- The Khronos site does have a WebGL 1.0.2 specification.
-- The specification is highly concise (at best) or just incomplete (at worst)
-- The shader language is not described beyond the statement that it is the same as GLSL ES 1.0
-- The documentation for GLSL ES 1.0 Shader Language documentation is excellent (see link)
-- There is a pretty good concise WebGL synopsis in PDF form (see link)
-- There is no active forum, the one on Khronos was killed years ago
-- There are a few helpful tutorials on the Khronos site, but not too many, some are wrong
-- The examples on Khronos use techniques that have not worked for years (loading textures)
-- There are relevant articles on the Mozilla developer site, but they are incomplete and the
comments are closed

-- WebGL is fragile and unhelpful

-- Things have to be done exactly their way or it will not work
-- Once something does not work, other errors cascade from it, some of them inexplicable
-- Relentlessly check for webgl errors, do not assume things worked
-- Errors appear either as return codes from WebGL, or in browser error windows, or not at all
-- Most of the WebGL error messsages just say "error"
-- Remember that checking for errors will slow you down, so they must be removed for
production code
-- Sometimes when a problem is unsolvable, I move on to other problems, then come back,
rewrite from scratch using the exact same techniques and everything works.

-- Specific Issues

-- drawArrays "count" is not well defined. It probably wants the number of vertices,
not the number of drawn elements (e.g. triangles) or number of floats, etc.
-- drawElements restricts the number of elements to what will fit in a short. This is not
enough to be useful for many if not most applications
-- The documentation for how to load a texture is wrong and will cause security violations
on modern browsers, it is not clear how much the CORS solution helps
-- texture maps must be exact powers of two in size
-- "const" is not cross-browser, do not use
-- functions are only defined in the shader portion being compiled. A function defined in
a vertex shader will not be available in a fragment shader
-- functions must be defined before use (prototypes may work)

-- Recommendations

-- Use the strict mode of javascript
-- Write or pick a matrix manipulation package for javascript. I use gl-matrix.js
-- Expect to write your own display list manager, object manager, texture manager, etc
-- Expect to spend a lot of time reverse engineering the documentation
-- Be very cautious about what you read on the internet. It is often out of date or applies to
something else that sounds similar but isn't
-- Of course the above warning applies to this post as well.  
-- Test on your target platforms as you develop.  Don't be surprised at the end.

-- Links

-- Article on cross domain textures disabled

-- The WebGL 1.0.2 spec is what passes for documentation

-- The OpenGL ES 1.0 Shader Language Document

-- The WebGL 1.0 Quick Reference Card

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Experimental Uses of Analog Reflectance Mapping in the Pre-Digital Cinema


As we move into the new world of digital cinema is it time to embrace modern aesthetics and criteria of excellence and move away from the tired old notions of story, plot, character and dialog?  These latter elements served their purpose in their day but now hold us back, some would say.  Who cares about a story when you can have giant robots?   What is the point of having sympathy for a character when you can have 1200 effects shots instead?   The answer is there is no point.

If "new art requires new artists" then it also requires new criteria, new standards, which we can use to judge and appreciate this new work  Our modern cinema has clearly transcended these old ideas and moved ahead.  I believe it is time we moved analysis and criticism forward as well.




What are the new criteria that more properly embraces and embodies our new art form?   This is not yet known for certain.  We are feeling our way in a dark room filled with sharp edges.

I propose that one such new aesthetic will be an appreciation of the power and nuance of a well-placed "reflection map".   Consider how pointless it would be to try and appreciate a movie like Gravity (2013) without deconstructing its reflection maps that underlie its mere surface reality. 

For those of you who are not familiar with the terminology of the new cinema, let us review the basis and origins of the "reflectance map".   

A reflection map is subtlety incarnate. Just out of sight it informs the scene subliminally. It is the distorted lens through which we do not see this world, but another world, a world around the corner or above our heads, a world of light that fills the space between the objects.

