Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Advice for Youth Regarding the Academy Awards

When experienced and senior people such as myself deign to teach callow youth about the "industry", what is our motivation and what is it we should expect?   Our motivation is, generally speaking, to help our students by generously giving them the benefit of our experience.  What we should expect in return is their complete obedience and undying gratitude.

One of the courses that I taught for NYU at the School of Continuing and Professional Studies provided an opportunity for me to relate a few simple suggestions that I thought would be helpful to them when/if they came to the West coast to try their fortune in the glamourous motion picture industry.  As time has passed I continue to believe that these suggestions are as valid today as when I taught those classes.

My suggestions, based on personal experience, are as follows.

First, its important to start practicing your acceptance speech for your Academy Award now and well in advance of actually needing it.   The simplest way to do this is to stand in front of a mirror and practice your speech.  A few minutes a day, every day, is recommended. Be sure to use a touch of humor, be gracious and never forget the virtue of being brief.   Everyone is nervous the first few times they receive this award and you will be no exception.   Also, remember that the "Oscar" is heavy, being made from depleted uranium, so you might want to work on your upper body a few weeks before the great day.

Second, its important as well as gracious to acknowledge your fans as you are getting out of your limo in front of the theatre. Your fans have been waiting there for hours if not days just for a chance to get a glimpse of you. Their lives are pointless and you can cheer them up, so why not?

Always be dignified as this ingenue is demonstrating here

Third, its important to be magnanimous in your speech. Always thank the little people who contributed to your award, even though you know, and the important people know, that they had nothing to do with it. All the good ideas came from you and you alone.

Fourth, if you are not being awarded this year by some mistake or oversight, you can still get some visibility on air if you follow this little trick and have a little luck.  The news pool usually has their camera used to interview stars placed so that the television audience can see who is arriving at the awards on the red carpet in the background.  If you are careful, you can evaluate who they are interviewing and make a judgment about whether or not they will be on air as you walk into the awards.  The technique is to stall until you think the time is right and then walk in and past that area, turn around and walk back, then turn around again and finally walk in.  This way you get three exposures, not one, and your fans will be grateful.

Fifth, do not be concerned about getting a date for the Academy Awards.  No one has ever experienced any problems getting a date for the ceremony.  You can be the most unpopular person in the world and men or women will line up to go to the Awards and tell all their friends about it later (who will be suitably impressed and jealous).

Finally,  I had a few thoughts on the topic of career planning which I shared and which I believe are even more valid today.   Do not go to Hollywood and offer to be an assistant, or work for free, or start at the bottom.  That is all crap.  Jeffrey Katzenberg was 19 years old and started by being assistant to the head of Paramount and look what happened to him.  Be warned,  Hollywood has plenty of people willing to start at the bottom.  What Hollywood does not have enough of is people who have the courage to come in and be the producers, directors, writers and actors who take charge and show them how its done.   There is a shortage in all these areas.   When you go to Hollywood, don't be modest but speak truth to power and tell them how they have fucked up and how things should be done now that you have arrived.

They love that kind of chutzpah.  For them, it means that you have the self-confidence to be a top player.

I promise you that they will appreciate your honesty and it will be the start of a brilliant career.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Why I am Not Working for the NSA

Many friends wonder, what with my strange beliefs about intelligence and national defense, that I am not working for that center of evil itself, the NSA. Why not go to work for the great oppressor of freedom that even now examines each individuals internet pornography use and deduces whether or not they are having kinky sex with women in order to inform the local Gestapo and have them beat in the doors to seize the miscreant and hang them in their cell?

But it is not out of a misguided sense of privacy rights that I am not working for the NSA.  The real reason is that I could not figure out how to apply.  

Applying for the NSA requires applying through the Internet, a bold new paradigm. Just applying for the NSA through the Internet requires hours of your time, and requires a reasonable understanding of our nation's civil service structure. And the NSA internal job classifications. 

The potential candidate for national security work is presented with a series of questions that to those of us filled with patriotism but outside the beltway will find completely baffling. What job classification was your dog when your dog applied for TS clearance? What job classification was your mother-in-law when she was denied SCI tickets? Did you or did you not visit NMIC in the basement of the pentagon when you were 23 years old with Dr. Stockton Gaines? What did you hope to gain from that stunt for your communist masters?

