Monday, June 29, 2009

The Cutting Edge

My old graphics teacher, belovedly known as Mr. Fucking Sey*$%d is one of my primary influences in life. And he once said something particularly influential, regarding in particular the role of technology in graphic design which due to the water passed under the bridge between now and 1998 I will have to paraphrase:

'The best camera you can buy in the world comes with a pin-hole attachment. Designers now saying "Photoshop is the best graphics package out there" will always be limited in their ability by the limitations of the software. If you use your hands, pencils and paper you are much freer than when you use a computer to do it.'

And by and large my experience has conformed to this pearl of wisdom. I know for sure that when it came to adding speech bubbles to Fear of A White Planet, it was amazingly complex compared to how you would go about the exercise freehand. All the best work photoshop has produced has started with a freehand sketch or a photograph.

But as far as 'technological messiahs' go, photoshop isn't bad. Infact Mr. F'n S gave me that pearl probably 5 years before I ever myself laid hands on photoshop's particular layout.

First it makes it Easier

Technology itself, is designed to automate and thus simplify something that was really tedious before. For example, you had mail, what you had to do was buy some stationary, compose a letter, sign it, date it, stuff it in an envelope (that you also had to buy) put an address on it, carry it down to the post office, buy a stamp, lick the stamp, drop it in a box, a van then had to swing by on a schedule and pick up all the letters in the box. Then that van would return to some kind of sorting depot, then the sorting depot would sort through your letter and put it in another bag, which would go into another van, which would go to a sub-sorting depot, where the mail would be resorted, then given to another van, which would then go to the reciepients local post office, and then the mail would get sorted again and given to a 'postie' who would then put it in his bag, who would then go around the neighbourhood, who would drop the letter in the address you had put on the envelope, who would then sit there getting eaten by snails until the recipient actually picked it up, opened it and read it.

Then technology came and made emailing really really easy. You opened up your emailing software, wrote a letter, could have it automatically spellchecked, and then it would go from your outbox to the recipients inbox virtually instantaneously.

This is perhaps a condescending explanation of how technology can make something easier. Like EA games NBA Live 2007 made it much easier to play in the number 24 jersey for the Los Angeles Lakers than it is in real life...

Making it easier, makes it ironically much harder

...except I'm yet to here of someone who lands a $100,000 contract for being Kobe Bryant in a video game. And the reality is, that back in the day, if you recived a hundred pieces of mail in a day, many from complete strangers, you were probably the archbishop of the Catholic Church, or CEO of Johnson & Johnson, and you had your own mailroom to sort through all the mail. You also had a secretary to filter through the mail and decide what you should read.

Now put simply, this is just about everyones experience. Whereas if I wanted to send a letter to Bryce, it used to be the highlight of his week, now if I send an email, it is merely one in 120 emails, tweets, wall-posts etc. he may recieve overnight.

And this is the rule of 'cutting edge technology' and why just about every prediction of how it is 'changing the world' is bullshit, and typically falls flat on its face.

I get the sense myself that facebooks time is numbered. Which is annoying because I don't want to have to re-upload all my travel photos anywhere else. A few of my friends have started to delete their accounts.

Twitter is on the rise, yet like facebook, it will take me a long time to get into it myself. Possibly even longer, since the promised benefits of facebook never themselves arrived.

Imagine if you will a group of moustached, victorian england gentlemen sitting about a table in a dank and musty 'pub' chewing on pipe stems whilst mulling over how they are going to generate buisiness, attention, publicity for their cause.

'We should send letters to everyone we know!' says one, the others nod their heads as if they have said something wise and interesting, another chimes in animatedly 'yes, some kind of reproduced form letter, and we will post it to everyone each of us knows, then presumably those people will be so interested, they will order their help to have copies made, and they will send it on to everyone they know!' and another would say 'pip-pip' or something. Maybe an analytical type one in the group will point out how cost effective this would be compared to riding in a handsome cab to each persons house and talking to them face to face.

Direct mail, is still a legitimate form of campaigning. Unfortunately if you sit in some kind of 'strategic group' these days, direct mail will almost never float. But people will get similarly excited and animated about 'facebook' as my non-existent victorian peers did. Yet to me, this is not a strategy, I am perpetually amazed at the time and energy that gets wasted by individuals that believe Social-Networking-Sites will actually be advantages to them.

