Thursday, 31 March 2011

April Fools' Day 2011

It's that time of the year to get out your whoopee cushions, ink-leaking pens, and even prepare a couple of pie plates of custard or whipped cream to perpetrate some good natured mayhem at home and at work throughout this annual day dedicated to the silly. Be ready to contend with stuff that is normally just sitting there to be glued, nailed, stapled, or tied in some manner to render it fixed. Listen carefully for a suppressed giggle as the caller expresses their condolences at you being terminated from your job. Watch for the slight curl at the edge of the mouth indicating a hint of a smile as somebody tells you that your boss has just signed the papers to transfer you to some far-flung spot on the globe.

Yes, for one day, everything may be suspect. Members of your family, your friends, and your colleagues at work will all be a list of possible pranksters targeting your gullibility. However it doesn't stop there. Over the years newspapers, television, and radio have all taken advantage of this one day respite from being factual to pull the wool over our eyes in a comical profiteering from our naivety, and blind acceptance of any news without any critical assessment.

The Spaghetti Tree Harvest
From the web site the Museum of Hoaxes:

On April 1, 1957 the British news show Panorama broadcast a three-minute segment about a bumper spaghetti harvest in southern Switzerland. The success of the crop was attributed both to an unusually mild winter and to the "virtual disappearance of the spaghetti weevil." The audience heard Richard Dimbleby, the show's highly respected anchor, discussing the details of the spaghetti crop as they watched video footage of a Swiss family pulling pasta off spaghetti trees and placing it into baskets. The segment concluded with the assurance that, "For those who love this dish, there's nothing like real, home-grown spaghetti."
The Swiss Spaghetti Harvest hoax generated an enormous response. Hundreds of people phoned the BBC wanting to know how they could grow their own spaghetti tree. To this query the BBC diplomatically replied, "Place a sprig of spaghetti in a tin of tomato sauce and hope for the best."
To this day the Panorama broadcast remains one of the most famous and popular April Fool's Day hoaxes of all time. It is also believed to be the first time the medium of television was used to stage an April Fool's Day hoax.
The full article goes on to explain that spaghetti was not widely eaten in Britain at that time. It was considered an exotic food and hence most people had no idea of its origins.

Google's Pranks
I pull a prank; that's one thing. However when the search giant pulls a prank, just about everybody on the planet knows about it. In fact, they rate their very own article in Wikipedia chronicling their exploits in pulling the wool over all of our eyes. (Wikipedia: Google Hoaxes)

Pigeon Ranking
Back in 2002, Google revealed that their page ranking system used pigeons. They had a "pigeon rank" system.

Jobs on the moon
In 2003, they advertised jobs for the moon. Yep, that's right, the moon!

Google is interviewing candidates for engineering positions at our lunar hosting and research center, opening late in the spring of 2007. This unique opportunity is available only to highly-qualified individuals who are willing to relocate for an extended period of time, are in top physical condition and are capable of surviving with limited access to such modern conveniences as soy low-fat lattes, The Sopranos and a steady supply of oxygen.

The Google Copernicus Hosting Environment and Experiment in Search Engineering (G.C.H.E.E.S.E.) is a fully integrated research, development and technology facility at which Google will be conducting experiments in entropized information filtering, high-density high-delivery hosting (HiDeHiDeHo) and de-oxygenated cubicle dwelling. This center will provide a unique platform from which Google will leapfrog current terrestrial-based technologies and bring information access to new heights of utility.

Google Romance
In 2006, they announced Google Romance.

Upload your profile – tell the world who you are, or, more to the point, who you’d like to think you are, or, even more to the point, who you want others to think you are.

Who you want others to think you are? [bursts out laughing] That's hilarious! They even offer a tour.

Google's calculator
[shaking my head] Everybody calls programmers nerds but they do have quite a sense of humour. Go to Google's main screen. Type in "2+2" then click on Search. You get as a result "2 + 2 = 4". Now type in "2 plus 2" and click on Search. You get as a result "2 plus 2 = 4".

What other amusing expressions? "a baker's dozen" equals 13. "the loneliest number" equals one, a reference to a song by Harry Nilsson.

Type in "the answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe, and everything" and click on Search. You get "the answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe, and everything = 42". "Huh?" you say? Hey, get onboard. This is an amusing reference to the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.

When I was a kid
When I think of this now, I have to roll my eyes, but it's true, I actually did this around the age of eight or nine. Either the night before, or early in the morning, I switched the salt and sugar. At breakfast, I would try to keep a straight face as Mom and Dad and my brother would all dig into their cereal to find it salty or possibly dig into something like scrambled eggs only to find it sweet. Gawd, was I funny? Gawd, was I brilliant? In the words of Wayne and Garth from Wayne's World, "Not!"

One more Charlie Sheen video!
The Gregory Brothers have come out with another Songify This and I thought there would be no better way of ending off an article about April Fools' Day then to show Charlie at his finest, but this time, set to music. All these buzz words, #winning, #tigerblood, or maybe #machete fit right into this mashup of celebrity meltdown with a beat.



References

Wikipedia: April Fools' Day

April Fools' Day is celebrated all around the world on the April 1 of every year. Sometimes referred to as All Fools' Day, April 1 is not a legal holiday, but is widely recognized and celebrated as a day that tolerates practical jokes and general foolishness. The day is marked by the commission of good humoured or funny jokes, hoaxes, and other practical jokes of varying sophistication on friends, family members, teachers, neighbors, work associates, etc.

The Museum of Hoaxes
The Top 100 April Fool's Day Hoaxes of All Time

As judged by notoriety, creativity, and number of people duped

The April Fool Zone

Fun & Harmless Pranks & Practical Jokes

Wikipedia: The Gregory Brothers

The Gregory Brothers are a musical group who characterize their music as "Country & Soul, Folk & Roll". Members include Michael Gregory on drums and vocals, Andrew Rose Gregory on guitar and vocals, Evan Gregory on keys and vocals, and Sarah Fullen Gregory (Evan's wife) on bass and vocals. They are most famous for their creation of musical viral videos, most notably the Auto-Tune the News series, which includes the "Bed Intruder Song". The three brothers, originally from Radford, Virginia, moved to Brooklyn, New York in the mid-2000s and met Sarah in the local music scene. The four formed a band in 2007.
...

Viral videos

The Gregory Brothers first became well known for a series of YouTube videos, Auto-Tune the News, in which recorded voices of politicians, news anchors, and political pundits were digitally manipulated to conform to a melody, making the figures appear to sing.

National television networks featured the Gregory Brothers' early political satires as early as the spring of 2009, but the group did not achieve mainstream recognition until the summer of 2010, when they released episode 12b of Auto-Tune the News, titled "Bed Intruder Song". "Bed Intruder Song," which featured excerpts from an interview with alleged crime victims Kelly Dodson and her brother Antoine Dodson, was viewed approximately 50 million times during its first six months online, making it the most-viewed YouTube video of 2010 (excluding major label music videos). Being largely non-political in content, it marked a departure from the Gregory Brothers' roots in political material.

Following the mainstream success of that music video, the Gregory Brothers have generally produced a mixture of both political and non-political videos. The Auto-Tune the News series has continued to focus primarily on political material, while many of the non-political videos have been given the new branding Songify This.

Google Search: April Fools' Pranks


2011-03-31

Site Map - William Quincy BelleFollow me on Twitter

YouTube mashup by Kutiman: My Favorite Color


Sample a series of YouTube videos and put them together as a musical collage. What do you end up with? Something oddly new and original. Is this art? Is this music? Whatever it is, it is unique and well done. It's hard to believe that each individual musical clip can be taken out of its original source then put together with a variety of unrelated bits to arrive at a working whole. Did sampling allow for the changing of tempo and pitch? Could all of these fit together untouched?

Achieving something like orchestral jazz, Kutiman manages to make a cohesive whole of surprising ingenuity.