And then, forget about uploading a resume. Resumes are old fashioned here, son, put your old fashioned ideas away and get ready for some rocket science. Instead you must type in your resume and experience and education in carefully prepared html forms. What was the name of your 6th grade Science teacher? If we contacted Mrs. Winkler, as you allege, what would she say about you and your commitment to the American Way? When you heard about the assassination of Kennedy, were you (a) happy, (b) distressed, (c) thinking only about the cute girl two rows up and to the left?

And on and on it goes, from Elementary School, to Middle School, to High School, to college. What was your grade in differential equations? Why did you have to take it over? What does your failure to excel at diff eq say about your lack of ethical standards?

And finally, when you think it is over, it isn't over.

Pick your job classification? Slovenian linguist or Finno-Ugric semiotics, junior grade? Sino-Soviet relations as manifested by their choice of profanity or perhaps Korean synonyms? Its your choice, boy, but choose carefully because forever is your destiny affected.

And then, if you think you finished but you did not get a reply, that means you did not finish. Yes, you left some box unchecked, and after those hours of work they did not actually get that application which they would use to ignore you. You were never officially ignored. You did not even get that far.

And that is what happened.

I went through this process, somehow missed some box to check, and did not actually submit. Should I try again?  What's the point?   No one ever gets a job by applying through the Internet.

Maybe this is a way to weed out the weak and find only those who are truly worthy?

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Stanley Kubrick and the Hotel in NY

I believe that as we live our pathetic lives in our corrupt society, that we are all of us under a moral obligation to enliven and otherwise entertain each other, so that we do not all collapse into a puddle of stress and unhappiness. Sadly not everyone holds to this moral principle.

Also sadly, some of the attempted entertainment items, jokes, gags, whatever, are better than others. “I have a million jokes as good as that one” always sounds like a threat to me. Nevertheless, every once in a while things come together and work out to everyone's benefit. The point of this post is to review the structure of such a gag first used in 1997 that those who are interested in continuing in this great tradition may do so. For reasons that will be obvious in a moment, this gag would have to be updated to modern times or it would take an entirely new, and darker, feeling.

There are several ideas incorporated in this gag and so lets review them here. 1. It works to build up the mythology of the designated target in front of his or her coworkers in entertaining ways, 2. It uses as a primary mechanism certain behaviors that have been noticed in a class of worker in our society in order to achieve our goals without being physically present, 3. It seeks to achieve its goals by exploiting a weakness, in this case, the unfortunate willingness to hold in high esteem members of the motion picture industry and to think that there is anything glamourous or exciting in that industry, 4. The gag uses modesty and indirection as a technique for achieving its goals, in this case one is not impersonating a famous person, one is impersonating an anonymous and lowly assistant to the famous person, 5. It goes further by suggesting that the target is in fact the important person, whereas the off screen celebrity is actually just nobody of any special interest.

The occasion for this event was the imminent arrival of a friend from the West Coast to NYC. I knew that my friend, from ILM, would arrive on a certain day and somehow knew what hotel he was staying at. He must have told me which hotel it was, but I have no memory of that. I knew that it was possible at most hotels to leave a message in advance of arrival of the guest if they had a reservation, and furthermore, that there was a good chance that the front desk would read any such message to the arriving guest. I also knew that it was procedure for such people to arrive in groups from the airport, so that it was likely that my friend and target would arrive and check in with his co-workers all around him.

There was always the risk that the front desk would not read any message aloud, but hand it to my friend on paper. It could go either way, this is a flaw in the approach. In this case, the events turned out the way I desired but it could have been different. Had my friend received the note on paper, it would still have been entertaining, but not as much.

Given this intelligence of the imminent arrival of the target, I waited until the day before arrival and called the hotel, asking to leave a message for a guest who had not yet arrived but whose arrival was expected. The front desk was happy to do so after looking up the guests' name, Josh Pines of Industrial Light and Magic, on their arrivals list.

Then I told the front desk, in the nicest and most innocent voice I could manage, that this was Mr. Kubrick's office calling, and if Josh had any free time during his trip to NY could he give Stanley a call at home whose number was 212 888 8888. There are several tricks to this message worth pointing out. I. the person who is leaving the message am nobody, I am just representing Mr. Kubrick's office. I assume that everyone knows who Kubrick is, and would know that Stanley refers to the top guy, and that Josh might not have Stanley's home number, so I give it. In reality, of course this number is my home number, something I figured Josh would realize after a moment's thought. Also, note that it is an affectation of the motion picture industry that everyone at the top is referred to in an aw-shucks manner and by their first name. If this had been Jeffrey Katzenberg, I would call him Jeffrey, etc. The implication of course was that it was Josh who was the busy one, and it was Stanley who would rearrange his schedule to fit in Josh whenever he might be available.

