•  Last Fortunes Countdown #6 •  Last Fortunes Countdown #5 •  Last Fortunes Countdown #3 & #4 •  Last Fortunes Countdown #2 •  Last Fortunes Countdown #1 •  Fortune for October •  Your Guide to this Fall's Bodily Fluid Moons •  Rinse. Wash. Repeat. •  To the Pole! •  Just a Box of Games, Box 4 •  About Damn Time •  Fortune •  Once More Unto the Breach •  I Surrender •  Just a Box of Games, Box 3 •  Just a Box of Games, Box 2 •  Just a Box of Games, Box 1 •  Gun Belt •  A Man, A Man, A Plan, Not Approved •  Come Home, George McGovern

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«  September 2006  |   Main   |  November 2006  »


»  October 30, 2006

Politics  

Why the Democrats Can't Lose In Iraq:

As the campaign winds down in to the final week, we're going to hear more and more of the standard talking point about Democrats cutting and running, or "losing" in Iraq. Even if the Democrats win the House and/or Senate next week, the unwarranted vilification from the Republicans -- and possibly from even a few of the Democrats -- for those who want to withdraw troops from Iraq will continue at a high volume for the two months before a new Congress convenes and probably for months after.

There's a simple, easy answer to that charge, though, and it's one that ought to be on the lips of everyone who opposes the Administration's policy in Iraq: The Democrats can't lose the Iraq war, because the Republicans have already lost it.

Any slim chance the Bush Administration had to create a stable Iraq is long gone. None of the lofty goals floated for the war have been achieved. The war in Iraq has lasted nearly as long as the US involvement in World War II, during which time the US retook the Pacific from the Japanese, and defeated the Germans in North Africa and Europe. No more putting to try to get the ball in the hole. Game over.

 


»  October 29, 2006

Politics  

The STAR WARS Panel: Thursday, NPR's "Talk of the Nation" ran a segment called "Is Victory in Iraq Still Possible?" Host Neal Conan was joined by retired Gen. John "Jack" Keane, former Army vice chief of staff, and Larry Diamond, an author and former senior advisor to the Coalition Provisional Authority in Baghdad.

Gen. Keane has been cited in a number of articles, and in testimony before Congress as saying the Iraqi people were passive after 35 years of oppression (the violence, paradoxically, doesn't seem particularly passive). Diamond -- who opposed the war but worked in the occupation government -- wrote in his book Squandered Victory that the lesson of Iraq is not "'don't do it' but 'don't do it alone' and 'don't do it with an imperial approach'". In essence, both of the interviewees -- while not necessarily advocates of the war in Iraq -- were participants in the execution of the war and occupation.

Which leaves me to wonder why -- given all that has transpired in this war which has lasted almost as long as the US involvement in World War II -- nobody from the ranks of the people who advocated against going to war in Iraq in the first place ever seems to be asked to join these panels. Shouldn't the opinion of people who were right from the outset -- predicting that there were no WMDs, no connection to al-Qaeda, that deposing Saddam Hussein would lead to a civil war, that an American occupation would not be welcomed with open arms, etc. -- be more valuable than the constant re-estimations of the people who've been wrong about everything since before the invasion?

More particularly, as we ramp up for future military operations (both Democrats and Republicans have called in the past for more troops to be sent to Iraq, but we'll probably need them for Iran next month) it's time for the networks to cast beyond their stable of military warhorses for commentary on strategy and tactics.

The networks need to get people involved in the conversation who aren't ex-military. Retired generals may know how to run a military machine, but that doesn't make them astute political observers, historians, or even knowledgeable about military strategy. Sure, they may know about strategy but it doesn't mean they were good at it themselves.

More importantly, American generals are about the most unlikely people to unsparingly criticize current US foreign policy or military operations. We've seen over the past five years (including the failure of both in Afghanistan as well as Iraq) where a lack of critical discussion of the reasons for going to war and how the war is conducted can get us. It's as if you'd decided to convene a panel to select the greatest films of all time and filled it with nothing but STAR WARS fans. It's going to skew the results.