To me, it is just a logistical tool in your repertoire, that supports whatever it is you do. If you think its unlikely that someone in the Victorian era would have their mail reproduced and sent on to their own network of friends, it is actually far more likely today.

You see any technological innovation that makes doing anything easier, the result for your average kid will be it makes competing much much harder. This is infact what we would call in strategy-speak a 'barrier to entry' which what you want is the barriers to entering a given market to be particularly high, because it keeps every dog-and-pony-show from competing against you. Technology tippically eases the barrier to entry, with the net effect of making your ability to distinguish yourself from other competetors nil-to-zero and ironically ends up entrenching the big players.

Yes the ultimate barrier to entry, is no barrier to entry. For example, I could sign up on Twitter tomorrow, and theoretically it would cost me as much to reach you, whoever you are as it does for NBA star Shaqueille O'neal, aka 'The_real_shaq' to reach you. Theoretically thanks to the new medium of twitter, I am on an even playing field as Shaq. Except Shaq is actually a distinguished person with real achievements and a huge following, arguably the most beloved active player in the NBA League today. I will never compete with Shaq until such a time as Shaq is Dead and I am a 3-time NBA finals MVP, best selling recording artist or highest grossing movie-star.

In his book 'The Black Swan' Nicholas Nassim Taleb points out that the invention of the grammerphone wiped out many an opera singer. Because before its invention, even the town over from the Vienna opera, it was cost effective for them to see the local boy vs. the National Theatre Companies master.
Technology didn't help the little guy at all, it actually wiped him out. As soon as his customers could get a recording of a world class talent, they stopped coming to see him. Nobody wanted a recording of joe-nobody.

Most people don't realise this these days, because they never even had a chance to dominate their local market. Most of the cool music, clothes, tv-shows, movies etc come from America.

I am still waiting for the person that made it big from 'Myspace' I was telling some friends about 'Lilly Allen' being apparantly the only one thus far, but alas someone informed me that her father was a music producer anyway, and rightly pointed out 'it's not like she wouldn't have made it anyway'

Which leaves only Tila Tequila, the one and only person that will ever 'make it' via myspace, an annoying MTV host from a lineball model that happened to have the most friends ever on facebook. Her fame though was especially fleeting, I'd wager most people still haven't heard of her.

Making it harder, makes it easier

Graffiti, let me tell you is not cutting edge. It is documented and famous as far back as rome, and really painting shit on some publicly visabe surface is at least as old as cave painting.

Most technological innovations have to do with waterproofing paints, which opened up the possibility of having murals endure outdoors. Then they invented spray cans, which allowed artists to easily transport a variety of colours, and then that's pretty much it.

Thus anyone who thinks graffiti started in the 80's by the hip-hop community and thus calling it 'old-school' is falling way short of the mark.

It's worth pointing out that the cutting edge technology that brought graffiti out of cave's made it harder for someone to dominate the relatively limited canvas space of illuminated cave walls, thus allowing other artists to get into the market and make it hard to distinguish yourself.

SO too did the use of coloured paint, make it harder to distinguish yourself just by painting in red instead of black.

But the invention of magnetic, battery powered lights, and projector shows has made being a graffiti artist that little bit easier. As every douchebag searching for something 'cutting edge' leaps upon the 'painting with light' bandwagon, you now have just a few less people to compete with in your chosen medium.

Every douchebag trying to make it big on youtube (despite their yet being no historic precedent) just cut down the pile of scipts on the desks of TV executives everywhere. The advent of blogging, just removed the lines on lines of people applying for journalism courses.

Webcomics, just made it a whole lot easier for you to send some pencil roughs to Marvel or DC, but not ironically Shonen Jump, where the advent of the internet has done nothing to blunt the schoolchilds enthusiasm for manga.

And certainly the prospect of landing first Violinist with the Melbourne Symphony orchestra was made much easier by 6 decades of dominance by the electric guitar.

The advent of really bad synth-rock dominating the terrible music of the 80's is what paved the way for the early 90's grunge and alt-rock movements.