Wikipedia: Kutiman
Ophir Kutiel (born 1982), professionally known as Kutiman, is a musician, composer, producer and animator from Israel. He is best known for creating the online music video project ThruYOU, as well as his self-titled album and collaboration with many artists including Maroon 5.

In 2009 Kutiman released "ThruYOU," an online music video project mixed from samples of YouTube videos which has received more than 10 million views. Time Magazine named it one of the 50 Best Inventions of 2009.

THRU YOU - Kutiman

2011-03-30

Site Map - William Quincy BelleFollow me on Twitter

Wednesday, 30 March 2011

My shrink worries about my manliness

Years ago, I went through a traumatic episode in my life. At the time, I realised that this was beyond the norm. This wasn't something to talk over with family or friends, but something requiring an unbiased professional eye. I found a psychiatrist and luckily, the fees were covered by my government health plan.

I had never been in therapy before so I didn't know quite what to expect. I had seen things on television and in the movies meant to portray the experience; however that was entertainment not reality. I had four sessions altogether. During the first three, I basically talked and the psychiatrist listened. In the fourth, we had something of a discussion. He gave me his assessment which amounted to this. Yes, I was going through a traumatic experience. Yes, I was depressed, but given the circumstances, this was not surprising; this was normal. However, I seemed to be able to clearly see what was going on, to properly analyse it, and to come up with a remedial course of action. He then asked me what I wanted to do. Did I want to continue seeing him?

At the time, I had an idea I picked up from movies and television of people who stayed in therapy for years and years. This was the idea of self-indulgent, narcissistic people who had nothing better to do than spend an hour a week spouting off gawd only knows what to a psychiatrist without any specific goal of achieving something. Doesn't "get better" mean you stop going to therapy? Freudian analysis - patient babbles, psychiatrist listens - can be quite open ended in this regard and I had a somewhat negative impression of the process. I come back to the word "self-indulgent".

When the therapist asked me if I wanted to continue, I thought of his assessment. Yes, I'm bummed out about my traumatic episode, but I had a remedial plan. What else was there to talk about? The only thing left to do was to go out and put the plan into effect. Right?

I declined his offer to continue this 50 minute session per week therapy and headed off to implement my plan. However, as time wore on, things weren't working out as well as I had hoped. In fact, I seemed to be dragging around some baggage that I couldn't get rid of. Had I missed something in therapy? Should I have stuck with it? Was I too dismissive of the process and had failed to give the process its due?

Four years later, I found myself in circumstances which allowed me to take another stab at therapy, however this time; I planned on committing to a length of time, a hopefully meaningful amount of time to see where this would lead. It turned out that I spent 8 months going to a psychiatrist for a session of 50 minutes every week. Over eight months, that would work out to be 30 times, setting aside one or two weeks for holidays.

Unlike my first time where I sat face to face with my therapist, this was truly the typical couch session. The psychiatrist sits in a chair at the head of the couch while the patient lies down on the coach and stares at the ceiling. This was stream of consciousness. I just talked on anything which came to mind with no specific agenda. That, in retrospect, is the odd part of this type of therapy. There doesn't seem to be, well there wasn't for me, any structure or guidance. It was just me trying to figure out something, but I'm not sure what It was the strangest thing. If there is no specific agenda; there is no specific goal and if there is no goal, how do you know when you're done?

This happened over 25 years ago so I have absolutely no idea of what I would have babbled about for those 30 sessions. I do remember as I droned on about gawd only knows what, staring at the ceiling, sometimes counting the holes, the psychiatrist whose name I've forgotten, would sit out of sight towards the head of the couch. He would always sit with a pad of paper and a pen to record whatever revealing Freudian slips gushed out of my mouth as I sometimes desperately sought to find something to say. He did tell me once or twice that I could be silent if I wanted.

Comically enough, I remember being aware of his breathing. I could hear this. Occasionally, I would detect this subtle change in his breathing that I recognised as him having nodded off. I'm spouting great pearls of revealing insights into my psyche and my therapist is having a snooze. This began to make me think that this "extended" process of therapy I had decided to try out was more like my interpretation of my first time in therapy. It was self-indulgent, maybe narcissistic and at the end of day, was it really a question of doing your stuff or getting off the pot. Remember that this was just me talking. I don't think he ever interjected anything. I just talked and talked and talked.

In session number twenty-nine, my penultimate session, I had the most extraordinary experience. It was so memorable; I recall it today like it was yesterday. I think this was for me the pinnacle of defining moments of my whole time in therapy. It was around the thirty minute mark. I was talking about heavens knows what, staring up at the ceiling when all of a sudden, in some sort of lull when I was catching my breath, the psychiatrist said something. Please keep in mind that for all these sessions he had been dead quiet while I was on the couch so him saying something was not just unusual, it was unexpected. He asked me this question, "When you were a little boy, did you worry about the size of your c**k?"

Have you ever had one of those moments when somebody says something to you but it doesn't register at first? The words are uttered, but you don't comprehend them. Then in your mind, you rewind this mental recording of those words so you can double check that what was said was in fact what your heard.

I lay there staring at the ceiling. I was dumbfounded. There was this moment of silence during which I didn't speak and the psychiatrist didn't say anything else. First of all, I was absolutely stunned that he had used the word "c**k". He had spoken so rarely that the fact he opened his mouth was stunning enough. But to have used this profanity? It was like having a bucket of freezing cold water dumped on you.

My next thought was, "It's come to this." All of a sudden, the absurdity of this therapy had this big, fat light shining on it. S**t or get off the pot. If I don't do something, if I don't implement my remedial plan, he's going to eventually link this back to some childhood memory about me feeling inadequate about the size of my manliness. Or would have it been at that age boyliness?

If I had been standing up, I probably would have made that gesture which means, "Oh brother" by rolling my eyes and slapping myself on the forehead. If I had been sitting, I would have leaned forward, tilted my head down then covered my forehead with my hand while uttering something like "Oh my gawd." As I was lying on the couch, I was silent for a moment then said, "No" as if I was responding to some sort of normal, regular question. "Would you like cream with your coffee?" No. "Do you think it's going to rain today?" No. "When you were a little boy, did you worry about the size of your c**k?"

At the end of the very last session, I remember him saying to me something about me now understanding how breakthroughs came about; how the process allowed the patient to arrive at conclusions about themselves. I suppose, but I couldn't help thinking there was an open-endedness to the process which failed to push a patient to face the facts and then move on. Of course, not every patient is the same but here I was thinking specifically about myself. Sometimes we need therapy; sometimes we need a kick in the ass?

This may look like I'm against therapy. I'm not. Going back to the beginning of this article, I did say that sometimes we need an unbiased professional eye. I suppose I could also add, and this is from experience, that we should all recognise that the fireside chat we may want to have with a member of the family or with a close friend may be going beyond the bounds of what an informal chat may be able to do. In fact, it may be so far beyond the bounds of that informal chat, we could very well be taking advantage of the good graces of the other person. In other words, we need a professional. Let's spare the family and friends and go to a pro.

I'm currently in the middle of another traumatic episode of my life. I went to therapy for the first time in almost 30 years forking over $100 per week to talk it out with a paid professional for about 5 months. It is interesting how talking to a live human being can be helpful. I know that I sometimes talk out loud to help me work through an idea or practise a speech, but talking to another person can be very therapeutic.

At the end of two grand though, I found myself back to the idea of do it or get off the pot. I could talk from here to tomorrow, but at some point I have do something. Doing something may mean implementing a remedial course of action or it may mean accepting what is beyond our powers to change. The sun is going to come up in the morning and there is nothing I can do about it. The sooner I accept this fact, the sooner I will be able to move on.

The following may be considered as corny by some, but I think it is very applicable.

God grant me the serenity
To accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change things that I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.


