Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Red Line Madness

Some things mortal man was not meant to understand. 

I had occasion yesterday to test an assumption I had made about the Red Line, that the part of the Red Line that went to North Hollywood was indeed a different spur. After all, Downtown LA to Studio City is basically right over the hill through Hollywood.

No, when you get on the part of the Red Line marked for N. Hollywood, it still goes all the way around the LA basin and then extends your crazy ride a little further from Hollywood to N. Hollywood. That would make a 5 or 10 minute trip a nice 30 or 40 minute trip, underground, at high speed, with very loud screeching as the train tries to make up in time what it has lost in distance.

What you can't really see from this map is that the whole 7th Metro to Hollywood Highland is completely in the other direction from N. Hollywood from downtown LA (e.g. Union Station).   Oh well.

I can tell you I would not want to do that commute every day from N. Hollywood to downtown via the Red Line. That would be incredibly annoying. What are these people thinking?

Its like going between Washington DC and New York via Boston. Or from LA to San Diego via San Francisco.

Crazy man.

I guess it saved them some money or something.

Furthermore, I learned something about light rail vs heavy rail, which is that light rail is infinitely preferable to heavy rail.  Infinitely.  Not only is it less expensive to install and maintain, but it is also, generally speaking, less noisy and above ground, which means that it has better air and much better light.  You can see where you are, and see, for example, the Museum of Science & Industry when you go by USC, etc.   Heavy rail, e.g. the Red Line, is noisy, unpleasant and expensive.  Light rail for me!  

We should be grateful that LA has mass transit at all, and not worry too much about whether or not it was well designed (or not).   I suppose.

The Red Line on Wikipedia

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Submarines, Spies and the Search for Malaysia Airlines 370

Every day when I get up, I check to see the latest news on MH 370, our missing 777. Every night when I give up for the day, I check to see the latest news. Its day 49 or so in the search and I am completely fascinated. Its the O.J. Simpson trial of our generation. There are so many little details, nuances, retractions, infographics, revelations, it goes on and on and on. And somewhere, somehow, there is an airplane, whether 4 miles deep or in Afghanistan, waiting to be discovered.

It is commonly asserted on the Internet forums, that the real location of MH 370 has been known for a long time. Here is a quote from a probably non-crazy person on a related topic from an article in which you can find here

        Professor David Stupples, an expert in electronic and radio engineering at City University,
        London, believes that officials did not upgrade to a more powerful submersible earlier 
        because they were acting on “good” information.

        “My reading of this is that some as yet undisclosed and very good intelligence is at play,” 
        Prof Stupples said.

        “Intelligence that seems to be so sensitive that it has not been disclosed.”

Well, I do not believe they know exactly where the plane is. But I do believe there is reason to think that they might have some evidence that leads them to a guess where the plane might be.  And I think this might be the case because of one of the great stories of the cold war, a story that is partially in the open and yet by no means is it all in the open, a story about how the US Navy found a lost Soviet submarine that had gone down with all hands and which the Russians could not find.

So who is this "they" I refer to?  My guess is that it is the US Navy and maybe even specifically the part of the US Navy that is concerned with anti-submarine warfare.

The US Navy has a tremendous incentive to track the submarines of other nations, particularly those submarines designed to carry strategic missiles. Even the other side does not know where these submarines are, it is a part of the theory of second strike deterrence that neither side knows exactly where they are. Only the submarine itself knows where it is, except at certain intervals when the submarine raises a radio antenna above the surface and checks in. The rest of the time all that is known is the general area where the submarine is, its patrol area.   The submarine is somewhere in that area with all those nuclear missiles.

So the US Navy developed a variety of ways to track such submarines, and most of them involve listening for them. We listen with grids of sensors on the ocean floor, we tow sensors from ships, we drop buoys from the sky and we listen. We listen all the time and we look for very specific things, and those sounds are the sounds of specific types of ships that travel underwater. The ocean is very noisy and so they have a lot of technology to filter out all the things they don't care about.

So how does that help us find MH 370?

The listening stations generally archive their data for a few weeks. We know this from the story of the missing Soviet submarine. So they can go back, if they choose, and are prompt, and look at the data and see if there was anything unusual that took place within a certain time frame. In the case of the Soviet submarine, there were two explosions in the water one several minutes after another, and the sound thereafter of what sounded like many smaller implosions in the water. As if tanks were imploding. Which is what a submarine would sound like if it sank after a disaster.

What would an airliner sound like if it hit the water?

I dont know, it depends on its speed and angle of impact, I think. But almost certainly big sections of it would break apart and sink. And when they sank, the wings with empty fuel tanks and other parts of it would trap pockets of air and implode as it descended to the bottom. 

So my theory goes like this. That out of interest and a desire to help, the people who run some of these sensors decided to look and see what they could see.  Possibly Pres. Obama asked them to. They looked at the data for the period of time that MH 370 could have been flying, and they looked in the general area of that part of the world, and they heard something anomalous. Maybe it was the plane going in, or maybe it was the sound of imploding parts of the plane, or maybe it was both or something else entirely.

According to my theory they would not talk about what they found, they have no intention of compromising their very expensive, very secret systems that have other much more important missions in life.

But they could say to the Australians, “Look in this area, somewhere within about 10 or 20 miles or so of this point. Look there...”

So that is my conspiracy theory.

Thank you.