Tom Morello

Perhaps epitomising it all, is Tom Morello. Who picked up a guitar with no new features or innovations since the early 70's and opened up a whole new world of sound. Morello is probably the most distinguished guitarist of the 90's perhaps competing against only Kirk Hammett of Metellica, who actually is not technically that good.

He reinvented a classic, and I think demonstrated for us all, just how little technology you need to actually wring exponentially more out of the most sophisticated piece of hardware ever developed - the human nervous system.

To me the 90's seems almost like a 'forgotten decade' the only reminisence ever done about it seems to be 'How I Met Your Mother' but for me two of the most important lessons of my life came out of it - one from Mr. F'n. Sey$&ld and another from Tom

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Lesson From the Master

Today I was reminded of this:

all links courtesy of onemanga

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The Hero With A Thousand Faces

The advent of 'Manga' has done a number of things for the western world. The most positive questionably is that it has young girls reading comics, as Japan is one of the few cultures to successfully streamline comics to appeal to young girls. Of course the major question being 'what appeals to young girls' and whether this serves to just reinforce sexual stereotypes is of course a question for just about every media.

But then it has done a bunch of bad things too. And I thought I'd recap on some of the things that threaten the psychosphere of young manga readers.

1. It has brought A-grade Nerds into my section of the bookstore.

Here I am quietly reading 'Ex Machina' or something, and four guys who look 16 and still getting dressed by their mums and told 'they look cool' are standing around committing arguably the biggest drawback of being a nerd, and that is the unruly art of expressing themselves out loud. 'Oh my God, Bleach this section of Bleach when it was published in SHonen Jump was all in colour and it was the most perfect piece of manga ever!' and 'Dragon Ball, man the manga is so much better than the anime, remember when Goku was summoning the spirit-bomb, it took like 30 episodes!' I find this sort of out-loud thinking unproductive and disruptive. I mean why even come into a store to look at books you've already read and pass judgement on it? Comic book stores always had nerds, but recently they have increased ten-fold. You need to keep yourself at a safe distance from manga, or else it can do terrible things to your brain.

2. Sex sells crap.

90% of anything is crap, not 'not brilliant' but generally just mediocre crap. Manga is no exception. A good way to get around this is to inject it with sex appeal. This principle is best observed in the porno world. Porn outsells big budget hollywood movies by 100-1 or something, but porno movies are known for very poor, poor, crappy plots, shitty dialogue and one dimensional characters. Fortunately those one dimensional characters happen to be really good at sucking dicks and fingering one another. Manga is not quite as extreme, but I have read a few titles such as 'Air Gear' that has a plot that is quite seriously, one of the most crappy and convoluted ever. It is incredibly messy and frankly is just plain garbage. Air Gear won the prestigious 'best new series' award the year it came out though, because Air Gear is one manga you can rest assured will feature at least an upskirt shot or exposed breasts in every installment. Even Dragonball which is held in really high esteem I had assumed was because of it's convoluted but world class action scenes and humorous characters. But when I went back to read the origins of this celebrated story, I discovered it was more or less pure garbage, its one redeeming quality being the humourousness of the 'lecherous old man' character, but even then I couldn't believe that Dragonball got its jump start from Benny Hill type interchanges between a perverted old man who got nose bleeds every time he saw the young female protagonists breasts or vag. I am probably crossing some sacrosanct line here, but Dragonball truly started off as 'pure garbage'.

3. Dues Ex Machina is order of the day.

I originally praised Naruto as one of the top two present day manga's, largely because of the logic and cleverness of the action sequences. That is the author created interesting combat sequences from extremely limited repertoire.
I retract this statement, having recently read through the latter 200 installments to say that whilst factually speaking, Naruto is the top 2 manga series in present day in sales, its no longer that clever. Infact its now expanded beyond the point the story can keep its integrity. All combat revolves around the tried, tested and perpetually found wanting 'Deus Ex Machina' (God out of the Machine) it basically goes Hero: Now my final attack! Villain: Ha ha, was that all you have! Hero: Tricked you, it wasn't actually my final attack, THIS is my final final attack! Villain: Oh no! Something I've never heard or seen of before! I am dead, I can't believe it...
Unfortunately, neither can I at least. I'm sure the average reader of manga being a 12-16 year old japanese kid, goes 'Wow! I can't believe it!' or in the western sphere some 30 year old white virgin says 'Wow! I can't believe it!' but it's no where near as clever as when you see characters use something already actually predicated or logical in a really unexpected way. Naruto started off being one of the best at this, but since then has ended up being the same old same old 'You thought I could only use that technique 3 times, but secretely I've always been able to use it 5 times!' and really lazy shit like that.
This is the trick to Deus Ex Machina, if you have to obscure something from the reader completely in order to make it surprising, don't do it. It isn't good enough.