So please, great gods of cable news, get some people who've studied politics and conflict in region on your speed dials before the next military action. If you've got to use military guys, get some foreign generals who aren't going to be beholden to their former colleagues running the show or who will feel unpatriotic if they make a criticism. Because sometimes we need a little truth for clarity.

 


»  October 25, 2006

Politics  

St. Crispin's Day: Shakespeare's story of Henry V is one of a ruler's son who has lived a dissolute youth then uses dubious rationales to invade a country. But boy his press conferences sounded good.

And Crispine Crispian shall ne're goe by,
From this day to the ending of the World,
But we in it shall be remembred;
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers:
For he to day that sheds his blood with me,
Shall be my brother: be he ne're so vile,
This day shall gentle his Condition.
And Gentlemen in England, now a bed,
Shall thinke themselues accurst they were not here;
And hold their Manhoods cheape, whiles any speakes,
That fought with vs vpon Saint Crispines day.

Henry V, William Shakespeare

25 October is St. Crispin's Day.

 


»  October 23, 2006

Politics  

Operation Iraqi Pressure: Variations of this story have been around since well before Nouri al-Maliki took his seat as prime minister:

Senators Urge Bush on Pressuring Maliki to Stop Violence

Sunday, October 22, 2006

WASHINGTON Republicans and Democrats urged the White House on Sunday to step up the pressure on Iraq's prime minister to crush the militias that are inciting sectarian violence and undermining a fragile democracy.

Senators from both parties expressed wavering confidence in Nouri al-Maliki's ability to come to grips with the rising bloodshed. They said he was the "best horse" for now to support. But they agreed that if no political solution can be found between warring Shiite and Sunni sects, peace will never be achieved.

Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan, the leading Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee, said the Bush administration must pressure the Iraqis to make political compromises on power and oil resources.

....

Why, just last spring -- a Friedman Unit ago -- there were stories like this when Iyad Allawi was still PM:
Bush Predicts 'Victory' Three Years After Iraq Invasion

Washington (AFP) Mar 20, 2006

...

With political party and faction leaders in Baghdad deadlocked over forming a national government, top US senators called on Bush to put greater pressure on them.

Hagel, who said the country had been in a "low-grade" civil war for as long as a year, added that the United States has to stop talking about "victory" and think through responses to a worst-case scenario, like all-out civil war.

"Are we better off today than we were three years ago? Is the Middle East more stable than it was three years ago? Absolutely not," Hagel told ABC.

....

But seriously, do useful idiots like Hagel and Levin have a clue about the pressure Iraqi leaders are already under? They, the Bush administration, and the morons running this show are living in Washington DC. Despite their security guards and armored convoys. Allawi, Maliki, and other members of the Iraqi government are living in Baghdad, are living in a country occupied by the US, with militias and police and militia/police and Iraqi soldiers and Iraqi soldier/militiamen (and a small percentage of al Qaeda terrorists) fighting each other, killing civilians, setting off bombs, using drills for torture, and cutting off people's heads. No member of the US Congress or administration has been assassinated. No member of the US Congress or administration has been shot by US troops.

What kind of "pressure" do these people think can put on members of the Iraqi government that's somehow more powerful than watching their country slide into oblivion?

Billmon has a post along similar lines today, but I wrote my idea down before I saw his column -- I swear -- so I'm staying the course.

 


»  October 22, 2006

Flash  

3D in Flash; How It'll Happen: A few times over the past year, the subject of 3D in Flash has arisen on various Director lists I read (including back in August on dir3d-l). The idea is often met with some cynicism about its possibility. Why? I'm not sure, because while I have no knowledge about how 3D would get introduced into Flash, I can tell you exactly how to do it. And the method mirrors the Shockwave 3D implementation in Director.

The first thing to remember is how SW3D media is incorporated into Director. A SW3D cast member is a little self-contained world containing all of the texture definitions, model resources, models, animations, etc. displayed in the rectangular sprite "window" on the 3D world. Everything that appears within the 3D world is part of an exported scene or content created through the use of scripting. All user interaction with the scene is the result of scripting. The 3D sprite is usually displayed direct-to-stage due to speed issues, but it may be displayed with a transparent background at the risk of reduced refresh rates. That's what we have in Director now, and pretty much what we've had since the release of SW3D in early 2001.