Wikipedia page on SOSUS

Undersea Warfare article on SOSUS

I am not very impressed with the Wikipedia article on the K-129 submarine which says nothing about how they found it and has other spurious information.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Mysteries of Underbidding in Visual Effects: Deliberately Underbidding

This is the first in a series of posts on the psychology and process of bidding in visual effects.  In this first series, we look at the issue and problems associated with the so-called "problem of underbidding in visual effects" in which it is alleged that visual effects companies go out of business or get in trouble by underbidding a project.   There are at least four different categories of underbidding that does take place, perhaps, and they are when a visual effects company deliberately underbids, when they are coerced to underbid, when they accidentally underbid and finally, when they have not really underbid at all but the client is being an asshole.

A studio executive recently asked me why visual effects companies underbid projects. The context of the question comes from the commonly held belief in Hollywood that visual effects companies go out of business because they underbid projects and if they didn't do that then they would not go out of business.

Could it be as simple as that?   I guess all those visual effects dummys would have to do to avoid going out of business would be to raise prices.  See!  That wasn't very hard and now the problem is solved, right?

No, not really.

Usually the next words out of a typical director's or producer's mouth, after glibly talking about underbidding that causes industry instability which annoys them,  the next thing that they complain about is that visual effects is way too expensive.    “Oh my god, I cant believe how expensive these nasty awful ugly horrible visual effects companies are”, they say.  "In fact, what should happen is that the visual effects company ought to do the work for free.  Its the least they could do if they werent so ... well... greedy, awful, selfish!"

So we are going to examine this thing called "underbidding" and when we are done I think you will agree with me that it is a symptom of a much larger problem, that problem being that visual effects is a stupid business to be in.  You may quote me.

The first fact of life that one must realize about bidding on visual effects is that the visual effects facility is a “work for hire production service facility”. The facility bids to do certain work for the production at a fixed price and the money it receives on delivery is generally the last money that the facility will see for that project. When the project is over, if the facility does not have another project it must live on its profits and reserve, or just lay everybody off.

So what does underbidding mean?     Rather, what does underbidding mean to people who casually throw that word around?   It means that they think that the facility deliberately and willfully charged less money than they "should" have, and then got into trouble.   Are there any reasons why a facility would in fact deliberately charge less money?    Yes there are, and here are a few of them.   I think you will see that while not necessarily a good idea, that there are legitimate reasons that it happens from time to time.

It might be because they are using the project to get the work and expect to make a profit on other parts of the project. The technical term for this is “loss leader”. If you are bidding on a $1M compositing project and the film needs a few visual effects elements from your 3D group then you very well may underbid those shots to get the whole package.   In an area distinct from visual effects per se, pretty much all digital intermediate facilities are associated with a film lab and "back in the day" would do the DI work for less than cost in return for getting the work to make the prints for exhibition and other services.

Or one might underbid a project in order to break into a different part of the business, perhaps this might be your first feature film project, or your first character animation project. You might underbid the project to give a deal to the production so they will go with you although there are other facilities with a track record in that area that are also bidding.

Or it might be that you bid the project at more or less break even to be certain that you will have any work at all going through the shop because otherwise you will have to lay everyone off.   Running a visual effects or computer animation production facility is a lot like juggling for months or years at a time.   It is quite an art to keep enough work going through a shop so that you don't have to fire everybody.   Thus, a facility might bid a project at less than its full rate to guarantee that it has a certain amount of work going through the shop during that period.  

On a darker note, one might want to drive a competitor out of business so you take their work away by underbidding the project, knowing that you have other lucrative work to make up the difference and they don't. Then of course when you drive them out of business and steal their people, you raise your prices again. This doesn't happen all that often, only just when a facility thinks it will work, then they do it.  (Yes I am being sarcastic again).  In fact the business is filled with nasty players and people do this all the time, as well as using other techniques to try and drive their competitors out of business such as slander.  Every fucking day of the week.

Or one might deliberately underbid because you want to give the filmmaker your best price because you want to work with him/her, or you want to help them get their movie made.  Yes its true, there are such situations where a services company will try to help a small film production.  Pacific Title used to do this all the time, I believe. 

Or one might underbid (or bid at cost) because the client asked you to, promising that one can make it up with overages and change orders, a topic we will discuss in more detail later.  Again, this is very common.

Or you might underbid the project also because the client asked you to, but promised to work with you to keep the costs down and make it work for that amount of money.   Ha.

Or there is the ancient tactic of lowballing a project to get it in the door and then nickle and dime the client in order to make up a profit.   A facility that does this will get a reputation for doing it, and I have one or two in mind as I type this paragraph.

All of these reasons exist in the real world and I have seen all of them in play at one time or another.  I personally, or facilities that I have managed, have bid a project less than we should have for three of these reasons (because the filmmaker was a friend of the partners and we wanted to work with him and help him get his film done, to be considered for a project when we were new in the business and because the client promised to work with us and make the project work for the money available).

You are probably bored by this topic already, but that is just too bad.  Because now we go into the actually interesting stuff: when a facility is being coerced, when they actually make a mistake and what they should do, and when the client is just being an asshole and trying to drive them out of business or put the blame on the production company when it properly lies with the director or the film.

revised 4/25/2014
revised 5/9/2014

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Malaysian Airlines 370, CNN and Worker's RIghts

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

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

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

Why this is important is as follows.

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

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

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

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

Monday, April 14, 2014

Choose Your Path to Hell: Windows 7 or 8?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

7. I hate the way the new UI looks.

8. I hate the way the new UI works.

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

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

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Interesting Article on Ageism in Silicon Valley

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

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Proper Social Conventions When Someone Insults You to Your Face

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oh it must be such a burden to be rich!


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

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Apparently Not Everyone Realizes that Poetry is Down Market

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

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

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

 Doomed to the life of an adjunct?

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

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

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

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

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