Tag Archives: Computers

Ralph Bakshi: Why are you crying?


Here’s some advice from Ralph Bakshi that bears repeating. There’s no question that the animation industry is in a slump along with the rest of the economy. The cartoons that get produced are often creatively diluted to the point where many animators are either contemplating suicide or grad school. This state of affairs confuses Bakshi, but not because he’s over 60. We’re all watching this video on boxes with a million times the computing power of the box that ran the Apollo missions. For someone like Bakshi, this box does the work of an editing department, a coloring department, and a whole host of other tasks that would take hundreds of man-hours 20 years ago. We are completely unaware of the technological power we take for granted on a daily basis. We can use it if we only give ourselves permission.

Found via BoingBoing

Smartboard Jungle

Smart BoardBeing married to a teacher certainly reveals how much education has changed in the past 20 years. For starters, Sara teaches at a grade 6-7-8 middle school, something that didn’t exist in my school district when I was going to a k-7 elementary school and then an 8-10 junior high. Music programs contain Rock and Roll bands in addition to the traditional Jazz and Concert Bands. This development is promising, because as the baby boom generation gets older, who’s going to be left to teach our kids about The Who and Stairway?  Another thing I noticed when I first visited Sara’s classroom was that all the chalkboards were replaced with dry erase boards. Now it looks like even those white boards will be replaced by a new technology, the SMART board.

The SMART board is a large touch-screen connected to a digital projector. It’s hooked up to a classroom computer, and can display anything that you can put on a computer monitor. Because it is a touch screen, you can use either your fingers or the stylus markers included to draw or erase shapes on the smartboard. Here is my lovely wife Sara demonstrating.

Sara admits she was a little skeptical about the SMARTboard at first. When she saw it at a conference in Seattle, the presenter kept making mistakes with the machine in typical Microsoft product demonstration fashion. She was even more trepidatious when her school ordered one SMARTboard for each classroom. However, as she got used to the interface, she realized what a powerful tool she had. Her class has never known a world without an internet, and here was an interactive piece of technology that could be applied to hands-on, visual, or auditory learning styles. No longer would she have to deal with printing lessons on overhead transparencies, and she can even download Macromedia Flash animated teaching aids in a similar fashion to the iPhone app store.

“It’s quickly become a really useful tool in the classroom,” Sara said. “Even if you are not the best person with technology, you will be able to figure it out.”

Schools are constantly changing, just like the workplaces they are supposed to supply with labor. Once we leave grade school, we often maintain the assumption that methods and technologies used in education stay the same as when we were using them. Keeping up with the latest trends in education can reveal fascinating insights. At the very least, if you’re like me, you can envy all the cool toys kids get to play with at school.

Sony CEO:I’m a guy who doesn’t see anything good having come from the Internet…

Dave Rosenberg’s column will fill you in on the details, but Sony Pictures CEO Michael Lynton had this to say in front of an audience of journalists and students at a breakfast at Syracuse University:

“I’m a guy who doesn’t see anything good having come from the Internet…(The Internet) created this notion that anyone can have whatever they want at any given time. It’s as if the stores on Madison Avenue were open 24 hours a day. They feel entitled. They say, ‘Give it to me now,’ and if you don’t give it to them for free, they’ll steal it.”

No one argued with Lynton that media content, like Sony Pictures’ movies, were flowing through the internet without the original creators making a dime. The problem here, is that with the internet around, you CAN have the stores on Madison Avenue open 24 hours a day. The marginal cost of distributing a piece of music, text, or video is essentially zero, so you’ll have a hard time selling something that consumers know is pure profit. Instead of using the technology to its full potential, he wants to impose legal roadblocks that keep technology at the level that his business can use forever.