So say that a new version of the Flash engine is introduced with a 3D object model and renderer. It's implemented in much the same way that SW3D members are, as a separate object structure that has no direct correlation to the Timeline/MovieClip model of Flash development. Flash 3D (F3D) model and animation data can be exported from a variety of modeling apps and imported or loaded into Flash movies at both authoring and run-time, just like SW3D.

An animated F3D scene would have the ability to display in a rectangular window, with an alpha channel mask, or behind other Flash elements, just as Flash video is now displayed.

The rendering engine would be based on 2006 standards and capabilities, which are several generations beyond the SW3D/late '90s technology.

F3D objects would play canned animations exported from modelers or made interactive using ActionScript commands, just as interactivity is added to SW3D scenes with Lingo.

That seems pretty doable to me. The bitmap manipulation in Flash benefited from Werner Sharp's experience with Imaging Lingo and a few years of experience. There's no reason a Flash 3D implementation couldn't take advantage of not only the experience of Shockwave 3D but also the numerous general advances in 3D development since SW3D's release in 2001.

There's nothing stopping Flash from using the very same model for 3D support that Director did. It's simply a matter of whether they decide to add the heft to the virtual machine. If they don't show something like this at MAX this week, I'd lay strong odds that it'll be there next year.

For anyone who's already read the "We Band of Director Brothers" post from yesterday, I've posted an audio version of the speech, just for laughs.

MP3 audio of "We Band of Director Programmers" (865K)

Anyone at MAX? Have a great show!

 

Director  

We Band of Director Programmers:

When I first started going to Macromedia conferences in 1994, they were all still held in San Francisco. The first couple I attended were small enough that they hadn't yet started booking the Moscone Center -- they were held in the conference facilities of the Marriott on Market Street. I was still working in the prepress business at the time, so I not only had to pay my own way but take time off from real work to go to a conference that didn't have any bearing on what I was actually making money doing.

My second UCON (1995) was when Shockwave was publicly demonstrated. The prep shop I was working for had been on the Web bandwagon early on, I'd actually set up my own Web server in my home office on a dedicated phone line and a 14.4k modem connection that spring. I'd somehow picked up a gig teaching Director at Portland State University and was just starting full-time freelancing. The knowledge about Shockwave that I gained from the conference that year -- combined with several months of creating text and graphics for online delivery and the knowledge of server technology -- led directly to a contract for my first book by the middle of the next January. That book was essentially the hook for my entire multimedia career.

Those early years of conferences, Director was all over the place. There was so much information you needed more than one person to cover the various avenues. The expo floor was full of Director-related vendors. It's almost hard to remember how prevalent it was back then.

By the 1997 UCON I'd written my second book, The Lingo Programmers Reference, and people recognized my name. Not because of any actual projects I'd done, mind you. It was my first and only UCON speaking engagement -- covering time-based animation and Bezier curves -- and it was intoxicating, because people actually came up to me and thanked me for writing about stuff, which was amazing to me because it's something I can barely stop myself from doing. Left to my own devices, I'd spend all day writing articles and emails and not making any money.

Everyone switched coasts to New York in the spring of 2001 for what was to be the last UCON. In the four years since I'd spoken at UCON, I'd spoken at a number of other conferences, written a Flash book and some other Director stuff plus lots of articles, co-edited Macromedia User Journal, become the editor at Director Online, written parts of the the Director 7 and 8 behavior libraries, and made a pest of myself generally. I was really looking forward to the possibilities of Shockwave 3D, but as I'd warned a focus group I'd attended during a Flash Forward conference, they needed to make sure that there were easy ways to make content for the new technology or it wouldn't take.

I fell off a ladder and broke my leg a few weeks before the Orlando conference in October 2002. I'd put off buying tickets, because business hadn't exactly been great. As it was, being laid up with the leg and subsequent pulmonary embolism made the last quarter of the year even worse, but that is -- as they say -- the breaks.