The origins of the reflection map predates digital cinema, it predates all cinema. Its beginnings are in the history of theatrical lighting and set design of different cultures, both of narrative theatre as well as the religious and other cultural events of these earlier periods. It is in the history of theatrical lighting, the projector, the lime-light, the mirror, the torch, the well-placed pane of glass, the unscrolling panorama, and in the world of theatrical magic that we should seek the origins of the reflection map.  (1)

The reflection map is not new to the cinema, it is has been in the background, in the art form of the cinematographer since the beginning. There have also been some early examples, ahead of their time, that elevated the reflection map to a more prominent place in the structure of the film. There are four films that I describe here that demonstrate mastery of the reflection map, all of them classics of the traditional cinema. I think you will agree that all four films are recognizable at once merely by describing their use of reflection mapping, as analog as it may be.

That is right, in all four examples below, the maps (reflection, projection, etc) are all analog, which obviously could not be as good as digital, that goes without saying, but has value nevertheless.  

Film 1:

The film begins with a minute of solid black with white titles in a classic type. The audio fades up from silent to the background sound of people in a public space and, slowly after a minute and maybe twenty title cards, what appears at first glance to be a stylized impressionist painting appears. A very subdued color palette with unrecognizable shapes of what may be a cafe or group of people. The painting begins to move (it is actually in slow motion), it appears to be animated or abstract in some way. As color is faded into the picture, an orchestra becomes to warm up in the background audio and the painting is revealed to be a distorted mirror of a club in Berlin between the wars. The reflection map itself becomes an element of the scene as it is a backdrop to the stage which is slowly pulled up to the ceiling where it acts as a reflector of the stage beneath it.





Film 2:

A black and white film about a young man who is color blind. However, he became color blind as a young adult, in his early childhood he could perceive color. When he sees something that he saw as a child or which reminds him of his childhood, that element will be in color. This is particularly noticeable in a scene involving a dark room with a back-lit aquarium and the reflections it casts in the room. (2)

Film 3:

A 1960's film about space travel. We often do not see what the character sees directly, but only indirectly in the visor of his space suit, or the reflections on the wall or window. Even when we think we are seeing what he sees directly, we are not, as the imagery is created with an analog technique called slit scan, a technique that uses imagery in a motion control process to create new animated abstract imagery on film.

Film 4:

A black and white film about love and death, with death and death's mechanism personified in the character of a woman (4) and her male assistant. The boundary between the worlds of the dead and the living are mirrors. In an attempt to bring someone back from death, the assistant to death guides the protagonist into and through the world of the dead on his mission. The imagery is composited, either optical or rear projection, of photography at night moving through ruined cities.   The plates are then used as both backgrounds and projections on the characters.  

The four films are of course Cabaret (1972) by Fosse , Rumble Fish (1983) by Copolla, 2001: A Space Odyssey  (1968) by Kubrick and Orpheus (1950) by Cocteau.





These are all analog films of course, and all but one of them, 2001, can only tease us with the promise of reflection mapping.  It will take the advent of digital techniques for the tsunami of reflection mapping to truly find its voice.


2001: A Space Odyssey

Rumble Fish

Orpheus

Cabaret

_________________________________________


1. For those who think that reflectance mapping was invented in 1982, sadly I must disagree.  At most it was demonstrated in digital form in that year.  Reflectance mapping has been with us since long before.   Anyone writing a renderer in that period, as I was, was well aware of its promise and possibilities.

2. Rumble Fish also used projected time-lapse photography which is another example of the use of reflections for narrative purpose.

3. Story has become the victim of the new economy.   By economizing on a writer, the total film budget may be lowered by many thousands of dollars.  This allows them to spend more on what is important, to bring value to the film, such as more visual effects.

4. Yes, death is portrayed as a woman in this film.  I do not know what the gender issues are, but they must exist.



Sunday, October 6, 2013

Unspeakable Evil, Esoteric Knowledge and WebGL


What madness possessed me that day I will never be able to explain. Having accomplished what needed to be done, why did I press on?  I do not know myself what unconscious self-destructive character flaw caused me to innocently go forward and attempt to learn the forbidden knowledge that lurks just below the surface of WebGL.

Those who watch, those who control, those who oppress our pathetic lives through means both grand and small,  yes even through those apparently innocent graphics API committees that design our APIs. 

Or put another way, I decided to move forward and add texture mapping and multiple objects to my little WebGL object viewer which is really just an excuse for learning WebGL.  

1. I attempted to use the feature, attribute arrays, to download the UV coordinates for use by the shader. But even though I have used this feature successfully for the vertices, colors and normals I could not make it work for UVs.