So, the trap having been set, all I could do is wait and see what happened. As it turned out, in this case, everything went our way.

A group from ILM arrived at the hotel and while they waited for each member to check into the hotel, the front desk read out to Josh in a loud voice that “A Mr. Kubrick's office had called, and could Josh call Stanley at home at the following number”. This got a suitable response from Mr. Pines colleagues, although Josh immediately saw through the ruse, and said it was “just” Michael Wahrman. Nevertheless, when Josh went up to his room, his electronic key did not work. Puzzled he went down to the front desk and discovered that he had been upgraded to a better room by the hotel.

[Josh tells me that he never referred to "just" Michael Wahrman, but in fact informed Ellen Poon, a member of that party, after the fact and outside the lobby, who was behind the  gag.  He also reports that the people most impressed with the gag were behind the counter, which does not surprise me at all, and in fact is part of the reason I hoped that they would read the message out loud.  In other words, they would read it out loud and make a slightly bigger scene of it all because the workers at the hotel thought it was exciting, not because Josh's colleagues did.  Anyway, Josh does report that he got a better room and it was very nice.  That of course was an unexpected result].

If we were to try and repeat this gag exactly today, we would want to designate a different celebrity director, as Mr. Kubrick is no longer with us, which is a shame.

In fact, the person most amused by this stunt was and still is myself.  I was really delighted and still am.   Probably would not work a second time (at least not at the same hotel).

In this manner, we endeavor to entertain our friends and try to alleviate the endless boredom and misery of their everyday lives. If only some of them would reciprocate, that my life would also be enlivened. But I wait in vain for that happy day.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Enabling Google Chrome FPS (Frames Per Second) Display

There is a hidden feature in Google Chrome that displays the FPS and GPU memory utilization of the browser.

To turn it on, go to the page “about:flags” but without the quotes.

Find the flag “FPS Counter” and enable it.  In the following image it has already been enabled.

Restart chrome with the button at the bottom of the page, which seems to be faster than just closing the browser and restarting it.

This is what the FPS display looks like.

The FPS counter is in the upper right.  Here is a closeup.

Now, does it make any sense?  In other words, are the numbers accurate.  Its hard to tell, but they are not obviously wrong.  I plan to use this feature for all my WebGL development.

The Great Mystery of San Onefre

2.28.2015   The weirdness of this story continues to amaze me.   These private utilities seem to be nothing more than complicated scams to deliver the wealth of rate payers to an elite at the top of a private utility, quote end quote, that has no risk, only benefits.  They can make any mistake, and the rate payers will pay for it with the governments understanding and approval.  The CEO of SCE only makes 2.3 or so million a year, so its not as if it is infinite money.   

As I dig out more reference material, this post will be updated, and eventually may even be an informative summary of what happened here and who paid for it.  Right now, though, its far too loosy goosy with the facts, a situation I hope to remedy, with time.

2/20/2015 I continue to read about how such things as nuclear power plants are financed and indeed it is something of a worst case scenario.  Not only are nuclear power plants famous for costing at least twice as much as estimated, indeed they are nearly all paid for by the "rate payers", e.g. you and me, and with government guaranteed credit, at least in part.   When you realize that top executives at power utilities refuse all but a token salary, it is a little easier to take.  One CEO of an energy utility only makes 9 million $US / year, although I am told that there is also other compensation in various ways that are beyond this modest fee.

When the great ones who nobly serve society by generating and selling us electric power announced to a cheering world that they would shut down the nuclear generating station at San Onefre many questions occurred to me that did not seem to be answered in the highly detailed two or three paragraph in-depth articles written about the situation by our Fourth Estate.

But that was long ago, and as time passed, I knew that our tireless and intelligent press would think to ask these questions and report to the world the real situation. Sadly, this has not taken place and none of these questions have been answered. So I set to discover the answers to these great questions on my own, and clarified a few details in the clusterfuck that is San Onefre, but sadly not many of the answers that I sought were available online.

Nevertheless, I can describe the situation to you and what I think some of the questions are that should be asked, and even answered.

In the following discussion, the operators of the plant are referred to by SCE/SDGE which stands for the partnership of Southern California Edison (80%) and San Diego Gas and Electric (20%).  There is a third partner with less than 2% ownership.  The design and engineering subcontractor was Mitsubishi Heavy Industries.  NRC stands for Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

The situation.