In terms of Director content, the past couple of MAX conferences have been disappointing. I've gone largely to keep in personal touch with the other Director users I've known over the years and the members of the development team. I had fun in Anaheim last year riding "California Screamin'" over and over. And I must say that I'm forever grateful to whoever scheduled the 2004 conference into New Orleans because Barbara and I got a chance to see that city before it was devastated by the failure of the levees during Hurricane Katrina. But did I get any knowledge about Director out of the couple grand I spent on my conference ticket, airfare, and hotel room? Nah.

I was in Las Vegas a week and a half ago as a jumping-off point for a trip to southern Utah and northern Arizona with my parents and wife, and this was the view from our 10th-floor room at the Stratosphere. That's the whole view, not just one portion of the window.

I'm not going back. I'd like to meet the new team, but I can't justify it. The company I'm working for these days can't justify it. I can meet up with nearly as many Director users at the Game Developers Conference in March as I can at MAX. And that's a sad thing.

Those of you who know me know that I was an English Literature major. Way back when I graduated from the college that Steve Jobs dropped out of, I had to do an undergraduate thesis. Thwarted by the creative writing committee who disliked my proposal for a book that was along exactly the same theme as the new movie Man of the Year starring Robin Williams (thanks for thwarting my screenwriting career, assholes!) I ended up instead reading a lot about Shakespeare, in particular Henry V (then Kenneth Branagh's movie version came out about two months after I gave my defense and its take on the play pretty much agreed with my thesis).

Before the big battle with the French at Agincourt, Henry inspires his followers with a little "courage" speech, which I feel absolutely no problem appropriating for my own uses here. Wednesday (25 October) is St. Crispin's Day.

MP3 audio of "We Band of Director Programmers" (865K)

MAX. O that we now had here
But one ten thousand of those Flash programmers
That do our work to-day!

PLANT. What's he that wishes so?
My cousin MAX? No, my fair cousin;
If we are mark'd to die, we are enow
To do our Director loss; and if to live,
The fewer programmers, the greater share of honour.
God's will! I pray thee, wish not one programmer more.
By Jove, I am not covetous for gold,
Nor care I who doth feed upon my cost;
It yearns me not if programmers my code appropriate;
Such outward things dwell not in my desires.
But if it be a sin to covet honour,
I am the most offending soul alive.
No, faith, my coz, wish not a programmer from Flash.
God's peace! I would not lose so great an honour
As one programmer more methinks would share from me
For the best hope I have. O, do not wish one more!
Rather proclaim it, MAX, through my host,
That he which hath no stomach to this fight,
Let him depart; his passport shall be made,
And crowns for training put into his purse;
We would not die in that programmer's company
That fears his fellowship to die with us.
This day is call'd the feast of Crispian.
He that outlives this day, and comes safe home,
Will stand a tip-toe when this day is nam'd,
And rouse him at the name of Crispian.
He that shall live this day, and see old age,
Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbours,
And say 'To-morrow is Saint Crispian.'
Then will he publish his code and show his DIRs,
And say 'These movies I had on Crispian's day.'
Old men forget; yet all shall be forgot,
But he'll remember, with advantages,
What feats he did that day. Then shall our names,
Familiar in his mouth as household words-
Darrel the Plant, Holgate and Rosenzweig,
McCrystal and Pardi, Newton and Meijer-
Be in their flowing cups freshly rememb'red.
This story shall the good programmer teach his son;
And Crispin Crispian shall ne'er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remembered-
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that programs in Director with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne'er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition;
And programmers in Flash now-ActionScripted
Shall think themselves accurs'd they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That coded with us upon Saint Crispin's day.

 


»  October 20, 2006

Politics  

Irrational Exuberance: The fact that the Dow Jones Industrial average reached the 12,000 mark on 19 October, the 19th anniversary of Black Monday -- the largest drop of the DJIA so far -- was mentioned in a number of news stories.

Given the superstitious natures of investors, it's not too surprising that the presence of a different anniversary is less visible. This Sunday is the 77th anniversary of Black Thursday (24 October 1929), the first day of the stock market crash that led to the Great Depression. Five days later (29 October 1929) -- as jittery investors rushed to get their money out of the market -- the DJIA took a 12% loss.