References

Wikipedia: Therapy

Wikipedia: Psychotherapy

Wikipedia: Counseling

Wikipedia: Serenity Prayer

2011-03-30

Site Map - William Quincy BelleFollow me on Twitter

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

I want to become Charlie Sheen's intern

Charlie Sheen has a much publicized spat with his employers. Charlie Sheen joins Twitter and sets a world record of getting one million followers in approximately 24 hours. Charlie Sheen gets fired. Charlie Sheen and "Team Sheen" go on the offensive, a publicity offensive and decide to hire a summer intern to manage this Twitter account. As of this moment, Sheen has 3.2 million followers on Twitter (Twitter/CharlieSheen).

I am quite busy in my world so all of this hoopla surrounding Mr. Sheen is something which is occurring at the periphery of my daily life. It is a headline which my eye glances over from time to time as I go about my business so in the grand scheme of things, this is more of the background noise as opposed to something which is truly important. Nevertheless, we collectively do enjoy our entertainment which sometimes consists of the unusual, the bizarre, or the train wreck of a life: there but for the grace of God go I.

Internship
At the beginning of March, Mr. Sheen with great fanfare announced the search for a summer intern who would assist Team Sheen in managing its ever-growing social media presence. The hiring of Internship.Com kicked off a contest which involved an application of just 75 characters.

One million Twitter followers in just over 25 hours launched Charlie Sheen into the record books. Now, you can keep #tigerblood on top by applying for the Charlie Sheen Internship.

This afternoon, Sheen tweeted to the world that he’s seeking a social media intern to help him monitor trends in the Twitterverse and manage logistics for a number of upcoming online projects this summer, with the ultimate goal of expanding his already astronomical presence on the Web. Candidates must apply at this contest link between now and Friday, March 11 at midnight, and describe in just 75 characters why they’re the best candidate for the job.

The gig itself will last for eight weeks this summer, and we’re glad to see Sheen’s sharing the wealth by making it a paid internship. What can you accomplish in eight weeks? Stop for a moment and consider that at the time of this posting, the actor has only been on Twitter for six days.

In that time, Sheen has proven to be a social media genius. His Twitter feed has produced an incredible number of trending topics that have seeped into the pop culture lexicon  — #winning, #planbetter and #tigerblood, to name a few.

Social media management is one of the most rapidly expanding job fields for college graduates, and the responsibility of helping manage communication for the Internet’s most talked-about man would be massive career launcher. If you love being part of the conversation, head to the application page – and buckle up for what is very obviously the internship of the year.

It seems rather appropriate that to apply for a job about Twitter, you need to tweet your application. Is this ironic or actually pertinent?

Tuesday, March 29, 2011
For some odd reason, today's papers had a number of stories of various people who applied for this position and are vying for the coveted summer role of making Sheen's name even greater in social media. CTV ran an article this morning about a morning news anchor at a Barrie, Ont., radio station who says she's ready to pack her bags for Hollywood for the eight-week gig. Lyndsey Vanstone, 25, has jumped on the publicity bandwagon along with another 2,832 Canucks in a total of 82,000 people from 181 countries who hoping to become the "TigerBloodIntern!". Vanstone has now created a Facebook page, "Help Vanstone Become Charlie Sheen's Intern", to drum up support for herself. I'm not sure how this contributes to her chances of being picked but what the heck? This is all about publicity!

The Londoner talks about 22-year-old Phil Pallen, a recent University of Western Ontario graduate, who is also going for gold by trying to get into Charlie's good graces. The paper quotes Pallen as saying, "Certainly, people have their opinions about Charlie Sheen, and I've had friends discourage me from proceeding with this. Will this jeopardize opportunities? I don't think it will. I think it will actually create more opportunities and it should – not because of the association with Charlie Sheen – but because of how I'm approaching it."

Pallen has created a web site www.tigerbloodphil.com to promote himself and hopefully #win the day. "I think (Sheen) is brilliant … there's got to be something said for that. Opinions aside, look at the power of social media. There's a huge opportunity there to actually have something really good come out of it."

Just what are we talking about?
As I peruse the paper this morning about this entire hubbub, my brow furrows, I have a perplexed look, and I ask myself just what are we talking about here? The Middle East is undergoing dramatic change. Japan is facing its worst disaster. Canada is going to the polls for a national election. Just what is this Charlie Sheen story jamming up the airwaves?

In my blog My 15 Minutes, I jokingly talk about my turn on bat. Yes, the whole stadium is watching me and am I now going to whack it out of the park or am I going to be soon walking back to the dugout, my head held low, humiliated at being struck out? That is the crux of the matter. I would hope that when my turn comes for 15 minutes, if my turn comes for 15 minutes, it would be for something noble, worthwhile, something about which I would want to brag to Mom and Dad. I would not want my 15 minutes to be for something of a dubious worth, something stupid or for that matter, something downright criminal. Stupid? Come to think of it, isn't this what the Jackass movies are about? (see my Movie Review: Jackass 3D) How about Donna Simpson, a New Jersey housewife who has given herself the personal and very dubious goal of becoming the world's fattest woman? (see my blog My 15 minutes of fat)

On the other hand - and this makes me chuckle - anybody is going to point out that Charlie Sheen is a millionaire with the potential of making millions more. Who the heck am I? Good point and a point which makes me laugh. Fame and fortune win the day. It doesn't matter who you are and what you do; at the end of the day, if you've got a mansion and all the toys, you win. [sigh] I guess you can't argue with that, can you? Hmmm, when I think about it, no matter who you are or what you do, we could always make the argument that it's all about selling yourself and if you can in the bigger picture turn yourself into a brand, a marketable commodity, why not? Go for the gusto. I should stand on a roof waving a machete. (picture; video)

The original application (the process is now closed) gave as a job description:

Do you have #TigerBlood? Are you all about #Winning? Can you #PlanBetter than anyone else? If so, we want you on #TeamSheen as our social media #TigerBloodIntern!

This unique internship opportunity will allow a hard-working, self-motivated, creative, resourceful and social media savvy individual to work closely with Charlie Sheen in leveraging his social network. The internship will focus on executing a social media strategy that will build on the success Charlie Sheen has attained in setting the Guinness World Record for the fastest time to reach one million followers on Twitter. The #TigerBloodIntern is expected to be proactive, monitor the day-to-day activities on the major social media platforms, prepare for exciting online projects and increase Charlie’s base of followers.

You will learn how to promote and develop the social media network of Hollywood’s most trending celebrity.

Final Word
Certainly Charlie has momentum right now. I guess the funny thing is whether or not he can keep this up and generate something beyond just the buzz. As TV's highest paid actor, he was pulling in $1.8 million per episode. If he doesn't get back to the show, just how is he going to generate that kind of income? More "My Violent Torpedo of Truth/Defeat is Not an Option" Tours? At the end of the day, once we've garnered the buzz, we have to deliver. Yes, we have to deliver the goods or the public is going to quickly get bored and move on. And that ain't #winning.


References

official web site: Charlie Sheen

Twitter: Charlie Sheen

Facebook: Charlie Sheen

Internship: Charlie Sheen Internship – Are You #Winning?

The official application

Facebook: Help Vanstone Become Charlie Sheen's Intern

Phil Pallen: TigerBloodPhil

2011-03-29

Site Map - William Quincy BelleFollow me on Twitter

Movie Review: Rango

This animated feature is, in a nutshell, an excellent piece of entertainment. Maybe it's not quite for kids, but adults are going to enjoy this. For me, the one thing that stood out as I watched this, besides the characters and the story, was how sharp the visuals were. This is high definition and the clarity of the images with the attention to detail is staggering. Wow, the state of the art in computer animation is something else. But more of that later.

Starring the voice of Johnny Depp, this follows a pet chameleon that is accidentally stranded in the Mojave Desert when his terrarium falls off his owner's car. From there he meets an unusual cast of characters that paints an interesting and eccentric portrait of the Wild West inhabited by animals who talk. The basic line is nerdy stranger comes to town and (eventually) becomes the hero winning over various nefarious bad guys. Well, I guess they were nefarious because they were bad. Hmmm, is that redundant?