4. The Ever Expanding Cast of Characters

Eichiro Ooda, originally planned to end 'One Piece' within 5 years, but it's ended up taking him twice the time to get 'halfway'. He follows a tried and true formula of bad guy cabals that have to be fought through, the 7 warlords, the 4 kings of the sea, the 3 ultimate admirals etc. The good guys team typically picks up 1 new crew member ever major story arc, which creates a compounding burden as each new foe they face needs +1 bad guy 3 episode showdown to give each crew member their due. One Piece though I think will end up being a timeless masterpiece of the Shonen legacy because it probably is the best ongoing series out there, and he does seem to have a plan. But still it runs the risk of what should become known in literary terms as 'RJing' the plot, that is doing what Robert Jordan did with best selling fantasy series 'The Wheel of Time' which was to expand the world the events took place in that the number of volumes expanded while less and less headway was made on the plot in each successively thicker and thicker volume until the fans got pissed off at him until he then became terminally ill and then the fans got extremely anxious hoping that he would actually live to finish off the final volume. He didn't, but it will get finished by his hand picked editor from the notes that Jordan himself left that are apparantly extensive.
But it's a typical trap for authors of fantasy to get into, and Manga rather than being the exception of it, is infact the epitome of it. Naruto's author seems to have become conscious of this, because his 'Part 2' story arc seems to be a hastily expanding, then rushed tidy up of the plethora of bad guys he poorly concieved in the first place. Such that there is no longer any 'ultimate nemisis' that is easily identifiable and several bad guys seem so poorly concieved of that it seems to have caught the author offguard that it's incredibly hard to have a plot where two bad guys at odds with one another can actually conclude a linear narrative. So one was hastily given the axe.
The point is though, that the cast needs a 'Chekov Gun' approach, that is if you put a gun on the sets wall in the first act, have a character point to it in the second act then the gun must be fired by the third act. Each character that you introduce will take more time to resolve than to introduce, creating an exponential burden for the overall narrative. It seems like the easiest structure in the world for manga, a tried and true one to have 6 characters that the hero fights their way through, from typically weakest to strongest. You can even save time by having the character fight 2 at once. But authors of manga have a nasty habit of frontloading these 'to kill' lists up early. I'm trying to concieve of a series I can submit to shonen jump where each bad guy represents a different element of the periodic table of elements, thats right all 118 of them! that series would only take at an average of 12 installments per bad guy x 20 pages plus say 40 x 6 installment mini-arcs just 118 x 12 x 40 x 6 x 20 pages to complete, thats just 6,798,000 pages to draw. I'll start right now!

5. It gets worse...

Remember how I said 90% of anything is crap. Well Naruto, Dragonball and One Piece all represent that top 10% and they tend to suffer from Deus Ex Machina and Kaleidoscopic casts, then theres the other 90% the worst of which I never read, like Yu-Gi-Oh and Pokemon that actually are pretty close to my Periodic Table of Villains idea, in Pokemons 'Gotta catch them all' mentality with 100,000,000 fucking crappy little monsters some idiot kid has to catch and train in mindlessly recurring scenarios designed purely to sell merchandise. Then there's fucking Yu-Gi-Oh which is worse, being an illustrated adventure of people playing a fucking card game, designed to sell just another rip of 'Magic the Gathering' except they still manage to work in the same errors as the best manga, deus ex machina, expanding plots and lechery.

