Tuesday, April 28, 2015

The Cost of Retraining Workers in the 3D Industry


[In this post, we discuss what I am calling Strategy 2, which is that the disenfranchised worker attempts to leave the industry he has trained for and worked in by retraining him or her self by getting an advanced degree in a different subject at the university.   In a previous post, we discussed the out-of-pocket costs of Strategy 1, which is to try to persevere in the field he or she has worked in by staying current and attending various conferences.  You can find that discussion here.]

Lets examine the real costs to society of unemployment, especially unemployment that is caused by foreign subsidies that damage industries in other countries particularly our country, since that is what we have in the train wreck that is computer animation, that foreign subsidy thing.

A friend who believes in the free market says that those who got screwed by foreign government subsidies are worthless garbage who lost out on the “free market” and deserved what they got.  How an industry that has been devastated by foreign subsidies could be confused with a free market, I do not know. Besides, we have never really had much of a free market in this country, at least not for the rich. You know what they say, its socialism for the rich but the free market for the rest of us.  

Since employment in this industry in this country was severely impacted by these subsidies, and since our government failed to act, presumably at the request of the studios although again no one really knows, nevertheless we can calculate what it will cost to retrain these workers into another field.

But how many workers were displaced?   No one knows the numbers, so far as I know, and no one cares to know as far as I can tell.   But we can look at a few indicators and make our own rough estimates.   I am going to guess that the peak employment in this country for computer animation in the service of visual effects and animation was roughly in the years 1997 - 2004 or so.   If we look at employment then and compare it to now we will get a rough estimate of the change.

R&H goes from 600-1000 people to zero, Sony Pictures Imageworks which used to have over 1,000 people working has moved production to Vancouver.   Digital Domain which used to also be over 1,000 people I think are down to a few hundred.   ILM which was over 2,000 at one point is now about 500 according to one estimate of someone currently working there.    Dreamworks Feature Animation laid off 1,000 people in S. California and then closed their N. California office.   At this point we are nearing 5,000 people.

Now some of these people have in fact found employment overseas.   And some of these people, I do not know how many, will be able to slide into other careers with only some disruption.   Some will be able to work for Google, some for Facebook, and some will get married and have families while their spouse works. I think that it is mostly the mid-level and senior people who have specialized in computer animation and spent over a decade in that field who will especially suffer.  I do not know the numbers but I am going to guess here for the purposes of this post, 2,500 people.  I hope this number is conservative.

Unfortunately most of these people live in California which is very expensive, and many of them have significant others or families that they are supporting.   I estimate a minimum monthly expense of roughly $4,000 which breaks down to $2,000 for rent, $1,000 for utilities and food, $1,000 for car payment, insurance and everything else.  I realize that outside of California these rates might seem exorbitant.  But it costs a lot of money to rent in LA and SF and you don't get much for your money.  At least in NYC, you are living in NY, goddamnit, but not in LA and SF where it is merely expensive without returning any value that I can see.  And you need a car out here.  Those who do not drive will not be permitted to play.

There are several paths one might take to create a new career, but one of them, and the only one I am going to price here is to go to a university and get an advanced degree.   That will take 3-5 years and cost roughly $30,000 per year.  One might get a masters degree in computer science, or get an MFA in Art and look at teaching.

Thus if we estimate 2,500 people for three years getting an advanced degree then we get 2,500 * (48,000 + 30,000) = 195 million per year for three years or just under 600 million in total, adjusted for interest, net present value and what have you.

It goes without saying that the family goes off health insurance unless the school provides some, and I am not sure what the policy is for students with families.  It goes without saying that the kids get the substandard public education we give to our worker-swine, they don't deserve the elite education of private schools. Also that unemployment insurance, should they receive any and I never have in spite of what the law says or what is taken from my salary, is a pathetic joke and does not amount to much.

Now you may not care about these people and you may object to retraining them on theoretical grounds. You may believe that these people deserve to have their lives destroyed. But I disagree, I do not think they deserve to have their lives destroyed. I think that the society that failed to protect their jobs through greed or malfeasance has the duty to retrain them. That is what I think.