A good film must start with a good story and John Logan supplied as such quite amply, which is not surprising considering some of his credits: Gladiator in 2000, 2004's The Aviator plus Star Trek: Nemesis, The Time Machine, The Last Samurai, and Tim Burton-helmed musical, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. Gore Verbinski, the director that everybody should know from his work; he directed the Pirates of the Caribbean series. As such, there's a lot of talent in this cinematic endeavour.

A few references cropped up during the film and did anybody else in the audience notice? I'm not sure of the connection, but one of the funny little guys from the film Despicable Me showed up briefly in the opening credits. I've looked at references materials for both movies to see the connection, but I still don't see the link. In the beginning of the film, our chameleon falls off a car and has some amusing run-ins with various vehicles in the middle of this highway out in the desert. At one point, he is flung onto the windshield of a Cadillac. The driver is startled by this lizard on his windscreen and uses the windshield wipers to get him off. Hmmm, odd guy behind the wheel smoking a cigarette in a holder, another guy in the back. All of a sudden it hits me; this is a nod to another Johnny Depp movie Fear and Loathing in Los Vegas. It's Raoul Duke and Dr. Gonzo in the car. Ha! Did anybody get it?

Of course, the biggie towards the end is that mystical meeting in the desert between chameleon and The Man With No Name, that is, Clint Eastwood from his spaghetti westerns. Clint in a golf cart full of Oscars armed with a metal detector seeking gawd only knows what in the sand; now there is something mystical. The voice was close but the credits at the end revealed it was the actor Timothy Olyphant imitating our silent tough guy.

Computer Animation
Way back in 1982, at the dawn of the era of PCs, I saw a short film made by some university where a stick figure walked across the screen. It was explained how a computer program drew the figure, a camera took a frame then the computer redrew the stick figure positioned slightly forward. This was very, very primitive consisting of nothing more than a figure with no backdrop whatsoever. I remember at the time mulling over how this was the same idea as cartoons. Each subsequent picture or drawing was slightly different so that when the series of drawings were shown one after another, the eye interpreted this as motion. I remember 24 frames per second as being the standard to avoid the "flickering" of images. (Wikipedia: Persistence of Vision)

Fast forward to today. Anybody who had dabbled with the technology back then would watch with their mouths wide open at what is being accomplished with today's computer animation. The complexity of the figures shown in Rango is absolutely incredible when I think back on that stick figure. The sophistication of the computer generated models to account for three dimensions, squash and stretch, even individual hair follicles is unprecedented.

What I have not been able to discover is the length of time necessary to generate an individual frame. If I take 24 frames per second, that's 1,440 frames per minute or 136,800 frames for the total running time of 95 minutes. I'm trying to remember but I've got a vague recollection that as well as the film of the stick figure, somebody showed me the program used to generate the frames. Of course, this was 1982 so how much horsepower did one of those machines have? I think it may have taken a minute to draw a single frame. Today? How long would it take to generate a single frame of something as complex as Rango? FYI: I see the budget of this film was $135 million. Good lord, those computers cost a lot!

Then there's the question of how the animators come up with the original character - a background film on Pixar showed me that people still do a lot of drawing - and then how to program that original character into a computer. It's all magic, no?

Sound and voice
I look over the past year. I've seen Toy Story, Despicable Me, Megamind and now Rango and all of them are terrific computer animations. What's curious in looking at this is that the visual part of these films is computer generated but as of yet, the voices are not. Will the real feel of a character continue to rely on a human being to breathe life into it? This was just a curious observation about the idea of using computers to generate a film.

Trailer #1

Trailer #2

Final Word
But, but, but, no matter how much anybody talks about the technique, the computer power, etc., the one factor which determines if a film is good or bad is the story and the characters. Without a good story, without great characters who elicit our interest if not our passion whether it be love or hate, a film is not going to make it. All the fancy pants special effects in the world won't save a bad film. I have to chuckle as I go down the list at Rotten Tomatoes of what's at the box office right now and see a film at 14% and another at 6%. With a rating that low, you know it's so bad, you wouldn't have it on your TV even if you were busy doing something else like vacuuming the living room or cleaning the silverware.

Rango merited a rating of 88% on Rotten Tomatoes. That sums it up nicely; I thoroughly enjoyed this film. It was released on March 4, 2011 so it's been out for over three weeks now. This means its remaining time in the theatres is limited so if you decide to go see it, go see it now. Enjoy. I know you will.


References

Featurette
[This is an amusing look behind the scenes at how the characters (the real people) dressed up and interacted with one another in order to get their dubbed voices right for the movie.]

Rotten Tomatoes: Rango: 88%
It may not be as charming as it thinks it is -- and it certainly isn't for kids -- but Rango is a smart, giddily creative burst of beautifully animated entertainment.

Wikipedia: Rango
Rango is a 2011 American computer-animated comedy western film directed by Gore Verbinski and produced by Graham King. It features the voices of actors Johnny Depp, Isla Fisher, Bill Nighy, Abigail Breslin, Alfred Molina, Harry Dean Stanton, Ray Winstone, Ned Beatty, and Timothy Olyphant.

Wikipedia: Frame rate

Wikipedia: Computer animation

Wikipedia: 12 basic principles of animation

2011-03-29

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Britney Spears: Circus


There’s only two types of people in the world
The ones that entertain, and the ones that observe
Well baby I’m a put-on-a-show kinda girl
Don’t like the backseat, gotta be first
I’m like the ringleader
I call the shots
I’m like a firecracker
I make it hot
When I put on a show....

I feel the adrenaline moving through my veins
Spotlight on me and I’m ready to break
I’m like a performer, the dancefloor is my stage
Better be ready, hope that ya feel the same

All eyes on me in the center of the ring
Just like a Circus
When I crack that whip, everybody gon' trip
Just like a circus
Don’t stand there watching me, follow me
Show me what you can do
Everybody let go, we can make a dancefloor
Just like a circus

There’s only two types of guys out there,
Ones that can hang with me, and ones that are scared
So baby I hope that you came prepared
I run a tight shift so, beware
I’m like the ringleader
I call the shots
I’m like a firecracker
I make it hot
then I put on a show

I feel the adrenaline moving through my veins
Spotlight on me and I’m ready to break
I’m like a performer, the dancefloor is my stage
Better be ready, hope that ya feel the same

All eyes on me in the center of the ring
Just like a circus
When I crack that whip, everybody gon' trip
Just like a circus
Don’t stand there watching me, follow me
Show me what you can do
Everybody let go, we can make a dancefloor
Just like a circus

Let's go.
Let me see what you can do.
I'm runnin' this (like like like like a circus)
Yeah.
Like a what' (like like like like a circus)

All eyes on me in the center of the ring
Just like a circus
When I crack that whip, everybody gon' trip
Just like a circus
Don’t stand there watching me, follow me
Show me what you can do
Everybody let go, we can make a dancefloor
Just like a circus

All eyes on me in the center of the ring
Just like a circus
When I crack that whip, everybody gon' trip
Just like a circus
Don’t stand there watching me, follow me
Show me what you can do
Everybody let go, we can make a dancefloor
Just like a circus

References
Wikipedia: Circus (song)
"Circus" is a song by American recording artist Britney Spears from her sixth studio album, Circus. It was released on December 2, 2008, by Jive Records as the second single from the album. "Circus" was written by Dr. Luke, Claude Kelly and Benny Blanco as a metaphor for the public's perception of Spears's life. After she listened to the track for the first time, she felt inspired to create an album and a tour with a circus theme. Musically, "Circus" is a pop song with influences of electropop, dance-pop, and R&B. It's lyrics talk about being an entertainer and putting on shows. The song received positive reviews from critics, with most praising its electronic production.

Wikipedia: Circus (album)
Circus is the sixth studio album by American recording artist Britney Spears, first released on November 28, 2008 by Jive Records.


Wikipedia: Britney Spears
Britney Jean Spears (born December 2, 1981) is an American recording artist and entertainer.