The DJIA had reached an all-time high less than two months earlier.

 


»  October 6, 2006

Politics  

Catastrophe Disentanglement: As someone on the fringes of software development (by which I mean most of the projects I've worked on over the past dozen years or so would be considered trivial in programming complexity by developers outside the multimedia community) I don't do a lot of reading in programming theory, design, or management. Once in a while, though, I'll dip my toe into the water and read an article that's not specific to one of the applications I use. One that came through from the Gamelan Java Update e-newsletter today was particularly interesting, both professionally and -- amazingly enough -- in a political context.

The lead article in the latest GJU is an excerpt from a book on software project management by E. M. Bennatan. Bennetan was a senior director at Motorola and a vp of engineering at Midway Corporation. His book -- published last spring -- is titled Catastrophe Disentanglement: Getting Software Projects Back on Track.

The chapter discusses what exactly constitutes a "catastrophe" in a development project. He relates the case of a company that attempted to capitalize on a project written in the COBOL language in the post-Y2K era -- after older COBOL applications had been converted to more modern languages -- only to have their experienced programmers reach retirement age or leave, leaving the company with a partially-updated project, not enough experienced programmers on board, and a shrinking pool of talent to draw from outside the company (does that sound familiar Lingo gurus?).

This case illustrates the difficulties decision makers have in accepting the need for drastic measures and is reminiscent of a gambler who cannot get up and walk away. First, there is the natural tendency to put off making the difficult decision in hope that conventional methods will eventually get the project back on track. A second difficulty involves over-commitment to previous decisions, prompting the investment of more resources to avoid admitting mistakes (this is known as escalation).
The whole article is well worth a read (as is a recent New Yorker piece by John Cassidy on neuroeconomics). It places its points in the realm of software development, but there's nothing there that's technical in nature. It could easily be applied to many other types of projects.

Near the end of the excerpt, Bennatan states the steps needed for the catastrophe disentanglement process:

  1. Stop.
  2. Assign an evaluator.
  3. Evaluate project status.
  4. Evaluate the team.
  5. Define minimum goals.
  6. Determine whether minimum goals can be achieved.
  7. Rebuild the team.
  8. Perform risk analysis.
  9. Revise the plan.
  10. Install an early warning system.
The ten steps should be completed in sequence, and the entire process should take no more than two weeks to complete.
I can think of a couple of people this book would be worth sending to. If only they actually read books.

 


»  October 5, 2006

Director  

Bugged About Shockwave: So I'm checking in on Hash Animation:Master, as I'm wont to do from time to time because apart from being a very neat and inexpensive 3D modeling and animation tool (that doesn't have Shockwave 3D export, regrettably) they're based here in the Portland metro area (across the river in Vancouver). I did a review of A:M for MacUser magazine a few years back, but I've never really buckled down and become an expert with any of the various 3D packages I've bought or used over the years. Just enough to get by has been my motto.

Anyway, I happened into the online tutorial page, and there at the top is a "Get Macromedia Shockwave Player" bug, which was interesting to me because Tom McCrystal had asked on a discussion list the other day who among us had a Shockwave bug on their blog.

My own response was that I think it's Adobe's job to promote Shockwave, not mine; that it's Adobe's job to promote shockwave.com, not mine; and that I couldn't think of any helper application that had enticed me to download it because of a bug, rather than some content I wanted to see or hear.

Chalk up one more reason. Nobody knows what the hell Shockwave is. I was pretty surprised to see a Shockwave bug on the tutorial page, and was expecting some sort of Director-based video player when I clicked on the links. But even the computer-savvy guys at Hash have been confused by the decade-long crappy marketing campaign Macromedia ran for Shockwave. All of their training video material actually uses the Flash Player.

 


»  October 4, 2006

Politics  

Fifty Days Out:

Fifty Days Out 4 October 2006 is the 1,849th day of the Global Struggle Against Violent Extremism War On Terror. That's 1,295 days since the invasion of Iraq.

In fifty days -- on Thanksgiving -- the Iraq war will have lasted as long as the American involvement in World War Two.