But even if you do not agree with me, then at least I hope we can agree that the people who made a commitment to this field, many of them at the urging of respectable organizations like SIGGRAPH, will now have costs they must bear in order to get into a different field in mid-career.  And those costs, paid for by the individuals affected, come to not less than $600 million over three years.  At least. My point is that there are real costs to society of failing to deal with this issue and of training too many people (or whatever we did) for this field.

The good news is that this money is easy to get. The studios have made much more money than this using the subsidies and making product based on the technology which we invented and was then shipped overseas to take advantage of slave labor and subsidies. So they have plenty of money. Have them pay. That would be only fair and I am sure that they will be happy to do so.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Cities Skylines Covered with Dead Bodies and Trash

This is a mini-review of Cities: Skylines or is it Skylines: Cities.

I have been playing whatever it is called now since the day it came out. Most computer games hold no interest for me, but games based on the simulation of society or the simulation of conflict at the strategic level are interesting. I have my own ideas on such things which I may prototype one day, although only if I can stay out of the madness, greed and hypocrisy of the game industry.

Unfortunately, Cities Skylines just wasnt tested before release. About the time you reach the population of 10-15,000 people, your city starts getting mired in trash and dead bodies. The stupid tweety bird that tells you about it is useless. All you can do is put trash heaps every two feet and the same with crematoriums and pray.

Just as annoying is the bug in the model such that it is impossible to have enough workers of the right type around. Nothing you do will make a difference, you are just fucked. Maybe the developers just ran out of time or money?  Who knows.

Games such as this do not have to be realistic in order to be interesting. Nevertheless, this game, whatever it is called, will have lots of semi-realistic features and challenges to recommend it to those who enjoy such things, when, that is, they have fixed some of the problems.

We see by this example one of the problems with individuals, or small teams, modestly financed groups doing games: they may simply not have the resources to debug the problems that are caused by interesting internal simulations. Cities Skylines is a good effort, and shows promise, but is frustrating as hell in its current form once you get beyond the baby cities.

And then there is the bug whereby you can not save your game.  Lets not go there, its too frustrating to think about.  Presumably that one will be fixed sooner than later.

Save your money and your time and wait for them to fix the bugs. When these bugs are fixed, perhaps others will be revealed.  But nevertheless if they can fix it up to the 100,000 population level, that will probably be sufficient for the majority of players.   Shows an A- for effort but a B- for testing. Promising but frustrating in its current incarnation.

Maybe wait three months and see where things are?

Cities Skylines on Steam

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Aesthetics, Computing and the Internet

draft /. a friend has pointed out that the development of lisp needs to be elaborated upon here and I agree with him.   So that will be written sometime soon, I promise....

They say that the internet is a bold new paradigm. They say that you can not judge the internet by what came before because it is totally new and those who attempt to judge it by past criteria are just not with the program and are whining uselessly. Well, indeed they might be whining uselessly, that much is true.

There are trends, patterns in aesthetics whether you know it or not, or care or not, and computing is about aesthetics from beginning to end. Like architecture, the aesthetics happen to hit the hard wall of engineering reality more often than other art forms, and indeed the engineering or construction aspects are fundamental, required, de riguere, both real and not real, but mostly real.

Nevertheless, we can perceive patterns in the aesthetics of this people's art of writing HTML just as we may see patterns in fine art, if we care to look.

In the following, we are going to discuss some of the history of ideas, which I know is very offensive to some of you more practical types. Either take a pill and calm down or go away.

Once upon a time, a generation of programmers grew up with the implied aesthetics of an experimental operating system from Bell Telephone Laboratories, an elite center of excellence in our country which no longer exists, the center that is, destroyed as it was by our government and the so-called “free market”. But at that center of excellence, an OS, later called UNIX, was developed with a minimal OS approach. A bit of the “less is more” theme going on here. True, some of the minimal nature was imposed on the work because of limited resources, but isnt that often true in art? Time passed and Unix got out into the world and then morphed into its bastard younger brother Linux, for better or for worse, that is what we are stuck with. I happen to like Linux and think it is better than we, collectively, deserve, but that is another topic.