Once upon a time, a long time ago, when the San Onefre nuclear generation system was built, the citizens were told that this plant would have a certain useful life. But it turns out, it didn't. And it was discovered that it didn't when the heat transfer system pipes (1)  started breaking. So they shut the plant and made arrangements to fix the heat transfer system which meant that they had to replace a very important part of the system.  They told the NRC that they were just replacing the system (in other words, no new engineering), but they were in fact redesigning the system, which should require proper notification to the NRC and their approval.   I am not sure who did the redesign, SCE or Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, but it was MHI that had the contract to build the new system.  This cost $750 M and the contract limited MHI's liability to 1/5th the contract amount.  But when the new system was installed it was found to be much worse than the original system.  So the plant was shut down again.   Only this time most of the $750 M was gone and they would have to start the process over again.

Boy, were their faces red.

The unanswered questions.

1. Why did they need a new heat transfer system before the end of expected life? Were they lying when they estimated life of equipment or were they merely incompetent? Or if they were simply wrong, were they lying when they said that this plant was not a research project?   You see, there is a difference between engineering and research.  In research, you do not know how long something might last, so you have theories and you run tests.  Then you create pilot plants and run more tests, and when you have your principles down, then you design a production plant based on what you have tested and know to be true.  It is not R&D to build a bridge, it is engineering.   A well-engineered power plant will have an estimated life that is likely to be exceeded in reality because it was over-engineered to do so.

It sounds as if they were either lying about this being a production technology, or that they were incompetent when they designed both the first set and the second set of pipes.

2. How is it possible to spend $700 million dollars on a new heat transfer system without having tested it first to know if it would work?   If there were risks to the new design, then it should have been tested and/or the contract not have limited liability.  

3. Were the operators supposed to notify NRC before doing this type of work or not?  If not, what are the penalties?   Why did Barbara Boxer call for criminal charges against SCE/SDGE and what became of that?

4. The decommission of the plant will cost over $4 billion dollars. There is a trust fund that has most of that money already. But where did that trust fund come from? How much of that is paid for by the customers and how much by SCE/SDGE?

5. Over 2,000 highly trained workers are being let go from the plant. What plans are being made to help those workers whose termination will certainly affect the economy of N. San Diego county.

6. How is the power that is being bought to replace the power from San Onefre being generated? Who pays for it, that is, who pays the additional fees?

7. What is the long term change in carbon output which is coming from this change to other forms of power generation, and what are SCE/SDGE's plans for mitigating this?

My suspicion is that the original plant, the changes and the removal of the plant are all paid for by the people of San Diego and Los Angeles and that this is just another scam for government to create a monopoly to give their friends a lot of money. I dont have a choice about where I get my power from, so I have no recourse but to use the bad decisions and management of SCE/SDGE.

My suspicion is that the reason SCE/SDGE were not punished for violating the law vis a vis the NRC is because of course their friends at the NRC and PUC protected them.

 As they always do.

What lessons can we learn from these series of events?   I propose to you that the lessons learned are (a) we can not trust the power companies, the NRC or the PUC to look after our interests and be honest with us about what is going on and who is paying for it, (b) that the best business to be in is a government enforced monopoly, like power generation.

That is where the real money is in America.


1. San Onefre is, or was, a pressurized water reactor.  What that means is that one set of pipes contains water at pressure that flows through the reactor spaces and is heated by the heat generated from the nuclear reaction.   This hot water at pressure flows through the pipes to pass next to other pipes which also contain water at pressure and heat is transferred from the first set to the second.  No water is actually transferred, just the heat.  The heat in the water of the second set of pipes has not been directly irradiated and therefore is not radioactive and this is the water that drives the steam turbines that actually generate the electricity.   You do not want the water from the first set of pipes to leak because that water is radioactive.

Friday, February 6, 2015

The Inspirational Monologue from How to Get Ahead in Advertising (1979)

Low budget films that transcend their origins generally have something in common, and one of those things is to substitute brilliance for cash.   They can not pick up the pace of a film by having a flock of giant robots attack, intent on world domination, due to the prohibitive cost of such robots in these early days, so instead they have to be clever.  This cleverness does not happen all that often, so when it does happen we should celebrate it.

In particular, I have come across one of my favorite endings of any film, which takes the shape of a triumphant monologue by the lead character of a film.