This isn’t the first time that Sony has caused controversy with their remarks towards the internet. Sony was also responsible for including a root-kit on CDs that interfered with the vital functions of computers that tried to play them. One of the attorneys for Sony BMG famously stated:

“When an individual makes a copy of a song for himself, I suppose we can say he stole a song.” Making “a copy” of a purchased song is just “a nice way of saying ‘steals just one copy’,”

The current controversy is reminiscent of previous legal battles over new technology, such as VCRs, audio cassette tapes, even terrestrial radio. In each of these circumstances, media companies were able to make billions without resorting to the kind of restrictions they were howling for in the first place. Why do we keep having this debate every time media distribution gets easier and cheaper?

On the surface, you could say that people don’t want to spend any money that they don’t want to, so any change, good or bad, is going to be fought tooth and nail by any business. I think the problem runs deeper than that. Most of the cries of indignation do not come from the artists themselves, but from the companies that represent them. In other words, they are the people who press the plastic discs and make all the deals necessary to get them to the stores. They are the sales people. Artists aren’t happy playing the same songs or acting the same lines over and over again, but salespeople would gladly sell you five copies of the same movie or the same album.

The real reason salespeople don’t want their business to change is that they do not consider what they do to be real work. If they wanted to do work, they would get into carpentry, engineering, or flower arrangement. Workers in those industries have to compete with each other to produce better products, but not salespeople. They’re happy to sell the same loaf of bread in a different bag, and will fight tooth and nail against doing otherwise. We as a society allow this state of affairs because we expect no better of salespeople. We don’t consider sales to be real work either. If a product gathers more sales because it has a better name or packaging, we consider it cheating. Our media is flush with stereotypes of sleazy salespeople who will do anything for a buck except work for one. We consider the ability to “sell ice to eskimos” as the mark of a good salesperson.

The truth is that sales IS real work. The cold calling, the knocking on doors, the networking, all of it. We need to enforce the idea that responsibility of the deal lies not with the producer, the consumer, nor market that created it. It lies with the salesperson himself. If you can’t sell this product, find a better one. If you can’t find a better one, improve the one you’ve got. If you can’t improve the one you’ve got, include a free gift. Salespeople will do what they have to do to make a living, but the fundamental fact here is that the central relationship in a salesperson’s professional life is between him and his consumer. Invoking the powers of government to maintain your bargaining position is no substitute for this kind of rapport. I’m not saying that giving movies and music away for free is the answer, but trying to hobble technology for pure profit is not the answer either.

The Trip Part 5: Corregidor Island

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It was like seeing the set of a big budget movie, only it really happened. Corregidor was a 90 minute ferry ride from the docks in Manila. Along the way we could see a myriad of tiny fishing boats bobbing up and down in the waves. From there, we loaded into open-air tour buses that reinforced the Universal Studio Tour feel. However, as we passed the distance numbers on the road and the dilapidated pill boxes in the trees, everything became just a little more real. None of this was for show, everything had a purpose of some kind. This was where the fate of the world was decided long ago.

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In British Columbia, there are no great battlefields. Aside from the paranoia of the Japanese internment camps, the bases for training soldiers, and perhaps the odd submarine, war was a stranger to my part of the world. All the battles for Canada as a nation were fought on the east coast.  BC’s border disputes were decided in the halls of government rather than through the barrel of a gun. Corregidor is unique among WWII battle zones. While London, Berlin, Pearl Harbor and Tokyo were all rebuilt for the sake of the people living there, Corregidor was home to no one save the birds and monkeys. Its guns were rendered obsolete by the events of the war.  In addition to the museums and monuments, the ruins of the base that once defended Manila bay serve as a reminder to those who died in the war.

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There something about all of those ruined structures that can’t be captured with photographs. A step in either direction reveals never-ending caverns of lonely building guts. It reminded me of the last scene in “Slaughterhouse Five” after the fire-bombing of Dresden. There really is such a silence after a massacre. It’s not the kind hear, though. At once you think about the people who made those buildings their home and the mechanical savagery by which they were destroyed. The bullet holes conjure images of a young soldier leaning on a machine gun trigger until his box of ammo was empty, yet the look on his face is the same as if he were working an industrial press.  The craters and pock-marked concrete were only a inkling of the violence that took place here.

