Copyright

All blog posts, unless otherwise noted, are copyrighted to the Author (that's me) and may not be used without written permission.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Privacy

I have not been writing much because I have been so livid about a number of privacy issues that I have not known where to begin.

The large number of anti-women laws being proposed has me at my wit's end (link). Why is it that old, white, male politicians feel they have any right to address any aspect of a woman's reproduction? It would be just as easy to introduce laws that require chemical or medical sterilization, neutering, or castration of men, so why not do that? And using religion or faith as an excuse absurd. No law that is founded on a specific religion's belief system, even if 80% of Americans follow that religion, will stand in the Supreme Court. That's the whole point of the separation of church and state; so that no one religion (or religious ideals) will be promoted above another.

I have no issues with having religious freedom clauses to some reproductive health laws. For example, "Obamacare" wants every health plan to offer reproductive health to women. Some companies/groups cry foul, like churches. If their faith specifically says providing condoms, birth control, and abortions are against their faith, and they actively teach that in their ministry, I have no issue with them asking for and being granted an exception. What will happen is that those companies that then hire women will find that the women will not stick around very long once they learn their heath care is compromised, unless they are of the same faith as the owners/operators and agree with having no coverage in this area. I have female friends in nearly every religion and of both stronger and weaker faiths and my experience tells me these companies will have to do away with this exemption or lose workers. Women will not stand for this.

As an addendum to this issue, many lawmakers are also proposing cutting funding to Planned Parenthood because "it provides abortions." Well, any quick search on the Internet can provide you with a variety of sources that show that, of all the funding provided to Planned Parenthood, only about 3% goes toward abortions. And even then only certain locations provide it. So, these lawmakers are planning to cease funding one of the nation's most effective and critical providers of reproductive health care and advice, that actively promotes ALL types of birth control (including abstinence and adoption, two favorites of most of these lawmakers) because of certain Planned Parenthood facilities in specific locations that are, frankly, just providing the services that the community in which they reside require.

The flaw in these lawmakers' plan is that they seem to only care for the child before it is born. Once born, they do not seem to care that it goes into an incredibly overtaxed adoption system that cannot handle the children it already has, let alone the thousands more that will inundate and overwhelm the system if abortion is made illegal. Why are they not proposing more funding for adoption services, foster care practices, and schools?

Another privacy-related article caught my attention (link). Basically, these companies have policies that say the first action you must do for them is break a binding legal agreement (the Facebook EULA) in order to gain employment there. If you are willing to break that legally binding agreement, why would you worry about what you say, following their edicts while working for them, or adhere to any stipulations with them if and when you leave their company? Do they give password access to you of all of the other people that work there, so that you can see if anyone there is saying anything that you do not agree with? Maybe you are Jewish and the owner constantly posts anti-Semitic jokes on his Facebook page. Knowing this could profoundly influence whether you want to work there. What you say and do outside of work, when on your own time, is none of their business.

I do like that Facebook posted a response to this, and told its users not to do what these HR people are asking (link).

Lastly, while America managed to (momentarily) stop the SOPA/PIPA laws, much of the rest of the world is still steaming ahead with similar laws. ACTA, Bill C-30, and Bill C-11 are still being pushed forward in various places, including much of western Europe (ACTA) and Canada (C-30, C-11). Each is just as horrible for internet privacy as SOPA/PIPA. In Canada, enough people mobilized that C-30 is at least momentarily stopped, and the lawmakers have made changes to C-11 but it still moves forward. (So many links, I won't even post. Just search on any of these bill names.)

It is funny how the entertainment industry has fought (and eventually lost) each time a new technology has come about that has "threatened [their] way of business." And yet, the business has always been more profitable afterward and continues to be incredibly profitable now. They do not need these laws, they need to use the technology to get their products out to the people in a cost efficient and equitable manner. What these industries really fear is that the Internet makes them obsolete. Artists can now produce their own albums and make their own movies, post them online for free or put them on eBay or Amazon for a fee and make money without them. These laws are, in essence, ways to stymie free enterprise and keep artists only options to be under draconian contracts to the MPAA and the RIAA.