2011-03-29

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Monday, 28 March 2011

The Global Uprising: Don't buy gas on April 15th

April 4, 2011 at 10:45pm: I just discovered the Facebook group mentioned below has been taken off-line.
April 14, 2012: The Yahoo news article mentioned below is no longer on-line.

Those blankety blank oil companies are making obscene profits. I know what I'll do; I'll not buy gas on April 15th. That will show them. Boy, are they going to feel the pain of my wrath! I'll fill up on the 14th or wait until the 16th, but on the 15th? They are going to suffer!

Some guy by the name of Lyle Anderson has started a Facebook group "Don't buy gas on April 15th" with the stated goal:

On April 15th 2011, Let us unite in protest of escalating fuel prices. Let's stand together for one day and show the world we are tired of being gouged at the pumps. If you agree (which I can't see why you wouldn't) resend this to all your contact list. With it saying, "Don't pump gas on April 15th"

Lyle provides a link to an article of January 31, 2011 on Yahoo Finance entitled "Exxon profit up 53 pct, best quarter since 3Q '08" which I guess is his justification for him organizing this protest. The gist of this Associated Press article is that Exxon earned $9.25 billion in the last three months of 2010 making it the best quarter since 3Q 2008. I note that the return is $1.85 per share, up from $1.27 per share a year ago.

As of this writing, I see we have 754,682 attending, 193,489 maybe attending, 2,854,162 awaiting reply and 558,544 not attending. Gee, in total, this little organizational effort in social media now has 4,360,877 people in the know. That's not a shabby number and considering how social media played a part in the uprisings in the Middle East, I think we've got a bit of uprising right here. Hmmm, then again...

[laughing out loud] Ah, excuse me. [standing off to one side waving my hand for attention] May I point out that this public protest isn't really going to do anything? Rex Tillerson, the Chairman, President and CEO of Exxon Mobil knows full well that you're all going to buy gas on the 14th or the 16th. Just because you pick the arbitrary day of the 15th doesn't mean you are going to in any way affect the company's bottom line. If Rex hears about this - and I doubt he will - he's going to give this 5 seconds of his time, just long enough to say, "Ooo, I'm quaking in my boots. I'm scared."

Now, on the other hand, who's going to drive less and take public transit more? Who's going to get rid of one of two cars and attempt to drive less while sharing the remaining vehicle? Who's going to join a car pool for work? Who's going to get an electric car or maybe a hybrid? Sure, not pumping on April 15th may make you feel good; it make give you the illusion that you're "doing your part" but true change doesn't come from depriving yourself of gas for one day, or electricity for one hour, but that's another story.

Don't forget, Exxon like any company has the goal of making money, and it's making money for its shareholders. Feeling left out? Why not buy some shares in the company and have some of those "obscene profits" go into your bank account. Become a shareholder then think about your situation in relation to the company. You want your shares to generate money to go in your pocket. The company has to make a profit in order to pay dividends. Well, the more obscene the profit, the more obscene the dividend. You can read the financial headlines detailing how Exxon has once again broken a record while you're on your way to the bank to deposit your dividend cheque. Buying a share or two in the company could very well change your entire perspective on April 15th. Heck, maybe you can start a counter-Facebook group called "Buy more gas on April 15th". You just may be able to increase the amount of your 2nd quarter dividend. Gee, why not make the 15th of every month "Buy more gas" day!

Think about it. You've got a student loan to pay off. You've got a mortgage payment to make or you have to pay your monthly rent. Heck, you need money to buy gas. (How ironic is that?) Let's get those dividends up! It's money in the bank!

According to the Yahoo Financial article, Exxon made $1.85 per share in 4Q 2010. If you owned a thousand shares, you would have made $185 for doing nothing. But let's further detail this. At the time of the Yahoo article, an Exxon share cost $80. (Now it's trading at almost $84.) That $1.85 is for one quarter or $3.42 per year. A return of $3.42 on an investment of $80 is 4.28%. With the interest rate on a normal savings account sitting around 2%, putting your money in Exxon shares doesn't seem like a bad idea. Of course, the company has to make a profit to pay you a dividend so I don't think you really want to see the company not turn a profit. Hmmm, is this a Catch-22?

Final Word
Lyle, I know you mean well but your protest is ludicrous. It may be symbolic but it's ineffective. You are desperate to do something, anything, unfortunately in the short term this is meaningless and what's even more unfortunate is that over the long run, you will more than likely do none of the things I stated above which would truly make a difference. Giving up gas for one day is one thing, giving up gas permanently by taking public transit is, well, a sacrifice that the majority of us may not quite yet be ready to make. [chuckles] Let's not go overboard!

And now, time for a Matrix imitation. I dress up in a suit, put on my sunglasses, then in my best Agent Smith voice I drawl, "Mister Anderson... "


References

Facebook: Don't buy gas on April 15th
On April 15th 2011, Let us unite in protest of escalating fuel prices. Let's stand together for one day and show the world we are tired of being gouged at the pumps. If you agree (which I can't see why you wouldn't) resend this to all your contact list. With it saying, "Don't pump gas on April 15th"

Yahoo Finance - Jan 31/2011
Exxon profit up 53 pct, best quarter since 3Q '08

Facebook: Lyle Anderson

Wikipedia: ExxonMobil
The Exxon Mobil Corporation, or ExxonMobil, is an American multinational oil and gas corporation. It is a direct descendant of John D. Rockefeller's Standard Oil company, and was formed on November 30, 1999, by the merger of Exxon and Mobil. Its headquarters are in Irving, Texas.

Wikipedia: Rex Tillerson
Rex W. Tillerson (born March 23, 1952, in Wichita Falls, Texas) is the current Chairman, President, and CEO of Exxon Mobil Corporation.

Every time Agent smith says "Mr. Anderson"
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XooISvoZ_rs

Postscript
Okay, the above Mr. Anderson video was meant to be funny. I was tempted though to put in the Agent Smith speech to Morpheus from the first Matrix where he compares humanity to a virus. Considering we're talking about oil, pollution, and putting profit before anything else, that clip may well be very pertinent here.

2011-03-28

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Sunday, 27 March 2011

My [blank] review of Firefox version 4

N.B. This is not a professional technical overview of the new Firefox. These are just a few random thoughts on my preferred browser.

Okay, it's here; I've installed it and now, I am trying to see what the entire hubbub is about. Right off the bat, I have to chuckle. Somewhere, somebody is sitting around cogitating when they get a brilliant idea. "Hey, let's move this over there, and put that back here." Oh lord, I beseech you to spare me from brilliant ideas. Just when I get used to things a certain way, somebody moves my cheese.

I "discovered" some time ago the benefit of right clicking on a link then choosing "Open Link in New Tab". The problem with clicking on any link is that the current page moves to the linked page and yes, you can click on the Back button but that does slow things down. When I'm searching in Google, it's convenient to leave the original page of search items open then open each search item in a new tab. Once you've finished looking at a search item you can close the tab and go back to your original list to look for further info.

Guess what? The popup right click menu had as item number two, "Open Link in New Tab". Version 4 now has this as menu item number one. Makes sense but how long is it going to take for me to remember to not blindly click on item number two? Ahhhh! - Geesh. I just looked it up on Google and found that Ctrl + Left Click opens a link in a new tab. [slaps forehead] Oh my gawd, I'm an idiot! [laughs] We get so focused on doing what we want to do, we hardly ever stop to check if there may be a simpler slash faster way of doing things which in the long run will save us scads of time and effort.

The new default position of the home button is off to the right hand side of the address bar. Fortunately, I knew and I use the speed key combination of Alt + Home to return me to my preferred starting position of Google. Nevertheless, after fiddling around, I did manage to figure out how to modify the bar with View, Toolbars, Customize. By the way, the first couple of times I tried to do this, my changes wouldn't stick. I'm not sure why. Oh yeah, the search button or should I say search input box? Do I really need slash want this? I've always opened a new tab, hit Alt + Home to get to "my" home page of Google then starting my search. After all, I'm leaving my list of search items there for consultation as I open any items in new tabs. Why have a search input box? To each his own.