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As the tour went on, we learned about how the Americans and Filipinos had defended the island until their ammunition and water had run out. We walked through Malinta Tunnel, where they had lived while the Japanese bombers deforested the island. When they surrendered, the Japanese marched all 72,000 of them up the Bataan peninsula, which we could see in the distance. 54,000 made the journey alive. When the Allies retook the island in 1945, the Japanese soldiers, honoring their Bushido code, would commit suicide by jumping off of cliffs overlooking the sea. That was where the Japanese government eventually erected their own shrines to the sons they had lost there.

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In this day and age, we are so removed from the horror of that time. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan almost seem like small-time thuggery by comparison. Americans, Filipinos, Canadians, and Japanese now visit this place as tourists, whereas 60 years ago they would have been the bitterest of enemies. The fact that there has been peace between those countries for so long raises a few questions. How could we reconcile what happened here with what we have today? What changed? Was it our ability to communicate over television and computers? Do our well-heeled post-war lifestyles prevent us from getting the idea to kill each other? And whatever caused this reconciliation, can we put in a bottle or a book or something so we can send it to places like Afghanistan and Iraq where they really need it?

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In Search of New Sci-fi

So after paying my library fines last week, I swore to myself that I was going to take out one, and only one book that day. Hopefully a light, entertaining jaunt that I could get through in a few days. Perhaps it was part of a series so I could enjoy those characters that I fell in love with again and again. Oh, and it had to have spaceships.

I decided to go with “The Shadow of Saganami” by David Weber. It’s actually the first novel in a spin-off series of the Honor Harrington Saga, which I remembered from the snazzy cover art I’ve seen grace the shelves of the bookshops from time to time. The novels star a female starship captain name Honor Harrington who spends most of her time kicking ass for an anachronistic constitutional monarchy out among the stars. While the novel didn’t directly star Ms. Harrington, it promised more of the same. A space opera full of shady political deals and massive starship battles. It seemed perfect. I took it home, cracked it open, and got to the beginning of chapter two before closing it again for good.

I realize that this might not be a fair review of the novel. After all, the book was meant for long-time fans of the series who were familiar with the universe, the terminology, and the characters. However, I didn’t get too far before I found that reading the rest of the book would just be a chore. The straight-laced characters seemed to have little to distinguish them outside the pips on their uniforms. I have a friends and relatives in the military, and in an industry where there is a culture of funny story battles, you’d think there would be more interesting ways to introduce a military officer character rather than having her checking over her dorm to see if she forgot anything. The dialogue was written in the same stilted American dialect that every major science-fiction universe has used since Larry Niven’s “Known Space” novels in the 1970’s. They also do that thing where they stop using contractions and use larger words to signify that they’re being sarcastic. They’ll say something like, “I am sorry I cannot acquiesce to your superior demands, O so-called viceroy of the surrounding sector and its principalities”. It makes me want to put my head through drywall.

So, back it goes to the library. My cousin recommended Neal Stephenson’s latest, so I think I’ll give it a shot. The problem is, I know why this series is a New York Times bestseller. The descriptions of the space battles are grand and detailed. If there is ever a TV show or movie from the Honor Harrington universe, I’d probably watch it (if only because David Weber wants Claudia Christian from Babylon 5 to play the title character). However, there was such an ennui in the tone of the book, like everything I was watching through the text had been done before. I find this is a problem with most science fiction after the 1980’s. As hard sci-fi concepts like computers and space travel become commonplace, writers put less effort into describing those things with the wonder and mystery that they used to. This is why I read older novels from authors like Heinlein and Niven. The novels still read like they are fantastic, even though the technology in them becomes dated by our standards. It’s important to remember that in science fiction, technology is more than just a way to get from plot point A to mcguffin B. They are symbols of humankind’s hopes and dreams.