Now, I never believed that the US had any credible evidence that Iraq posed any kind of threat to the country or that there were any grounds for an invasion. But if you're going to mount a military campaign, it should be done in a professional manner, it should accomplish your objectives, and it should be executed with deliberation. You don't -- as the saying goes -- want to take a knife to a gun fight. The Indiana Jones corollary to that saying is that if you've got a gun, bring it to the knife fight.

Between the attack on Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941 and V-J Day on 14 August 1945, the US mobilized enormous resources to fight Japan and Germany. By 1942, the US and its allies had invaded North Africa and begun to turn back the Japanese in battles at Midway. In the next year, Italy was invaded and the Marines took Guadalcanal and Tarawa. 1944 saw the invasion at Normandy and the retaking of the Philippines. By the spring of 1945 Germany fell. And on the 1,345th day after the bombing of Pearl Harbor Japan surrendered.

Yet in the same period of time, the Bush administration has been unable to defeat and successfully occupy Iraq, despite having an overwhelming advantage as the world's only superpower. America in World War II faced enemies with large populations and standing armies, military technology that was on a par with (and in some cases more advanced than) ours, massive industrial capacity, navies, and air forces. Iraq, on the other hand, had a population 1/12 the size of the US, no heavy industry, hadn't controlled its own airspace for a dozen years, etc., etc. Still, George W. Bush, Donald Rumsfeld, Colin Powell, and the gang couldn't manage to come up with a plan to at least create some sort of stability in Iraq in the same amount of time it took FDR, Truman, and the US government to defeat the Axis powers. That's a heck of an incompetent job

 


»  October 3, 2006

Politics  

Too Much Denial for One State: Last month, NPR's "Day to Day" aired a fairly lengthy explanation of why the previous day's guest had apportioned to the US part of the blame for Saddam Hussein's use of poison gas on Kurdish villages in the 1980s. The person "Day to Day" chose to explain the matter was Peter Galbraith, a former diplomat who has advised and represented the Kurdish government for a number of years. That connection was not mentioned in Galbraith's introduction or in the interview, leaving the uninformed listener to believe that he was simply someone interested in the Kurds, not someone who has actually worked for them in a semi-official capacity.

Last Friday, the same program aired a segment discussing President Clinton's interview with "FOX News Sunday" host Chris Wallace. The segment featured NPR senior correspondent Juan Williams, who said the thinking in Washington insider circles was that Clinton had "set-up" Wallace and FOX. However, the introduction of Williams didn't make any mention that he's been an employee of FOX News for the past decade.

On Monday, "Day to Day" included this in their Letters segment:

ALEX CHADWICK: Also Steve, I see letters about an interview on Friday with NPR senior correspondent Juan Williams, a regular Friday guest. He was talking about an interview that President Clinton had the previous weekend on the FOX TV channel.

STEVE PROFFITT: THat's right, Alex, and we should have said Juan contributes to FOX News as a commentator. We didn't, and we apologize.

Even more accurately, they might have mentioned that Williams and NPR National Political Correspondent Mara Liasson had been half of the panel discussion that directly followed the airing of the Clinton/Wallace interview on "FOX News Sunday".

At least the people at "Day to Day" had some small recognition that they'd made a mistake. I sent emails to the show, the NPR ombudsman (there isn't actually one at the moment, supposedly an assistant's reading the mail), and to Williams himself, pointing out that someone discussing whether their employer and co-worker were "set-up" might be a bit of a conflict of interest. Williams's reply sounds like it could have come out of a Bob Woodward book:

Thanks for the note. And thanks for paying attention. The answer to your question is that the topic of discussion was the former president's interview with Chris Wallace. I was not a party to the interview. My analysis was about the repercussions and debate about the controversy. I have no conflict of interest there. -- Juan

 


»  October 1, 2006

Politics  

Trent Lott: Iraq's a Civil War: This comment from Trent Lott is a few days old but worth a re-examination:

"Why do they hate each other? Why do Sunnis kill Shiites? How do they tell the difference? They all look the same to me."
Some people might call that racist, but I believe he's defining the situation in Iraq as a civil war.