One of the tricks about Unix was that it was designed by some of the best and brightest that our country had to offer.

Another aesthetic, which was a little busy for my tastes, was one we might call the MIT Lisp Machine style of software. This was written, it seemed to me, by hundreds of MIT graduate and undergraduate students cranked on speed, and it had many nuances, options, and so forth. Half the time it baffled me. But ultimately it was functional, well documented, and you could tell that while they might have been a little wordy and option-happy by the standards of a Unix fellow, there was no doubt that the people involved in writing, using and documenting this technology were very smart. Very smart indeed.

But now we enter the Internet age where we have vast software packages, their associated frameworks, and group sourced semi-documentation. This technology is to the Lisp machine what Lisp was to Unix, it is busy beyond belief. Every option has an option and every options' option has an exception. Whereas Linux and Lisp was designed by the best we had to offer, most of the Internet stuff, a bastard child of another project of excellence, but long ago, the Arpanet, is motivated not by excellence but by the most important philosophical principles of our great country: naked greed combined with arrogance, stupidity, ignorance and hypocrisy. There is no need to document, they say, it is all documented by the group mind. Not that there are not good parts to the infrastructure and conventions and languages and frameworks of the Internet, indeed there are. They are there along with everything else.

In other words, lest this sound too negative, the Unix and Lisp movements were movements by an intellectual elite, as was the Arpanet, whereas the Internet is a true people's movement. Rough, inconsistent, good, bad, horrible, insane, and all within a few characters of each other.

There is no order nor can there be, nor could there be, any order. It is the group fuck raised to the 1000th power. Let us embrace the new aesthetic. It may be insane but it is our insanity.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Bees Get Hooked on Nicotine and Fall Over Dead say Scientists

With hive collapse syndrome threatening world civilization by dying before their residents, the bees, can serve their primary economic purpose for mankind, which is to pollinate agricultural crops in our great country, scientists have looked high and low to find the cause and help prevent economic disaster which would of course affect the earnings of the shareholders, a fate all good Americans, whether man or bee, can agree must be avoided. The bees can goddamn well die as far as we are concerned as long as they pollinate beforehand.

Now science has proven that the alleged cause of the threat to the shareholder's earnings is not, as the tree huggers have said without a shred of proof, caused by harmless and helpful pesticides which are only working to improve shareholder value, not damage it.  No the real cause of hive collapse syndrome is not the innocent and beneficial pesticides, but lies within the bees themselves.

This lazy bee can barely stand up she is so drunk on nicotine, nectar and pollen.

In an important new article published in Nature, science has proven that the real cause of hive collapse sysndrome is the bee's moral turpitude and lack of anglo-saxon work ethic. Instead of steadfastly pollinating like they should, they get hooked on nicotine-related substances and abandon their economic purpose and spend all day just lazing around and smoking, or in this case, sipping, nicotine. Its not the pesticides per se that are causing the bees to become slackers and suck nicotine until they fall over dead. It is their own lack of moral willpower.

One more time American industry has been vindicated. The bees need to go to church more often and teach their children the benefits of moderation and hard work and this problem is solved.

An article about this in The Guardian

Announcing my Write-In Campaign for the Executive Committee of ACM SIGGRAPH

draft / please feel free to make comments, suggest annotations, etc.

It is with some nervousness that I announce my candidacy for the Executive Committee of ACM SIGGRAPH as “Member at Large”.

A “member at large” is one who has a vote but has no particular responsibility besides participating int he discussion and voting on the issues. I would not want the responsibility of being Treasurer, for example, or President.

So there are three things to discuss: why I am running, what I would do if elected and finally the mechanics of being allowed to run for office. The third issue, how to get nominated, is the least interesting, but of critical importance. I want to discuss this first, and then get into the more complicated matters of why and what I would I do.

To run for the board of SIGGRAPH, one must stand for election and be voted in by the entire membership. But, in order to stand for election one must either be nominated by a nominating committee or one must run a write-in campaign and get a certain number of signatures from members of national SIGGRAPH. The number of signatures required is 1% of the current national membership which translates to between 90 and 100 people. 100 to be safe as usually in these matters a few signatures will be disallowed for one reason or another.