For those of you who just joined us, a monologue is generally an extended bit of dialogue by one character, either to themselves or possibly addressing some other character or characters. Monologues were more common in the earlier, more analog, filmmaking because those films generally had the benefit of something called a script.   Back in the day, scripts were generally written by writers, a phenomenon we have dismissed for being inefficient.

These days, with digital filmmaking, we have transcended the need for a script and instead group source our plot  augmented with improvisational dialogue by our actors who tend to make things up as they go along.   But back when we had scripts, and thus monologues, they were used to achieve one of several narrative goals.  Perhaps they explain the character's point of view on something.  Or perhaps they try to sell another character on a course of action or try to explain to them what is going on.  If they are an evil genius, they might try to explain their plan and motivation for world domination.

There are some very famous monologues that come to mind from all sorts of films.  The movie Patton (1970) begins with a monologue that is loosely based on a real speech that General Patton gave to various troops that were going to participate in the Normandy landings.    Apocalypse Now (1979) has one of the most notable monologues in film, the famous “napalm speech” given by Robert Duvall.

Sometimes these speeches can be very inspirational, and in our corrupt and far-from-perfect world, inspiration is always welcome.

I want to bring your attention to the ending of a modestly budgeted film, How To Get Ahead in Advertising (1989), as it not only ends with an inspirational monologue, but it demonstrates bold initiative on the part of the filmmakers in the days before digital visual effects where things were actually filmed more or less in situ and out in the world

The following contains a spoiler for the end of this fabulous film.

The film is a satire of the advertising business in England, and its lead, played by Richard Grant, has been driven insane by his need to develop a campaign to advertise a medication for “boils”.  It has so unhinged him, that he develops a boil of his own, one that turns out to be in reality a second head containing his evil twin.  When his evil twin is victorious and taken over the body of the advertising executive, it describes its philosophy of life in a  triumphant scene on horseback.

You can see this scene at the following link on Youtube.  When you watch it, notice the setting of the last few sentences in the monologue as it will be discussed in a moment.


The script of the monologue is approximately as follows:  

There is no greater freedom than freedom of choice, and that's the difference between you and me, boil. I was brought up to believe in that, and so should you, but you don't.

You don't want freedom, do you? You don't even want roads. God, I never want to go on another train as long as I live! Roads represent a fundamental right of man to have access to the good things in life. Without roads, established family favorites would become elitist delicacies. Potter's soup would be for the few. There'd be no more tea bags, no instant potatoes, no long life cream. There'd be no aerosols. Detergents would vanish. So would tinned spaghetti and baked beans with six frankfurters. The right to smoke one's chosen brand would be denied. Chewing gum would probably disappear.  So would pork pies. Foot deodorizers would climax without hope of replacement.


When the hydrolyzed protein and  monosodium glutamate reserves run out, food would rot in its packets. Jesus Christ, there wouldn't be any more packets! Packaging would vanish from the face of the Earth.  But worst of all, there'd be no more cars. And more than anything, people love their cars. They have a right to them. They have to sweat all day in some stinking factory making disposable cigarette lighters or everlasting Christmas trees, by Christ, they're entitled to them!


They're entitled to any innovation technology brings. Whether it's ten percent more of it or fifteen percent off of it, they're entitled to it!  They're entitled to one of four important new ingredients! Why should anyone have to clean their teeth without important new ingredients? Why the hell shouldn't they have their C.Z.T? How dare some smutty Marxist carbunkle presume to deny them it? They love their C.Z.T! They want it, they need it, they positively adore it! And by Christ, while I've got air in my body they're going to get it!
They're going to get it bigger....  and brighter.... and better!  I'll put C.Z.T. in their margarine if necessary; shove vitamins in their toilet rolls. If happiness means the whole world standing on a double layer of foot deodorizers, I, Bagley, will see that they get them!   I'll give them anything and everything they want! By God, I will!  I shall not cease, till Jerusalem is builded here, on England's green and pleasant land.


Now for the dramatic revelation.  At the very end of this important scene, the camera pans across Bagley to reveal a sunset in the background.   What you need to understand is that this is not shot on blue/green screen.  It was actually shot by the filmmakers on location, which means they had to wait for sunset.  Which means that they had time for only very few takes from the last cut to the last words of the scene.  They had to get it, or the ending of the movie would not be as powerful.

Outstanding work.

How to Get Ahead in Advertising (1989) on IMDB

Apocalypse Now (1979) on IMDB

Patton (1970) on IMDB