October 2002 Archives

Mac Maya 4.5 - NO Feature Parity

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I just returned from an Apple seminar in Chicago, a demo of Shake 2.5. It was an interesting demo, but I came looking for one specific piece of information on the new Maya 4.5 Mac release. They had a working Maya 4.5 installation, so I found the answer. And it is very bad news.
Alias|Waverfront has been heralding their Mac/PC/Irix products as having version parity. Unfortunately Mac Maya 4.5 is missing one feature that I consider essential to providing feature parity, the EPS import tool 3D Invigorator. If you do any 3D modeling professionally, you know you will be using 3D packages like Adobe Illustrator to make templates for common tasks like 3D beveled type. Maya's 3.5's native EPS import tool is broken and often makes huge errors converting type outlines. The tool is completely useless. This problem was solved in PC versions by the 3D Invigorator plugin, which includes a lot of bonus features. Maya 4.5 includes 3D Invigorator for free, but NOT in the Mac version. The Maya docs say it is not included in the Mac version and must be purchased separately. If you check the Zaxwerx site, you will see that they have discontinued 3D Invigorator, it is replaced by ProModeler for the price of $495. But there is no Mac version. $495 isn't a bad price for a Maya plugin, but hell, it's free with the Maya 4.5 PC version. What the hell is Alias|Wavefront thinking when they claim feature parity, when the Mac version has no way to reliably import EPS files? Without this single feature, Maya will be difficult, if not impossible to use in a professional workflow.

The Longest Print Job in History

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I was just reminiscing about an incident that happened many years ago, one of the strangest things I ever did with a computer. A friend of mine had a new PC and printer, a cheapo 286PC clone and an HP Laserjet I clone with a 3rd party PostScript ROM addon. It was a total kluge, and was incredibly slow. We finally got ahold of a primitive PostScript program to drive the printer, I think it was Ventura Publisher, I was anxious to take the printer on a couple of laps around the track, to see what it could do. I went over to my friend's studio, it was Friday afternoon, we had a couple of beers and put the printer through its paces. And oh man, it was slow as a dog. I did a couple of odd effects like a PS pattern fill, and it would take 20 minutes to print. I found some funny patterns in the ROM like random bullet holes, so on a lark, I did a page using that pattern filled inside a highway sign (from a symbol font). It completely hung the printer. It was getting late on Friday afternoon and everyone wanted to go home, my friend said he just left his computer on all the time so we just walked away and the job never did print out.
Only 3 days later did I hear the end of the story. Monday morning, one of the studio workers came in early about 8AM and started brewing coffee. She was all alone in the studio, sitting by the computer when she was startled and spilled her coffee, the printer had dropped my freshly printed page right into her lap. We figured my print job ran from about 5:30PM Friday to 8:30AM Monday, that's more than 2.5 days to print a single page! And it was just a random postscript pattern inside a simple outline. What was that printer doing all weekend?

Winter Arrives

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I like to watch weather radar and capture some of the nice gif loops. I got Imagemagick running so I can process the huge animated gifs down to something blog-sized. Here's one at 40%, showing winter snow meeting fall rain, along a diagonal line through Iowa.