2. Texture mapping would not work. After a while I figure out that my texture map is not an exact power of two, and that seems to be fatal. First, I do not think that is clear in the documentation. Second, why is the only error code that WebGL seems to know about is "error"? Why can there not be more informative error messages?

3. I use a trick to get the UV coordinates to the shader, and that works, but I can not use that trick in the final software.

Yeah !  A cube with a texture map !

4. In the process of writing slightly more sophisticated shaders, I discover that (a) functions are tricky and that (b) it is not clear which GLSL (shader language) WebGL implements unless you read very carefully (the answer is that it implements GLSL ES 1.0 only) and (c) there is no obvious documentation.  There is documentation it turns out, but you have to go searching around for the documentation for OpenGL ES 2.0's 1.0 shader language. Confused?  You should be, there are many, many OpenGL shader languages defined out there and they are all different yet similar. 

5. In the process of doing this, using textures and so forth, Firefox on Windows gets a hard failure because I am not using vertex attribute 0.   Really, why does it care?

6. Once I start using texture maps, Google Chrome, which had been very compatible before, now fails hard with the following security error.

Security violation?  What security violation?  I am loading a texture map, ok?

Here are the conclusions I drew from this not very fun 72 hours: 

1. WebGL is fragile. You may think you have learned how to do something in WebGL, but its possible that you did not and that you got lucky. You may not be able to use that feature in the future, or you might, but you do not know.

2. WebGL is designed to a very low level. Even the API for the 2D canvas is at a much higher level (and much more usable) than the 3D API.   The only solution seems to be to write your own management system to do basic stuff that could or should have been done for you.  

3. The WebGL error system is nearly useless. It does not give enough information to diagnose problems and errors.

4. The WebGL documentation is problematic. There is no reference manual, there is no shader language documentation (it turns out there is, but you have to be a detective to figure out which one it is and where it is), there is way too much reliance on group sourced internet tutorials that are very low level and often incorrect or unhelpful.

5. It is not clear how much a problem browser compatibility is. Initially there did not seem to be any problem but as of yesterday I am dead in the water and I can not figure out what it is complaining about. Therefore be warned, browser compatibility is a real issue.

6. This might all just be a problem of software (im)-maturity.  Maybe it will all get better with time.  Maybe someone will write a Javascript package to smooth over the loose ends and everyone will use that API instead of the WebGL one.

7. One does what one always does in this situation.  You write your own software to hide the ugliness of the underlying system and after a while the problems go away.   The irony here is that OpenGL was originally created to make it easier for people to start doing 3D.   It has evolved into something that seems to take pride in making it as difficult as possible for a beginner to do 3D.  Weird.

There are a lot of positive things to say about WebGL (including the ability to run a 3D application from a browser which means that the end-user does not have to install a program). But if I were advising a client on whether or not to commit to doing an application that was important to the company using WebGL, I would tell them "Maybe, but proceed with caution". This is a very low-level API, it is not yet robust or documented. One will need to do tests and carefully evaluate whether what you need to do can in fact be done in this environment and at what cost.  Look before you leap.



Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Economic Terrorism and Tea Parties Past and Present


Choosing a label for something, whether a car, a novel or a political movement, is a tricky thing.   It requires inspiration to do well and sometimes it requires imagination and the ability to see the title from other points of view in order to judge how good or appropriate that title may be.   A Chevy Nova might become a humorously-labeled "No Go" in Hispanic countries.   A Tea Party might be a famous and colorful incident in a successful war of independence, or it might be an act of economic terrorism which hurts innocent people and leads to a war with vast disruption of many people's lives.

Lets look at the famous Boston Tea Party using modern terminology and a less overtly American-after-the-fact point of view.  There may be some irony in our right-wing fanatics choosing to call themselves the Tea Party, after all.

Here are a few basic statements about the Boston Tea Party which I think are quite defensible once you remove the blinders that says they were "patriots fighting against oppressors".   

1. The Boston Tea Party was a violent act of economic terrorism to attain extremist political goals.

Whoever did it, and we do not actually know who they were, deliberately broke onto three ships in the harbor and destroyed other people's property.   Where were they guards?   All ships are guarded in port.  Were they bribed ?  How many were injured?  How many might have been injured?