Several reviews have talked about how Chrome's minimalist user interface seems to have been influential in the new designs of both Firefox and IE that is, paring things down. It's a good point Google was making. Once we know what the heck we're doing, why clutter up the screen with a lot of unnecessary stuff? Let's focus on the web and the page we're trying to look at.

JavaScript
By the way, why use Firefox and not IE? In the beginning, my user experience was not dictated by the user interface. I was doing some web development with JavaScript for the company I work for and I found the debugger and error checker in Firefox easier to use than what IE was offering. I still tested in IE as I wanted to be cross-browser compatible, but I used Firefox for all my main development work. It was then I discovered how Microsoft for some ungodly reason had done a bad job with their browser. Now this is IE version 6 we're talking about, supposedly the worst browser ever released on the market according to the pundits. In Microsoft's implementation of JavaScript, they added all sorts of "non standard" extensions to JavaScript. I had written stuff in IE; got it to work just fine then it would fail in Firefox. When I investigated, I discovered Microsoft's JavaScript objects had methods and properties which were proprietary to IE; nobody else in the market - Firefox, Safari, Opera - recognized them. Why did they do that? I eventually figured out how to write in a "standard" way using code universally accepted by the W3.Org but that led me to always do my initial work in Firefox then test in other browsers.

Rich Internet Application
This is more of a sidebar than actually talking about this new version of Firefox, bear with me. Back when my development work was going whole hog, I was looking for that elusive RIA (Rich Internet Application) to provide me with a UI (User Interface) framework for my development. Could I have an all-inclusive "app" for the web? Everything I had written up to that point had been relatively simple code, completely my own stuff or code snippets I had plagiarized from the Net. One "library" I did look at extensively - I actually got my company to buy a copy so I could play with it - was a JavaScript library called Bindows. If you're a developer, I'm sure you will be fascinated like I was at the potential of the UI and its application of AJAX. Visit the Bindows web site and look at the demo. At the end of the day though, I stopped my development work for my company and abandoned not just Bindows, but web development altogether. [chuckles] As a manager, I am supposed to manage not play with the toys. My programmers get to have all the fun while I waste my day writing reports nobody reads. [sigh] What a meaningful life.

Firefox Sync
I have a desktop at work. This service supposedly will allow me to sync my Firefox settings with my laptop. Sounds pretty good. According to Wikipedia: Firefox Sync allows users to synchronize bookmarks, browsing history, preferences, passwords, filled forms, and last 25 opened tabs across multiple computers. Firefox Sync keeps user data on Mozilla servers, but the data is encrypted in such a way that no third party, not even Mozilla, can access user information.

I haven't used this service so I'm not going to say it's good or bad. But I am scratching my head. My laptop is here; my desktop is there (I'm looking at it), and yet, I have to send my info all the way to California.

Keyboard shortcuts
I am a big nut about using the keyboard. I have my hands on the keyboard typing most of the time so I find it a bit of a pain to always have to go to the mouse to do something. Surprising enough, there are tons of keyboard shortcuts that the average person never bothers to learn. Too bad; they are real time savers.

How to close a tab
Ctrl + F4 or Ctrl + W. Okay, this isn't a Firefox thing; it's a Windows keyboard shortcut for its multiple document interface (MDI).

Open a new tab
Ctrl + T

Cycle through the open tabs
Ctrl + Tab. Or Ctrl + Shift + Tab to go backwards. Don't forget that in Windows, Alt + Tab allows you to cycle through open applications.

Open a link in a new tab
Ctrl + left mouse click

Open a link in a new window
Shift + left mouse click

Turn caret browsing on/off
F7. I can see you scratching your head thinking, "What the heck is caret browsing?" Try it. It puts a text-like cursor on the screen as you would see in a word processor so you can highlight and copy text. A pretty nifty alternative to trying to highlight text with your mouse.

Final Word
Can I or anybody have a final word on any of this? You use something; it becomes familiar; you stick with it. Sometimes familiarity is far important than a supposed sleeker user interface or speed. You just like to call up an app, click on whatever and get what you're looking for. You do not want to be spending minutes of valuable time horsing around with the menu and buttons or going through the Help trying to figure out how something works. After all, you're not a professional tech person whose job, no meaning of life is to play with toys. No, you actually have a job or a hobby whose primary goal does not entail developing computer skills per se but to be achieving something completely unrelated to computers. A computer is merely a means to an ends, a tool in arriving at your destination.

I'm writing this in the morning. I just went to my kitchen to grab a second cup of coffee. My coffee make is on the left hand side of my kitchen counter. Imagine that I come home one day and somebody has moved it to the right hand side of the counter. I walk in; reach for the coffee pot and this person goes, "Ta-da! Look at how much better that is."

Really? Listen you little jerk wad, I haven't got time to be horsing around with your s**t. The meaning of my life is not defined on where the coffee maker is located but on getting a cup of coffee and moving on to my real purpose in life. If you were actually in my kitchen at this moment, I would pick up the coffee pot and beat you and your entire development team senseless. Does your job description actually say that your job defines your value in the workplace by just moving stuff around? I moved to Office 2007 and its ribbon. Maybe the next generation of users who have nothing to compare this to will just accept it and get on with their lives but after over two years, I have to admit to still not being familiar with it and I still ask myself periodically, "Why?" I switched to Windows 7 and once again, you guys think your changes to the UI to be brilliant. I'm here to tell you that they're not. My purpose in life is not defined by having to periodically re-learn Windows every time the boys in Redmond decide to foist a new version on us and have to change something in order to get us to fork over more money to Bill. XP worked just fine, thank you very much.

Gee, do I sound frustrated? Okay, I like Firefox. It is my preferred browser. But like any piece of software I have to "suffer" through the next upgrade. I install it then I grit my teeth preparing myself to plough through the Help as I try to figure out sometimes how basic, basic things now function because some subtle change has, well, moved my cheese.


References

Wikipedia: Firefox
Mozilla Firefox is a free and open source web browser descended from the Mozilla Application Suite and managed by Mozilla Corporation. As of February 2011, Firefox is the second most widely used browser with approximately 30% of worldwide usage share of web browsers. The browser has had particular success in Germany and Poland, where it is the most popular browser with 60% usage and 47% respectively.

Wikipedia: Firefox 4
Mozilla Firefox 4 is the latest version of the Mozilla Firefox web browser, released on March 22, 2011.

Wikipedia: Firefox Sync
Firefox Sync allows users to synchronize bookmarks, browsing history, preferences, passwords, filled forms, and last 25 opened tabs across multiple computers. Firefox Sync keeps user data on Mozilla servers, but the data is encrypted in such a way that no third party, not even Mozilla, can access user information.

NJN Network - Mar 23/2011
Internet Exporer 9 wins speed race then stumbles by Stephen Pate
Actual use of Internet Explorer 9 can be a painful experience while Firefox 4 is smooth

Wikipedia: Who moved my cheese?
Who Moved My Cheese? An Amazing Way to Deal with Change in Your Work and in Your Life, published in 1998, is a motivational book by Spencer Johnson written in the style of a parable or business fable. It describes change in one's work and life, and four typical reactions to said change by two mice and two "littlepeople", during their hunt for cheese. A New York Times business bestseller since release, Who Moved My Cheese? remained on the list for almost five years and spent over 200 weeks on Publishers Weekly's hardcover nonfiction list.

2011-03-27

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Saturday, 26 March 2011

Movie Review: The Adjustment Bureau

This 2011 film, a "romantic science fiction thriller", is loosely based on a 1954 short story by Philip K. Dick called "Adjustment Team". The film was written and directed by George Nolfi and stars Matt Damon and Emily Blunt with Terence Stamp and John Slattery. Slattery is recognisable from his recent work on the hit TV series Mad Men.

Without giving away the whole story, the film is a romance as David Norris (Matt Damon) meets Elise (Emily Blunt) and they both seem to know that they are meant for each other no matter what else goes on in their lives. It's a thriller as we have our protagonists trying to elude a mysterious group of people. It's science fiction as the mysterious group can do things which defy the laws of physics.