Disinfotainment presents a fascinating look at Japan's latest Nobel Laureate, Tanaka Koichi, as it was presented on the TV news inside Japan. Tanaka won the Nobel Prize for Chemistry for his groundbreaking work in protein analysis. Tanaka could not be more different than the co-winner, Dr. John Fenn. Tanaka is 43, barely half Dr. Fenn's age. Most Nobel Prizes are usally awarded as the culmination of a long career, Tanaka is one of the youngest ever to receive the Nobel in Chemistry. Fenn is a university professor in Virginia, Tanaka is a mild-mannered salariman engineer at Shimadzu Corp in Kyoto. Tanaka and Dr. Fenn share half the prize, Dr. Kurt Wüthrich, a professor from Switzerland, shares the other half. Dr. Wüthrich's work made the work of Tanaka and Dr. Fenn obsolete instantly, just a few years after their amazing discoveries.
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But none of this is apparent from the FujiTV news coverage of Tanaka. They make no mention that he received a company bonus of only 10,000 Yen (about $90US at that time) for the patent on his process (which is now owned by Shimadzu). No mention is made that Tanaka repeatedly and deliberately flunked his annual managerial reviews. He preferred to remain in his post, quietly pursuing his research instead of being promoted to management.
But Tanaka's quiet salariman attitude has made him a media star, and the media coverage is quite revealing of Japanese attitudes. In our video, we see Tanaka arriving at work attired in a suit and tie, he is obviously not accustomed to dressing up since his tie is so wide, it has been out of fashion since about 1980. He is greeted by his coworkers with cheers of "Banzai" and a bouquet of flowers, and seems a bit disconcerted at all the fuss. The scene switches to Tanaka's family home, where his brother and mother are receiving all the visitors and bouquets. Mrs. Tanaka proudly brings out an elementary school essay little Koichi-kun wrote, describing his interest in exploring the ocean depths in a submarine. While interesting, there is nothing particularly precocious about this essay, except perhaps his application of glow-in-the-dark paint to his illustration. We see an interview with his wife, who says she wishes he would dress better. Next we have the obligatory visit to Tanaka's elementary school, where the new generation of students congratulates him for his prize. Tanaka's niece appears and says he's nice and he always brought her lots of presents when he returned from abroad. During an interview with both Tanaka and his wife, he is asked what he plans to do with the prize money, and he says he'll have to ask his wife. She says he can do whatever he wants with it. He shows the deferential, self-effacing spirit that has made him the humble hero of Japan.
Now we shift to the next day's news coverage. Tanaka is greeted by Prime Minister Koizumi, along with Japan's other new Nobel Laureate, Dr. Koshiba Masatoshi. First the Prime minister shakes their hands in order of age, starting with Dr. Koshiba, in strict accord with formal Japanese customs of respect. They line up in order of age, the Prime Minister in the middle, grasping their hands and declaring them to be like 3 brothers. Dr. Koshiba stands proudly, like any ambitious 76 year old Senior Professor, standing on the shoulders of his junior research assistants (who are the ones who really do all the work). But Tanaka is unaccustomed to such celebrity events. He says he could not even look the Prime Minister in the eye, and was embarassed when the highest elected official in Japan calls him by the honorific title "sensei." The video backtracks a few hours as Tanaka departs from Kyoto on the bullet train. He is clearly not accustomed to luxuries like a reserved seat in the Green Car, and says he has never ridden on this type of shinkansen before. As the train arrives, he claps his hands together with glee, like a child spotting his first shinkansen.
The story shifts tone dramatically as we see a brief excerpt from the famous Nobel speech given by Kenzaburo Oe, "Japan, The Ambiguous, and Myself." Oe's 1994 speech, given in English with excerpts in French, galvanized the world literary community and is still discussed and debated today. Commentators now speculate on whether Tanaka can deliver his Nobel speech in English. They search out his brother, who describes our Nobel Laureate's passing (but not excelling) elementary school grades in English class. Next they interview his old English teacher, who seems a bit put off, and says how rude it is to ask such a question. But the commentators assure us that Tanaka's years of research in Shimadzu's overseas offices have prepared him fully for the task.
Now we come to the closing commentary on this subject. The announcer describes how both Nobel Laureates complained to the Prime Minister that scientific research is not valued highly enough in Japanese society. The announcer asserts that Japanese society only values these researchers once they have gained recognition in the West. Another announcer expresses his wish that Tanaka give his speech in English, so his spirit is more clearly shown to the world.
I found this coverage most typical of the Japanese media. They focus not on his achievements, but on his family. They focus on Tanka's averageness, his dedication to his work rather than ambition for climbing the corporate ladder. He is the nail that never stuck up and thus was never hammered down. Tanaka represents the dreams of every average faceless corporate salariman, and they love him for achieving what they could not.
BlogTV presents the latest slice-of-life video from Japan, about shihatsudensha, the first train to leave the station every morning. Let's hang around the trains at 4AM and see what kind of strange people we can find.
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We first encounter a young woman, dressed to the nines, she is on her way into an after-hours club at 4AM. Most people are getting ready to go home at this hour, but she's just getting ready to start partying. We watch her enter the trendy Velfarre nightclub, and dance til she's ready to drop, or 6AM, whichever comes first. Then she emerges from the club, dressed in a business outfit, and heads off to work. Her eyes are puffy, her hair is in disarray, but she's ready to start her day of work at the office.
Now back to the station, where we find a variety of drunken salarimen sleeping on the benches. Their faces are blurred to prevent their wives and families from embarassment. The reporter gingerly goes up to prod at a couple of them and asks one of them if he can tell us why he's sleeping in the station. He yells out "Provider!" which makes no sense in either Japanese or English. But one salariman is awake and alert. He is climbing the escalator in the wrong direction, apparently he needs the exercise to sober up. After a few minutes he heads off on the train.
Suddenly, there is a huge influx of people dressed in identical white pants, shirts, and hats. The all get on the train, but where are they going and who are they? They are fanatical devotees of rajio taiso, an exercise program that originated on radio and migrated to TV. It is an institution that has endured for decades, in almost any place in Japan you can see people doing calesthenics before work. Two of the women say they've been doing this every day for 20 and 25 years. Hundreds of rajio taiso fans have gathered in a stadium for a group event, they exercise together, and drift away back to their lives. Surely most of them spent far more time getting to the station and back than they spent exercising.
As we head through the station one last time, we encounter a rarely seen figure, ryoushou obaasan, an old peddler woman. She has a burden strapped to her back, it is almost larger than she is. We see other ryoushou obaasan passing through the station, some of them cannot stand up straight even unburdened, after all those years of carrying such heavy loads. This woman is carrying rice and vegetables from her rural home into town for sale, packed in boxes and wrapped in a cloth in the traditional manner. A young woman comes to try to strap on the boxes and she cannot stand up, she is surprised at the weight of the package. We follow her through her trek, arriving at her peddling spot, and back home again. We learn a bit of her history, of how she was forced to peddling to support her family, due to poverty. She has been peddling for 40 years, and declares atashi wa kotsu kotsu kotsu kotsu yatteimasu (I will keep going on and on and on). Her children gather around, expressing their gratitude for her unending labors with a nice back massage. In closing, we see her trying out the load she will carry tomorrow, the same time, same train, same destination, the same as she has been doing for the last 40 years.