Even the Trayvon Williams case breaks down to a privacy issue. This neighborhood was a gated community, but it still felt the need for a neighborhood watch. One watch member felt threatened enough by a kid about 100 lbs smaller and lighter than him, wearing a hoodie and carrying candy and a drink walking through "his" private domain that he decided to chase the boy (against the explicit request of the police), stop him, and shoot him. And, because of the way the laws are written in Florida, he may just get away with murder. All because he felt threatened by a boy who was a different color than he is.

When 9/11 happened, people gave up some of their right to privacy in order to "catch the terrorists." And the government took those rights and asked for more. After ten years of taking, the people have had enough and are fighting back. The government (and the corporations that practically are the government these days) are shocked and surprised at the backlash. So much so that the new verb "SOPAed" has been introduced into the vernacular. It basically means "to be unexpectedly assaulted by large public backlash." After a decade of whitewashing the theft of our rights, the people are fighting back and government is frightened. And that is GOOD. As Thomas Jefferson said, "When governments fear the people, there is liberty. When people fear the government, there is tyranny."

It is time for governments and corporations to start fearing the people again. It is time to take back our rights. It is time for a revolution.

Addendum
This article will make you never want to use a PC again! Basically it tells you that every IT and company on the planet is trying to subvert your PC and allow spying. The part about the PA school was particularly disturbing; who thought taking photos of nude, under-aged students was a good idea?

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Wildcat

The Wildcat offense in the NFL can work, and has been proven to work, for the last 4 years or so. But its  impact has lessened over the last few years for one reason only: teams aren't actually running the Wildcat.

The main component that makes a Wildcat offense work is the threat by the QB/RB controlling the ball at the snap to either run it, throw it, or hand it off. When the Dolphins started using it in 2008, they did each of those things about 1/3 of the time. Sometimes Ronnie Brown would throw it, sometimes he would run it, and sometimes he would shovel it to Ricky Williams. Not knowing what was coming, the defenses were always playing catch-up and Miami went on a bit of a winning streak.

And then they stopped throwing the ball. The reason it stopped being so successful is that it became 75% run by Brown, 24% shovel pass to the other RB, and 1% pass or pass fake. So defenses loaded up against the run and it became just another running play. NFL defenses can stop just about any play if they know what is coming.

The same happened with Tebow and the Broncos last season. They had excellent success initially, because Tebow was throwing, running, and shoveling it to the RB. And then the offense coordinator, realizing that Tebow was not very accurate, started to limit it. Defenses started gearing for the run and it became just another running play for the Broncos. Once that happened, once teams realized that it was nearly always going to be a run and that Tebow was not accurate, they dared Tebow to read the defense and throw to the open man by putting eight in the box and stopping the run. And that's how Tebow was able to make so many "miraculous" game-winning plays at the end of the game. Even a blind mouse finds some cheese occasionally.

To run the Wildcat in the NFL, you must have QB/RB personnel that is a threat to do any of the three options available on any play. In that way, the defense has to gamble. If they load the box and stop the run, you pass it. If they play man to man, you run or shovel pass it. If they go into zone, you pick your poison for the situation. And that has to happen on every play. Until someone figures out that the threat of a pass or a run has to be there on every play, the defenses of the NFL are just too fast and too savvy to let the Wildcat work for too long when it is predominantly a running play.

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Future Imperfect

My wife's aunt is dying from liver disease. This last weekend we went up to hang out with her and to scan in and save a bunch of photos from her large collection. While the weekend was tough for my wife, for all of the obvious reasons, it may have been just as tough on me. You see, I have liver disease and visiting someone dying from the same illness was like looking into the future.