6. Elementary Dear Watson.

If it wasn't for watson, Sherlock Holmes would just be a story where Sherlock goes and solves a case then retires back to hit the bottle of cocain or some other oppiate. Watson provides the narrator idiot that allows Sherlock to explain whats going on to him. And it works well. Manga is characterized by a winning formula of having two or three characters doing all the actual action, and about 18 characters standing on the sidelines thinking about what is happening in order to explain it to us, the dumb reader.
You'd be surprised at how much shit you can learn reading manga, like how refraction through different temperatures of air can create a mirage that can conceal you, which I learnt thanks to a double page spread of DIY science experiments in Air Gear. Arguably the single worst characteristic of Manga is this, 'I'm so glad there's all these characters around to explain shit to me' phenomena. If you read Batman it's like watching a movie, he walks up to commisioner Gordon and the two have a discussion or an arguement and then batman dissappears. Then he reappears in Two-Face's lair and the two duke it out and it's over. If a manga author where to take on batman, the rest of the Gotham City Police force would be there to explain why Batman pulled out and 'Ultimate, ten-thousand heaven hand bat-a-rang' from his utility belt even though we've never scene it before and why that trumps Two-Faces 'Hidden thousand particle mirror technique' we've also never ever seen before.


The sad fact is that Manga still needs it's Alan Moore, to come in and deconstruct it. Unfortunately, deconstruction seems to be a uniquely western philosophy, thus there will be no 'Miracleman' of Manga or 'Watchmen' for that matter until Shonen jump starts publishing foreign authors, which won't happen because Western comics only window in to Japan's market is through the movies, and let's face it, only Iron Man and Spiderman 2 really hold up as having any intrinsic merit out of the past 13 adaptations. Otherwise movies remain comics poor cousin.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

You Should Be A Comedian (Really?)

In more than one occasion in my past, people have suggested that I become a comedian. I don't feel those people necessarily knew what becoming a stand-up entails, and if they did would they still recommend it as my wisest career move?

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Can a film be blamed for it's fans?

I was thinking, don't ask me why about how many actual good films I could say are produced each year. I was thinking, maybe 3, but I don't know, you see because I don't actually watch many films and it seems highly fallacious to assume that the only films I see are the contenders for goodness.

Anyway, this spurred me on to thinking about films that are actually really good but you end up hating because of the fan base. Star Trek lends itself to immidiate observation for this phenomena, but I'm thinking if you really wanted to put a film on a pedastal for liking it, then making you vomit it's 'Napoleon Dynamite'.

See ostensibly, this film is really good, it is character based, moody, it sucks you into its world and ultimately it delivers. It is full of classic dialogue like 'Snatch' by Guy Ritchie.

It and Evil Dead 2 alone are the only films in history of watching films that I've wanted to watch again immediately after finishing watching it the first time.

And then blinking as I stepped out into the sun, was confronted by wall to wall 'Vote for Pedro' t-shirts. Which was no where near as annoying as seeing cool and trendy people normally reserved for standing up the back and laughing at someone else's jokes actually getting laughs for re-enacting classic lines from Napoleon Dynamite.

COme to think of it, this pretty much happened with Evil Dead 2, except the fans were much nerdier, and I was buffered by a decade or so from its release to my first viewing. At least those nerds appreciate the classical classicness of Evil Dead 2.

But then you have problem 2 which is when a movie gets revered, which is understandable with Evil Dead 2, it's a five star film. But when a bunch of unimaginative nerds revere a 3 star film made large like 'The Dark Knight' or worse, 'X-Men 3' is it the films fault that I start hating it?

See Evil Dead 2 is like Venice, even though it's overflowing with fat annoying classless tourists, the majesty and mystery of the place is too fundamental to the very architecture, try as they might to touristy overrate Venice you can't get past what an amazing architectural achievement it is.

But the Dark Knight is like Amsterdam, a cool city, but when it gets crowded with fat classless tourists it just becomes a tourist dive. And X-men 3 is like Prague.

Infact can a tourist destination be blamed for tourists is pretty much the exact same question?

And perhaps this is the answer: Yes, if it tries to attract them.

Which I would say is definitely the case with the Cherry-picking approach of Nolan, adapting the best ideas had by other people and inserting a few of your own flourishes, as well as an obligatory scene catering to the all important asian market. (China banned TDK anyway). Or worse the endless 'Comic book cameo' fest that the X-men movies are, botching characters left right and center with flat poorly worked scripts in order to satisfy the rabid nerd fan base that demands more, More, MORE, MOORE* to be made into films to validate their sad fringe interests.