Police Charities Fraud

If there's anything I hate more than cops, it's phony police charities. I just received a fraudulent mailing from the American Federation of Police and Concerned Citizens, here is a quote from their mailing:
Across the country, the American Federation of Police and Concerned Citizens provides much-needed support to spouses, children, and other family members of police officers killed in the line of duty. We provide funding for grief counseling, scholarships, direct emergency financial assistance and other programs to loved ones left behind.
Except it's all a lie. This organization isn't a charity for the families of dead cops, it goes to the American Police Hall of Fame, a tiny "museum" in a shabby industrial building in Florida. The AFPCC's main goal seems to be the promotion of the the Death Penalty and private ownership of handguns, they even claim to be a local militia
What We Stand for:
1. We are a strong, powerful and professional organization on the side of law enforcement.
2. We believe that all law-abiding citizens have the right (if they so select), to own firearms for self-defense and sport. We are also ready to serve as a standing "militia" during any disaster or national emergency, as part of civil defense preparedness.
3. We support swift punishment for career criminals.
4. We favor the death penalty and are determined to achieve drug-free schools and communities.
I have contacted the Iowa Attorney General to make sure they have filed the required financial disclosure forms. If they've filed, I expect that over 90% of the donations go to "administrative expenses" and less than 10% to actual charitable work. That's how these frauds work, the charity's officers keep all the money and give a tiny amount to the people they raised money for.
There is nothing more despicable in the post-9/11 world than scamming money in the name of dead cops. I may hate cops, but I hate fake cops raising money for fake charities even more.
Update: I located AFPCC's records through the California Attorney General's office. It is slightly worse than I suspected, they only give 9% to their charity, and keep 91% for themselves.

Sherlock Headroom

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I was appalled to discover the most horriffic depiction of Sherlock Holmes ever to disgrace the screen, Sherlock Headroom. Matt Frewer, most widely known as Max Headroom, has starred in not one of these cinematic abominations, but three of them and is producing a fourth one. Someone stop him before he Holmes again!
Frewer is just not suited to this role. I know every male actor wants to play Holmes, but the people who deserve the role are limited to those people who can convincingly produce a realistic British accent. This effectively limits the role to native Britons, and definitely not Canadians like Frewer. Jeremy Brett is the definitive Holmes, after his performances, everyone should just give it a rest.

Bureaucracy in Action

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A letter arrived in the mail informing me that my checking account was overdrawn. The letter informed me that my monthly $30 ISP charge via electronic transfer was paid and there was no penalty fee for the overdraft. I don't keep any money in this account, I just put money in to pay the monthly ISP bills, which I discovered are now deducted on the 5th instead of the 15th. I went to the bank to deposit some money and asked the teller to check the transaction. She said the bank had paid the charge, but now I was overdrawn 39 cents. I told her, "so the bank spent 37 cents postage to tell me I was overdrawn 39 cents?" She laughed.

NRN: No Response Necessary

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I am trying to revive an old email shorthand notation, NRN. It is a common courtesy when dashing off a quick note, if you do not need a response to a trivial message. It shows that you do not expect the recipient to expend further time to write a response. But nowadays, nobody seems to know what it means.