2. We do not know who these people were.

The Tea Party was executed by a group of anonymous fanatics who took the law into their own hands.   We know an awful lot about that period of America.  We know who spoke at a major meeting at Fanuil Hall when the terrorist act was committed, but we do not know who were in those outfits executing the criminal acts outside.  You may hear or read about the "Sons of Liberty" but that means very little in this case. Everyone called themselves the "Sons of Liberty" those days. In modern parlance, we would call it an "umbrella terrorist organization".  Who were they? What are their names? Who financed it? We do not know. 

There is speculation about who might have been involved.  I can tell you some very amusing theories which actually does implicate a radical (and famous) Freemasonry lodge. (2) Maybe John Adams knew, and maybe he didn't.  But so far as I know, all evidence is circumstantial.

3. The Boston Tea Party was a Failed "False Flag" Operation

These days you hear a lot of people throwing around intelligence community jargon as if they knew the first thing about it.  One of those terms is "false flag" which is where a country or organization mounts an operation but tries to make it look like someone else did it.  That is what the people, whoever they were, who did the Boston Tea Party tried to do.  They tried to make it look like an indian nation, the Mohawks, did the deed.  Of course no one believed them for a second.

So what we have here is a botched false flag operation executed by amateurs.

4. The terrorists clearly committed criminal acts.

One man's terrorist is another's freedom fighter. Massachusetts had laws. They broke them. Yes, that might have been a reaction to some taxes which were "unfair", so what?   I think lots of taxes are unfair but I do not go around blowing up the California Franchise Tax Board (even if it is a tempting thought).  They committed these crimes to provoke a reaction from the central government and they got what they wanted. Property was destroyed.  People were hurt, if not that night, then in the days and nights to come. 

5. The Result was Anarchy and War.

The situation spun out of control and we had a full-scale war and revolution on our hands. Estimates are that 15 to 20 percent of the population of the colonies were loyalists (1) and left (or were forced to leave) for what became Canada.  Of course this is the war that the terrorists wanted to provoke with their acts.

So what I want to propose to you here is that the modern Tea Party may have unintentionally chosen a very appropriate name for their organization, naming it as they did after cowardly, extremist political radicals and incompetents who violated the law and caused a war.

Good choice, guys.


Wikipedia page on Loyalists
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Loyalist_(American_Revolution)

___________________________________________________

1. I have heard different numbers for the percentage of the population of the 13 colonies who were loyalists, and for how many left or were forced to leave.   The 15 to 20 percent is on the low side, I think.

2. In NYC, the most important Freemason temple was refurbished and on the opening night gave a talk to the public inviting them to have a look and to hear about Freemasons in their own words.  This would have been mid-late 1990s.   The talk was very interesting and among things discussed the American Revolution because there is so much myth out there that the Revolution was sponsored and let by Freemasons.  Our speaker was quite dismissive for the most part.  Yes there were Freemasons in the Revolution, but there were many Freemasons on the British and Loyalist sides as well.  Yes, there are incidents where a Freemason was able to help a brother in distress, but there are also events where a Brother signalled distress and did not receive help.   But he said there was one intriguing story where it may have been that the Freemasons did have a genuine role in instigating the revolution, and the story is this.

Freemasonry is mostly a social and charitable organization, a so-called fraternal organization.  They meet once a week, each lodge in its own place and normally do such exciting things as plan a charitable event for a hospital, or work on initiating members, or discussing their obscure lore.  Each lodge has its own personality, and attracts its own types of members.   In the pre-revolutionary days there was a famous radical lodge outside Boston.   I forget where exactly he said it was, but apparently it is quite famous and they met in a pub, I think, and that pub is still there.   The lodges all kept books recording the minutes of their meetings and they have the log books for this lodge.   On the night of the Boston Tea Party, only 3 members of the lodge showed up.  They immediately called the meeting to order and dismissed it.   Nothing else.   The speculation is that the rest of the lodge (and maybe also those three members who showed up to formally hold the mini meeting), who were all radical citizens apparently in favor of opposing the British and in favor of separation from Britain, the speculation is that they were the people in costume and on the boats that night.  Apparently it would have been about the right number of people.   The evidence is not close to definitive, but at least it is an explanation of who they might have been, and if so, how they were organized and how they did such things as organize their costumes etc.

I consider this just an amusing story, submitted for your consideration.