I first attended national SIGGRAPH in 1980, but I had been attending local SIGGRAPH since 1978 or so

Obviously, running a write-in campaign is a hassle, why not just be nominated by the Committee? Good question. The answer is that I tried but they failed to nominate me. I had a very pleasant and informative meeting with the Committee which I found quite entertaining but it did not result in my nomination. I may have given the Committee some reason to believe that I would work in support of issues that they did not think were appropriate for SIGGRAPH to be concerned about, such as the collapse of computer animation production employment in this country and its failure to be provide substantial employment outside of the Entertainment industries.

But even if it turned out that my ideas were not appropriate and practical, I think it is of great importance that we discuss these issues and see to it that we can do what we are allowed to do. At the very least, SIGGRAPH can acknowledge that there is a problem instead of blissfully ignoring it and enticing people into a field where they will not be able to work. Which has been their policy for over a decade. Archaeology can make it clear what the odds are of a budding archaeologist to work in that field, Computer Animation can as well.
There is also some belief out there that SIGGRAPH only wants educators to be on the Executive Committee, which, if true, is a very bad idea on their part and certainly needs to be discussed with the membership. The strength of SIGGRAPH was always interdisciplinary and serving the interests of any one or two groups would be contrary to the spirit that made SIGGRAPH the phenomenon that it once was and which it is not any longer.

Whatever their reasons may be, SIGGRAPH allows for nominations of another sort. In this second path to nomination, one must collect the signatures of 1 percent of the eligible members of national SIGGRAPH. I believe that translates to roughly 90 or 100 signatures. If one gets those signatures in a proper format then one can run for election. One still has to be elected by the general membership of course.  This just gets you on the ballot.  

I will discuss in future posts why I believe I am qualified and why I bring a legitimate point of view to the board of SIGGRAPH. But at the very least, should I be elected, I will write about what decisions SIGGRAPH makes and why in a form that may be of interest to those of us who are not educators per se. Thus, at the very least, I think I will provide a useful service should I be elected.

And so I am asking my friends and colleagues to find me at SIGGRAPH in LA this year and, if you are a member, sign a petition to allow me to run for election. If it were possible to put up some sort of notice at your place of work or anyplace else you think that SIGGRAPH members might be, that would also be helpful. Or if you are not attending this year, but are a member, and you want to help, contact me and we can make arrangements for you to sign a petition without having to track me down on site.

Even if I get the appropriate signatures, and even if I am elected, I am chronically underfunded and I may have to make special arrangements to actually serve on the board. But I won't worry too much about that now nor should you. If I am elected, I am sure I can scrounge something up for airfare and hotel or whatever else this activity will cost.

I want to leave you with the thought that we once believed that SIGGRAPH was very important in creating this revolution and that we owe it to the organization and its history to try and make it as good as it can be in the circumstances of the tragedy of its simultaneous great success and failure which is the situation that we have today.

Thank you.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

The Cost for the Unemployed of Keeping Current

[In this post we discuss a strategy for someone who is unemployed in the field of computer animation who chooses to stay in the field by staying current, in other words, by waiting out whatever the current down in the industry and be available when it goes back up.  This may be a reasonable strategy for several reasons including the fact that both the entertainment industry and our economy in general is subject to vast variations in employment at various times.  Strategy 2, which is to exit the industry by retraining can be found here.]

draft / being rewritten 

Let us imagine that for one reason or another you end up taking an “unexpected career hiatus”. As many as 30 percent of the American adult population is taking such a hiatus right now. (1) Or suppose, you just get bored, or your old industry has gone away (say for example you were a photographer), and you are thinking of entering a new field. Or maybe you just want to take your existing skills and do something else with them, something worthwhile.

Even if you are not planning to do this, you might want to think about it anyway, because it might not be your choice. Someone might decide that you are no longer valuable and there are no positions for you in the field you formerly were in. Possibly even a field you helped invent. Don't think it could happen to you? Of course, you are exempt, I am quite sure.   Ahem.