So yes, it can be blamed for its fans, if that is the dollar they will chase at any cost. Just if Raimi puts together an Evil Dead 4 that is more or less a rehash of all our favorite scenes and lines from 2 + 3.

*this is actually really clever.

Monday, June 15, 2009

The right to be offended

I just read this post at thelasthacker on 'The Chasers War on Everything' which I find more sad that the Chaser is Australia's 'Edgiest' comedy rather than the censorship issues, which in light of it being Australia's edgiest comedy then censoring it is really sad.

But it all reminds me of a joke:

Q: 'What did the blind quadraplegic kid get for Christmas?'

A: 'Cancer.'

I find this joke really funny, and that is because of the anatomy of the joke. It plays on human sympathy, and its okay to laugh at it. What generally happens in your head that makes the old Q&A format of joke so effective is that it engages your rational mind. SO anyone who hears the question has the part of their mind engaged in trying to predict what kind of thoughtful kind gift might alleviate the suffering of this poor hypothetical kid. Failing to imagine the kind of contraption that might help someone who can't see and can't walk and can't use their hands.
At which point the brutal answer is revealed, which is the joke, who would want to hear a story so sad? The expectation that the kids situation can't get worse is what allows the joke to work.

And yet...

I have made I believe this joke, and somebody in earshot tried to tell me off because they (presumably) knew someone dying of Cancer. And I stood my ground, for the first time, in the past I've backed down in the face of someone sensitive. I'm not sure what I said, but I didn't keep digging, which is I think a bad response. I merely pointed out to the effect of 'you don't have the right not to be offended, you only have the right to be offended.'

Which is pretty much the greatest freedom anyone can ever aspire to. Southpark did a great Christmass special about avoiding offense, where they removed all religious iconography to the point where they took down the lighting because it was 'offensive to people with epilepsy'. Which made an excellent satirical point of just how unworkable the 'keeping mind of peoples sensitivities' is.

Offense is a moving target, and where most people get run-of-the-mill narcissistic about it is that they believe that some tyrannical hitler needs to be offended by people standing up to their personal convictions, but that they are so sensible and normal that they should not be offended.

In short usually people can dish it but they can't take it. Perhaps I'm unusual being a person that when I went to my first public bathroom in China was highly amused when some military official called me 'guilo' or however its spelt and spat as he walked past me.

That attitude I'm sure rests on the fact that white people are far more likely to dish out the meaningful racism than recieve it, being that we have a stranglehold on most of any power structures that matter.

But alas it remains, and I will say, there is no line. It is simply that. Thomas Jefferson would say:

I am really mortified to be told that, in the United States of America, a fact like this can become a subject of inquiry, and of criminal inquiry too, as an offence against religion; that a question about the sale of a book can be carried before the civil magistrate. Is this then our freedom of religion? and are we to have a censor whose imprimatur shall say what books may be sold, and what we may buy? And who is thus to dogmatize religious opinions for our citizens? Whose foot is to be the measure to which ours are all to be cut or stretched? Is a priest to be our inquisitor, or shall a layman, simple as ourselves, set up his reason as the rule for what we are to read, and what we must believe? It is an insult to our citizens to question whether they are rational beings or not, and blasphemy against religion to suppose it cannot stand the test of truth and reason.
Letter to Nicolas Gouin Dufief, Philadelphia bookseller (1814) who had been prosecuted for selling the book Sur la Création du Monde, un Systême d'Organisation Primitive by M. de Becourt, which Jefferson himself had purchased.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Everyone has a goth they want to remember.

Just as everyone has a summer they wish to remember I believe that in the post 'The Crow' and possibly even the post 'New Romantics' era, there is something else classic that occurs in just about every teen to adolescent to man-child's life. That is the Goth.

This is the story of my Goth I want to remember but alas... can't.

It happened when on my first day in a new job in of all places a call center. With nervous trepidation, I actually made calls. Being used to telemarketing, and the need to ask strangers to switch phone providers, and hit upon so many a night that I would actually get a commission I was bracing for a return to constant abuse. In market research this is rare, and if I learnt anything from the job, it is just how bored some people are. The fact that people are willing to spend 40 minutes talking about cat food to a complete stranger in the most mechanical dialogue ever, is a harsh indictment of Australian television programming.