The crux of the story is that this mysterious group of people somehow control our lives. There is a plan and when there are deviations in the plan, the group steps in to make an adjustment to get everything back on track. David was not supposed to meet Elise so the group breaks them up and tries to keep them apart. What's left unsaid throughout the film is whether or not these people are angels and whether their boss is God.

If there is some sort of bigger theme to the movie, it is whether or not we have free will or whether everything is pre-ordained. If all this is pre-ordained, we can argue that yes, there is a plan and that plan was written by somebody other than ourselves. If not, we could argue for free will and perhaps for the element of chance in our lives. Not everything can be explained by a plan.

Let me though stop right there. In reading other critiques of the film I noted that some reviewers got into this philosophical discussion of God, free will, pre-ordained events etc. pretty much how some people went overboard analysing Inception. Sorry folks, this isn't a religious treatise; this is a movie. It's entertainment and certainly not the most profound filming of the subject matter. Let's not start ascribing to it all sorts of hidden meaning, profound implications, and spiritual ramifications. It's just a movie.

Philip Dick
One curious background note to this cinematic endeavour is that the story of the film is based on a short story written by Philip Dick in 1954. It seems odd that the writer (and director) of the film, Georg Nolfi, would have plumbed the depths of an author who certainly isn't on the New York Times Bestseller list. I quote from Wikipedia:

Philip Kindred Dick (1928–1982) was an American novelist, short story writer and essayist whose published work is almost entirely in the science fiction genre. Dick explored sociological, political and metaphysical themes in novels dominated by monopolistic corporations, authoritarian governments and altered states. In his later works Dick's thematic focus strongly reflected his personal interest in metaphysics and theology. He often drew upon his own life experiences in addressing the nature of drug abuse, paranoia and schizophrenia, and transcendental experiences in novels such as A Scanner Darkly and VALIS.

The novel The Man in the High Castle bridged the genres of alternate history and science fiction, earning Dick a Hugo Award for Best Novel in 1963. Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said, a novel about a celebrity who awakens in a parallel universe where he is unknown, won the John W. Campbell Memorial Award for best novel in 1975. "I want to write about people I love, and put them into a fictional world spun out of my own mind, not the world we actually have, because the world we actually have does not meet my standards", Dick wrote of these stories. "In my writing I even question the universe; I wonder out loud if it is real, and I wonder out loud if all of us are real." Dick referred to himself as a "fictionalizing philosopher."

In addition to 44 published novels, Dick wrote approximately 121 short stories, most of which appeared in science fiction magazines during his lifetime. Although Dick spent most of his career as a writer in near-poverty, ten of his stories have been adapted into popular films since his death, including Blade Runner, Total Recall, A Scanner Darkly, Minority Report, and now, The Adjustment Bureau. In 2005, Time magazine named Ubik one of the one hundred greatest English-language novels published since 1923. In 2007, Dick became the first science fiction writer to be included in The Library of America series.

Blade Runner? Total Recall? Minority Report? Wait a sec, this Philip Dick guy is no small potatoes. These three films are not just three films, these are three great films. As I read the words "Dick spent most of his career as a writer in near-poverty", I look up to discover that Blade Runner came out in 1982, the year of his death. Too bad Dick didn't live long enough to see that his work was finally recognized.

Final Word
Does The Adjustment Bureau work as a film? Overall, this movie is good. I have the feeling that George Nolfi, the writer and director, was shooting for another Inception (see my blog Movie Review: Inception: My dream critique). Science fiction as a genre allows anybody to do anything as we can suspend the laws of physics and go nuts visually. However, Nolfi restricts himself with really just one trick - the teleportation via various doors - so the film has none of visually stunning laws of physics bending scenes of Inception. Of course, what a difference in budgets: The Adjustment Bureau clocked in at $62 million while Inception's budget topped out at $160 million. An extra hundred million will buy you a lot of special effects.

As I said, the film is good; it's a respectable "good". (Rotten Tomatoes: 72%) However, I'm now going to qualify that. It is good in that it is worth a look on a Saturday night curled up on your sofa with a bowl of popcorn. In that sense, it's a good hour and a half of entertainment. I'm not sure I'd fork over the price of a ticket at the theatre. I saw Inception at the IMAX and its special effects made it worthwhile shelling out for the knock-your-socks-off visual experience but The Adjustment Bureau? I don't think so. Wait to rent it to watch on your TV.



References

Rotten Tomatoes: The Adjustment Bureau: 72%

Wikipedia: The Adjustment Bureau
The Adjustment Bureau is a 2011 American film loosely based on the Philip K. Dick short story, "Adjustment Team".

Wikipedia: Adjustment Team
"Adjustment Team" is a science fiction short story by Philip K. Dick. It was first published in Orbit Science Fiction, Sept-Oct 1954, No.4.

Wikipedia: Philip K. Dick
Philip Kindred Dick (December 16, 1928 – March 2, 1982) was an American novelist, short story writer and essayist whose published work is almost entirely in the science fiction genre.

my blog: Movie Review: Inception: My dream critique
My movie review in one word: deception. Picky, picky, you say? Well, how about The Matrix? There's a film that truly captured my imagination and somehow, I don't quite see "Inception Reloaded" and "Inception Revolutions" coming out any time soon.

2011-03-26

Site Map - William Quincy BelleFollow me on Twitter

Friday, 25 March 2011

Why isn't Wall Street in jail?

Recently, Rolling Stone published this question with a 10 page answer from reporter Matt Taibbi detailing some of what's gone down since the worldwide financial meltdown of 2008. I'm certain that as cynical we all are, the answers will not come as any sort of shock, but more of a confirmation of our suspicions that the rich get richer and the rest of us schmucks get trampled on without being able to do anything about it. The world is so big and complicated that at the end of the day does anybody truly know what's going on never mind who's to blame when anything does go wrong?

Many probably look at Rolling Stone Magazine as a hip rag connected to the music industry with all the latest and greatest about their favourite bands. Those same are either too young or have taken one too many tokes to remember the gonzo journalism of Hunter S. Thompson when his drug addled perspective on the American way graced the pages of the mag and set something of a standard in how reporting could drop the F bomb spelled in full with little regard for the censors or the prudent reserve of some of the readership. And that meant topics which were not about music, but about politics, big business, and society, all of those things which keep the lights on and the DVD players pumping out the beat.

So, imagine my interest when my eyes fell upon the above question with the tagline, "Financial crooks brought down the world's economy - but the feds are doing more to protect them than to prosecute them." Like a lot of people, I remain interested, no, fascinated by a crisis that didn't affect me personally, but reportedly left the entire world less well off. Of course, I'm probably affected but don't fully appreciate how. The numbers bandied about when talking about the bailouts and the amounts added to the debts of various countries have so many zeroes after them that I am no longer able to grasp the magnitude of the financial tsunami which engulfed the planet. I keep hearing a questing which goes like, "What is the legacy we are leaving our children?" and wonder that if I don't necessarily feel the pinch right now, will future generations be sinking under the financial burden being created today?

Taibbi talks about each of the big names we've come to associate with what is called the biggest financial crisis since the Great Depression of the 1930s: AIG, Goldman Sachs, Lehman Brothers, JP Morgan Chase, Bank of America and Morgan Stanley. Despite attributing the blame for the most fraudulent financial malfeasance to the people running these companies, the reporter makes note of how no one has gone to jail. He adds that to add insult to injury, many times the people who have actually committed the crimes do not pay the fines themselves, the companies do and do so usually using funds from their own investors. The companies and their leaders and employees get off scot free and the ones paying the tab are the ones who have placed their hard earned money with these institutions.