Well of course a TED talk on the subject would advise you to “reinvent yourself” or perhaps that you must “think outside the box”. Whatever the fuck that means.  We will have some out of the box thinking later on this post, perhaps.

But back here in the real world, if you get whacked by the free market system and are left hanging without visible means of support, there are a variety of things I think that you will have to do to get back on board. The point of this and future posts is to indicate a few practical things that you can do to reenter a field, or enter a new field, and what such things will cost.

Of course we are not going to discuss the real costs of being forced to find a new career which would include the opportunity costs, the mistake of choosing one field over another, and so forth. Those costs are unknowable. No, I am just talking about the out-of-pocket costs of going forward. In the case of computer animation, this means such things as keeping up with current work, appearing at conferences, being an active member of professional societies, finding and maintaining an affiliation, constructing a marketing image, possibly learning current tools and demonstrating new work, whether production oriented (e.g. a film or real time animation) or research (e.g. research in the form of a publishable paper), or possibly a patent.

In this post we are just going to discuss the out-of-pocket costs of attending various conferences and professional meetings. All the other concerns will be for later posts.  This post  is just about attending specific events so that you can stay informed, be seen by and talk to other members of your field, and meet new members.

Furthermore, I am going to do something else that is all-too-rare on the internet, I am going to speak from personal experience. This is what certain things costs, because in my experience, this is what they cost. You may get a better deal, good for you. You may have friends who live in that part of the world who will put you up at their house and drive you around. Like I say, good for you. The rest of us will be living in cheap hotels and taking the bus and that costs money.

So now lets get down to details.  This is my list, your list will differ.  But I believe you must attend conferences of this type regularly, perhaps not every year, but often enough to be seen as a member of the community that each of these events represent.  But there are certainly other conferences, and there are other ways to achieve some of this without attending an expensive conference. Generally though these other options are ways to mitigate the effects of not attending these conferences.  In other words, if you had the money, and you certainly have the time, then you should just go to the conference.

If you are trying to be in this field of computer animation, then I would advise you to attend the following conferences: SIGGRAPH, NAB (National Association of Broadcasters), CIC/IS&T (color conference), HPA (Hollywood Post Alliance), Domefest and at least one or two other conferences, at least for a day. This might be the annual Game Development Conference or a conference on computational photography. These might be fields that you are thinking about participating in, but are not sure yet. You have to explore them in order to know. I would also include the currently trendy international computer animation conference, in this case FMX fits the bill.

The line items in our budget are travel, hotel, conference fees, food & incidentals, and general marketing. The former are all self-explanatory, the latter, general marketing, refers to such things as personal appearance, business cards and so forth.

Now keep in mind, that these may not be the conferences for you. But probably, if your field is anything like mine, there are other conferences that one should substitute. Thus your costs and the details will differ on a individual basis. Of course.

One year budget.

I realize that I have left off the NVIDIA GPU annual conference which is not cheap, either.  Also I have underestimated a few of the costs and I need to check them (mostly conference fees).  So the real number is closer to $12,000 than to $10,000.

You will need to be able to spend $12,000 per year to stay in a field and try to keep current. You can get this number down, of course.  You do not have to attend every year.  Maybe you attend one set of conferences one year, and the others the year after.   That might work, its non optimal, but it might work out.

If you are working, you still have to attend some of these conferences, whatever they are. But you may not have to attend all of them, and you may be paid to attend or be invited to attend. Because you are working you are already getting certain kinds of input about your field that the unemployed do not get. Access to tools, knowing what is currently going on, etc. It may be that you send yourself to one or two of these (or different) conferences anyway as insurance or as professional development.

My point is, although you may be unemployed and cash short, you still have out of pocket that you must spend every year if you hope to work in that field again. 

These costs are on top of all your other costs of course.  Such as rent, food, power and other minor things like that.  Your car payments and car insurance, for example.

And how many years should you plan to do this for?  Well, that is up to you and fate I suppose.  But realistically, one year is too optimistic.  I would plan on 3-5 and of course this could go on until you give up and go away.