But that is irrelevent except to say that I was expecting abuse, and found instead that getting people to do surveys was easy. I began to relax. Relaxed a little more, then more, and more until I was like 'hang on, why am I so at ease?'

With the stunned revalation that I was being lulled to sleep, I became like one of them TV show characters heading towards the light, that suddenly searches around with their other senses in an attempt to shatter the false reality.

And then I noticed, the most angelic voice I, to this day, have ever heard. It was coming directly from behind me and was asking me about ... tinea?? It seemed to surround me, like brown woollen clothes surround old people. I expected to turn around and see a kindergarten teacher in some kind of crocheted jacket and possibly matching hat wearing a necklace made out of died pieces of macaroni instructing kids on the chain reaction that takes place when one mixes glitter, glue and paper.

Yes, that's how angelic this voice was, as in when Johnny cash sang:

'I heard a voice that sounded so sweet, I thought I heard the shuffle of angels feet, it spoke to me and my heart stood still, when he said "John go do my will..."'

And I turned around to find the tell tale Betty page hair, on the pallid complexion and questionably practical attire of a goth. And alas she was it for me, my goth I want to remember.

But alas, I cannot, because in my year of working in her proximity, I never recall actually having a conversation with her, and I don't believe now that I ever actually knew her name. Because the fact was she wasn't talking to me about 'tinea' just as I was not talking to her about cat food. We were employed to talk to complete strangers about these powderkeg issues. Not eachother.

My brother who later worked in the same call center, informed me that they used to try and sit people next to eachother that were couple worthy, evidently nobody thought of matching me up with... well anybody. I wasn't there to make friends either and I had a girlfriend of probably 2 years at that stage that I was at least moderately committed to keeping.

And now in periodic fits, like acid flashbacks that bubble up from time to time, I think of the goth I want to remember, and can't I'm sort of certain I know exactly what she looked like then, but then can't even facebook stalk her because I can't remember her name. After much meditation I kind of suspect that it started with 'D' but am only 40% sure of that.

Alas... the goths of our youth are but a fading memory.

3 mm of traction action destroys my satisfaction

No this has nothing to do with shaved vaginas. No today as my rear wheel is being trued having popped a spoke, and regrettably I didn't ask them to ditch the humiliating pie plate while they were at it...

Where was I? I was walking into town today, and Melbourne was being blasted like it was on the shores of lake wendoree. I have totally pussed out (okay maybe it does have something to do with shaved vaginas) since leaving balifornia, and thus was glad I invested twenty bucks in a new hoodoo at the next best thing to an Op-shop in the CBD 'Jayjays' (I haven't done any hilarious pranks or stunts with my attractive model friends since wearing their clothes though) and well I put my hood up.

You see I decided the old crooked mohawk was getting old and stale and I need to go back to basics and start growing my hair out for my next exciting hair sculpture. So I shaved it down to a number 1, 3mm and was pleased with the semi transparent result. So pleased I thought I may even go shorter down to 0 or go subzero with the actual razor next time. (beard rash on my head though?)

And that remained the ace up my sleeve the past couple of weeks. You see being a skinhead I figure would only be a pain come summertime because of the whole burning sun of vengence in Australia, and having to lotion my normally self greasing scalp with spf 40+ or wear some kind of nerd hat all summer... but winter, well winter if worse comes to worse you chuck on a beanie.

Or on a day like today you put your hoodie up over your head. Alas! with the wind pretty much just blowing in my face, the only thing keeping my hood from blowing clean off my head was the 3 mm of hair on my forehead was gripping tenuously to the soft inner of my hood and keeping it put.

If I were to shave down to the skin then to my horror, that hoodie would slide off and I would be presented with an all out brain freeze attack. Such constricting cold could lead to the error in judgement that might end my life in busy traffic.

So I was shattered, hair loss plan A just took one huge leap backwards, Hair isn't just cosmetic, it provides valuable traction (but now me thinks if I had my old slick and greasy ropes of hair, that hoodie would have slid off anyway where...oh yeah my hair would have kept me warm).