The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) is the watchdog of Wall Street. It is their responsibility to look out for bad things and while the agency itself does not have prosecutorial powers, they do work closely with the Department of Justice (DOJ) whose job is to put the bad people in jail. Taibbi writes though that this isn't working. He says curiously that this isn't associated with any political party and it doesn't matter who's in office. It seems to be a question of the cozy relationship which exists between all the players, those in the government and those on Wall Street. This incestuous relationship has most of these people on a first name basis so that somebody at SEC may find themselves investigating not a criminal per se but possibly a friend.

An example of this lax enforcement is the story of Al "Chainsaw" Dunlap. SEC discovered that Sunbeam was using fraudulent accounting practices to hide losses from its investors and inflate profits. Its punishment for CEO Dunlap was a fine of $500,000 while barring him from running a public company again. Dunlap's net worth was an estimated $100 million and Taibbi points out that Dunlap had to do no jail time and retired on only $99.5 million. According to Wikipedia, Dunlap's career is checkered with shady practices and bad deals and CNBC shows him as number six on their list of the worse CEOs of all time.

Bank of America was caught hiding $5.8 billion in bonuses from shareholders. SEC fined them $165 million but did not require them to admit to any wrongdoing. I calculate that to only be 2.95% which in the grand scheme of things - $5.8 billion - is merely chickenfeed.

Taibbi writes: To understand the significance of this, one has to think carefully about the efficacy of fines as a punishment for a defendant pool that includes the richest people on earth — people who simply get their companies to pay their fines for them. Conversely, one has to consider the powerful deterrent to further wrongdoing that the state is missing by not introducing this particular class of people to the experience of incarceration. "You put Lloyd Blankfein in pound-me-in-the-ass prison for one six-month term, and all this bulls**t would stop, all over Wall Street," says a former congressional aide. "That's all it would take. Just once."

And who is Lloyd Blankfein I can hear you asking? He is the chairman of Goldman Sachs. FYI: Matt Taibbi has written an article "The Great American Bubble Machine" which presents some eye-opening information about this company and their complicity in various financial problems including the 2008 crisis.

It is interesting to read the reporter's accounts of various people involved in policing the financial industry who had proof of malfeasance but were either ignored or in some cases, fired. Is this an example of government inefficiency? Laziness? Or culpability in the whole affair? In the post-crash analysis, much of what is being retold seems so obvious, like trying to sneak an elephant up to your room after lights out, that it almost defies the imagination how anybody could miss the signs.

Taibbi answers this question at the end of his article. If government and big business look like they are in bed together, a glance at the names of the players reveals that government and big business are in bed together. People who have worked at SEC and other regulatory agencies have moved on to big business by making "a million-dollar Passing through the Revolving Door", ending up working for the same firms they used to police. He calls this a disturbing picture of a closed and corrupt system, a timeless circle of friends that virtually guarantees a collegial approach to the policing of high finance and closes with some examples of current law enforcement.

In 2010, the government deported 393,000 people. A mom lied about where she lived in order to get her kids into a better school district and was sent to jail for 10 days for fraud. But bankers? Taibbi adds that financial crimes don't seem real; you don't see the culprits waving guns in liquor store or dragging coeds into bushes. However he calls them worse. The perpetrators are rich with every conceivable social advantage but do what they do at the expense of others with immunity from any responsibility if anything goes wrong.

Pigs and Hogs
There's a wonderful saying my wife likes to use: Pigs get fat, hogs get slaughtered. No one denies that there isn't greed, but it seems there's greed then there's greed. What if in getting supposedly "your share", your actions actually destroy the system? What if you kill the goose that lays the golden eggs?

Oddly enough, the story that Taibbi tells puts a new spin on the concept of crime. The ins and outs of the situation are so complicated, you have a difficult time determining if there was a crime. If you do figure out there's a crime, you have a difficult time figuring out who is responsible and by the time the proverbial manure hits the fan, the fat cats have gotten their money safely locked up in off-shore accounts. How does the system penalize somebody who's rich? Certainly the fines paid by individuals and companies seem insignificant in comparison with the vast sums of money being earned by these players. A fine is nothing more than the price of doing business; it certainly isn't punishment and it certainly doesn't seem to be a deterrent to this despicable behaviour.

Are we all dishonest at heart?
Here's my scenario. I put you in front of an open bank vault and tell you that you are free and clear to take any amount you want; it is guaranteed that no one will ever know and you will never get caught. The question now is not whether you'll be punished; the question is merely whether you can overcome any moral compunction which would prevent you from taking the money. Yes, you could choose to not take the money but this would in no way benefit anybody or hurt anybody. The only aspect of this is that the money isn't yours. You would be taking money that wouldn't belong to you.

What would you do? I'm betting you'd take it. Why? Well, why not? Leaving the money benefits absolutely nobody on Earth; it would only benefit your conscious.

Apparently, back in the late 50's, a postal worker in San Francisco found a bag full of unmarked bills (unmarked = the bills could not have been traced) which had apparently fallen off a Brink's truck. - How does a bag of money "fall off" a truck? - The worker turned the bag in. When the story broke, the postal worker supposedly received letters from all over the United States telling him he was an idiot; he should have kept the money. Ha! I'd say those people wouldn't think twice about cleaning out the vault in my devised scenario above!

Dishonest to the limit
Everybody give me $1, just one measly dollar. I'm going to be rich and you're only out a dollar. Where's the harm?

That's the point, where is the harm because we can't see it. In the original Wall Street, Gordon Gecko took over companies, broke them up then sold the pieces all without caring about the poor schmos he put out of a job. This was business and this was about making a profit. At what point does making a profit go too far; at what point is there a risk of killing the golden goose? Pigs get fat; hogs get slaughtered.

Final Word
Matt Taibbi has written an excellent article. I am perusing some other pieces by him and I think he's got his finger on the pulse of finances in general and the financial crisis in particular. Check out "The Great American Bubble Machine" to hear more about Goldman Sachs, a very scary and nefarious company.

On a related note, I would recommend to anybody the documentary Inside Job which is about the 2008 financial crisis. Unlike your common horror flick trying to scare you with zombies and such, this film is a true horror story as it is the true story of a debacle of such immense proportions, I for one do not fully grasp what happened.

Let's all get informed. The people in power are counting on our ignorance and complacency. Individually, we're small but together and united, we can do something.


References

Rolling Stone - Feb 16/2011
Why Isn't Wall Street in Jail? by Matt Taibbi
Financial crooks brought down the world's economy — but the feds are doing more to protect them than to prosecute them.

Wikipedia: Matt Taibbi
Matthew C. "Matt" Taibbi (born March, 1970) is an American author and polemical journalist reporting on politics, media, finance, and sports for Rolling Stone and Men's Journal. Previously he edited and wrote for The eXile, the New York Press, and The Beast. His July 2009 Rolling Stone article "The Great American Bubble Machine" famously described Goldman Sachs as "a great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money."

my blog: Movie Review: Inside Job

Rolling Stone - Apr 5/2010
The Great American Bubble Machine by Matt Taibbi
From tech stocks to high gas prices, Goldman Sachs has engineered every major market manipulation since the Great Depression -- and they're about to do it again

YouTube - July 4/2009
Rolling Stone: The Great American Bubble Machine PT.1 of 5
In Rolling Stone Issue 1082-83, Matt Taibbi takes on "the Wall Street Bubble Mafia" — investment bank Goldman Sachs. The piece has generated controversy, with Goldman Sachs firing back that Taibbi's piece is "an hysterical compilation of conspiracy theories" and a spokesman adding, "We reject the assertion that we are inflators of bubbles and profiteers in busts, and we are painfully conscious of the importance in being a force for good." Taibbi shot back: "Goldman has its alumni pushing its views from the pulpit of the U.S. Treasury, the NYSE, the World Bank, and numerous other important posts; it also has former players fronting major TV shows. They have the ear of the president if they want it." Here, now, are excerpts from Matt Taibbi's piece and video of Taibbi exploring the key issues.

Wikipedia: Goldman Sachs
The article's section called Controversies lists some scary dealings of this company which would make anybody wonder just how wicked it is.

2011-03-25

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