If you are a consultant, whatever that means, then I would plan on spending this indefinitely.

The point is that, if you have no money, and you can not attend these conferences or do some of the other things we will discuss in later posts, then you are probably dead and can not be in these fields.

My recommendation under those circumstances is to do what the free market and our government says you should do: go fuck yourself and die.  Its the only option that society has for you.  Too bad, you lost, and no one cares.

For those of us concerned about policy decisions, we should not expect those who are unemployed and have no money to be able to get productively employed in the future. That would be unrealistic.  There are no programs to help such people, nor is unemployment insurance more than a joke.  Social Security disability might be on option, if you have a disability.

Unfortunately, being born poor is not seen as a disability by the Social Security Administration.


1. No one knows the real numbers.  The formal unemployment numbers do not include those who are unemployed longer than 18 months, nor does it include those who are working at the grocery store because they can not get employed in the field they are qualified for and which generally pays much more.  They are not included in the stated unemployment rate nor are they included in any other formal metric that I am aware of.

Opportunity Cost on Wikipedia

Color Imaging Conference / IS&T

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Law Enforcement Provides Moral Instruction to the Poor

It does my heart good to see people of our society reach out to the poor and disenfranchised and help them in their misery.   When it is a public servant and they are taking unusual efforts, beyond the call of duty, to help our poor, to instruct them on how to live a better life, then that is truly inspirational, and is worth celebrating.

I know that there is a lot of misunderstanding out there about what our government, both federal and state, do to help the poor.  Many people tell me that the poor routinely use the system to make hundreds of thousands of dollars and drive their Cadillac to the welfare office.  Of course, no one in the world has ever seen these people but they know, they know, that they are out there.

Well, I am not so sure about the Cadillac, but I have personally witnessed the efforts our government makes and how the poor are helped with my own eyes.

One notable example happened just the other day.

I was waiting for my train to LA near the transit center in Oceanside California.   Oceanside is a beach town north of San Diego and famous for its location next to Camp Pendleton, the US Marine Corps Base. Oceanside is like most of N. San Diego County, it is very clean, very presentable, and very safe.  This is not a seedy transit area, and it is safe both day and night.

But there are homeless people everywhere in America, even Oceanside.

So while waiting for my train I came across a homeless person, a woman who was very old, very frail and very poor.   She looked like everyone's grandmother when she gets on in age.   She ought to be home with her cat, her television, knitting, and talking to a grandchild.  But this one was poor, she clearly had no place to live, no clean clothes, just rags, and a shopping cart.

She was being attended to by a pleasant, young man of perhaps 30 years of age, who was a member of the local police forces. He was seeing to it that this woman got the care she needed. Now what care might she need?  How about a place to sleep, some clean clothes, a shower and a hot meal?

No!   That is not what she needs, not at all.  What she needs to understand is that her circumstances in life, the tragedies and failures that have led her to being destitute, starving and desperate, were her fault because she lacked moral values.

The police officer was haranguing this poor miserable person, yelling at her, telling her what a bad person she was.  Because she was a thief!  She must have stolen that shopping cart to push her rags around in, she was a bad person!  Morally reprehensible!

He was not physically beating her up, but he was surely verbally beating her up, and for good reason. More than anything else in America, we hold private property to be sacred.  If anyone could just choose to take a shopping cart then pretty soon people would be stealing Porsche's and God only knows where it would go, but our society would collapse.

For those of you who care about these details, the homeless woman was white and the peace officer a nice looking, but very loud,  black man in uniform.  I mention this because it is the opposite of some of my fellow American's preconceptions about race in our society.

I was happy to see this desperate and frail woman was getting all the help that our society provides.  Forget about food, shelter, and that sort of thing.  If she wants to eat, she can grab old rotting food out of a garbage dumpster for all our government cares. What she needed right then was a lecture by a figure of authority who could throw her in jail, a large well-fed man with a gun and a stick, telling her that she was morally depraved.

Thats the kind of compassion and care that the poor and the homeless receive in this country in 2015.  It just makes me feel good about America when I see this sort of thing.