Her aunt was in better shape than we could have hoped. While she is yellow, it is not as all-pervasive as shows like House make it seem, meaning she isn't as bad as she could be. The whites of her eyes, for example, are still mostly white, and her gums and nails aren't yellow yet. But her skin definitely has an unnatural jaundice to it, especially around her neck and her ankles. She has a lot of fluid build up, and that is slowing her down more than anything, she says. She estimates she's carrying around 40 extra pounds of simple fluid build up in her body.

I have been diagnosed with liver disease since 1995. I take my medications regularly and see my doctors multiple times a year with blood tests. All signs point toward my liver doing well and maybe even regenerating some from the disastrously bad cirrhosis found during a biopsy in 1997 (where they estimated I was between 15 and 20 percent functionality... or just above the minimum levels for a functional liver). But I still have swelling and fluid build up fairly often, even with the medications, although, so far, nothing like the aunt is experiencing. Since mine is autoimmune related, I also have other autoimmune issues to worry about, namely rheumatoid arthritis. And, as anyone who knows about autoimmune issues understands, autoimmune issues tends to snowball into more autoimmune issues as the patient gets older.

The good thing about liver disease in general is that it is not a painful way to go, which the aunt confirms. The medications she takes cause her more distress than the disease itself. But it is still hard to watch someone become jaundiced and die, especially when that fate may be my future. If I needed it (which I didn't, but still), it certainly is a wake-up call to continue taking my medications religiously and continue seeing my doctors regularly.

Monday, March 05, 2012

CGI Effects

When James Cameron made Terminator 2, he was interviewed about the groundbreaking special digital effects he used to make the T-1000. The claim at the time was that CGI effects would make film making less expensive, as it would allow people to reuse animation and effects shots, or only need slight tweaking and adjustments. This would make special effects heavy movies less expensive to make over the long haul.

Cut to 2012. In the last decade, there have been numerous films that have been almost entirely done using CGI effects, and they are some of the most expensive films made. The move John Carter, for example, uses an enormous sum of CGI effects and is reputed to have a production cost of around $250 million, not including advertising. Since it has no big-star price tags, and nearly every shot has a CGI element to it, the vast majority of the cost must be for animation and effects. Assuming a modest advertising budget, the film needs to break $300 million worldwide in order to make a profit.

I guess CGI is not making films less expensive.

T2 had a production budget of about $100 million in 1991. It made about $200 million domestic (and a little above $500 million world wide). It was actually considered a bit of a financial failure at the time, due to only breaking $200 million, even though, back then, $100 million was still considered the gold standard to reach for a movie. Now you have films costing north of $200 million, and yet we still use the $100 million mark as the gold standard. These skewed numbers are why international numbers have become so much more important in today's film economy; without those grosses, most films fail to make a profit.

I have really enjoyed some of the big summer blockbuster failures of the recent past not because I want to see the film industry fail but rather because I want to see the film industry evolve. The time of the big star salary guaranteeing a film's success is over (see the recent strings of failures by Cruise, Diaz, and others as evidence of that). The time of a film being a success just because it has CGI is over.

I have also enjoyed many of the smaller films doing so well despite competition from the big-budget, Hollywood, summer blockbusters. These films often have pretty good effects done in some guy's basement, and that realize the promise of those effects that James Cameron talked about so many years ago. A small film like Monsters (2010) can have really nice, believable effects and the film can be made for under a million dollars. Hell, District 9 (2009) was made for an estimated $30 million and was a high-quality movie with great production values and good effects throughout; compare that to the majority of CGI-heavy movies of the last decade, most of which were made for between $150 -$250 million and simply weren't as good.

I think Hollywood needs to take a long look at its production system and decide if they can afford to make so many movies with so little profit. It needs to learn from the indie producers who can make a film of equal value and quality at half, a quarter, or even less than the production values of the same film made in the Hollywood studio system. And it needs to always remember that story and acting come first and foremost to any production; CGI and other effects should enhance the quality of the story being told, not replace it.