Anyway I guess the compromise is the mysterious Ronaldo:

I dub thee the 'traction patch'

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Businessball Chapter 1: The Lead

I have long held the belief that basketball is the perfect analogy for business, so confident am I that it is, that I have previously proclaimed that if it doesn't happen in basketball it doesn't happen in business.

Thankfully I can hide behind vague interpretations, and stage multiple definitional retreats. My theory is less falsifiable than the theory of intelligent design.

So let's begin on what will some day form the basis of my book on business and how my love of basketball shaped my superior mind.

And let's start with what it is all about - always: the lead.

Perhaps it wasn't until Michael Jordan hit the gym the day after his first Championship that basketball truly perfected its approximation of business, but when I say that the lead always has to be maintained, that's exactly what I mean. If you are playing ball, you are trying to build your own lead. I could say the score, the win but lead will make it easier for me to break down.

You have to keep in mind that when you hoist that championship trophy over your head, and you stand on top of the world, that the moment is fleeting. It is a moment simultaneously eternal and infantismally small. It is a laural that may bring you some consolation in the times ahead, that at least at that moment, when it counted to you - you took the lead.

But here is what I mean, the average NBA career is going to be around I'm guessing 5 years, once you discard statistical outliers, like number 29 draft picks that don't play a minute and get sent to D-league. But in that career you have effectively 1 run per year at a championship, and realistically less than 1 run. Thus when you win a championship you can retire, or you go into next season, where you go back to square one in winning enough games to get to the playoffs, winning the playoffs to be conference champion, winning the finals to become champion and then... same again.

Championships aside, any playoff series is a best of 7 games. That means you have to win 4 times to win an individual championship. If you win game 1 that means best case you have to win game 2, 3 & 4. Drop a game and you have to play 5, drop two 6, drop three 7, drop 4 it's over. You have to do that for round 1 of the playoffs to go to conference semi-finals, and win round 2 to go to conference finals, win 4 times there you go to the finals.

You win game one by 100 points (unlikely) it still read 1-0 same as if you win by 1 point (far more likely). Then you have to win again, at home, on the road. The name of the game, in business and basketball is win and go again.

But enough about winning, this is about leading. Let's get within the intamacies of the game itself. Basketball differs from say 'soccer' and even it's closest cousin 'afl' in that if you have the lead, your play does not really change at all. Mentally maybe you will relax a little, but strategically you do the same thing until somebody stops you.

You have possessions, which are your offensive game. Without possession you are playing defence. Offence is about scoring points, you need at least 1 point to have a lead. Defence is about regaining posession, getting stops, turnovers, steals, grabbing rebounds etc. Defence is employed solely to enable attack. The team must always attack.

Basketball stands out because a lead has to be tirelessly maintained. It is a 'leaky bucket' lead and therein lies its fundamental similarity to business and the highest level. The speed of change is fast. The competitors scorecard is driven up by their sales force, their offensive strategy, you can confound it somewhat but ultimately you are not in control. Your lead has to be built out of your offense, your sales. It ain't soccer, you can't play nil all draws until it goes to penalty shoot-outs.

The shot clock winds down, your advertising dollars, Your dealers finance, your sales incentives program, your products lifestyle and like it or not the ball is turned over to the competitor. A crappy competitor might put up 30 shots and sink none. But it never changes the fact that you are trying to build and consolidate your lead.

You win the first game by 100, it doesn't matter come the next game, you have to win again, that means build the lead up from 0, get back on defence and try and score as hard as you can.

So too in business, you sell the most one quarter, you have the largest market share, the biggest revenues, the widest profit margin. The quarter, the week, the day ticks over and you have to start from square one. The competition/opposition is going to close the gap on you unless you keep widening it.

You keep doing what you do well crucially UNTIL something changes. This is where business goes to the wall against basketball. In basketball the objective is clear, the rules are more concrete, the perception clear, the management, top-notch. The environment changes constantly and the offence reacts. Fisher dribbles down court and tosses the rock to Kobe for the open corner 3 and he lays it in - what happens on the next offensive possession, Fisher dribbles down court and looks for the pass to find that KObe has moved. The environment has changed, why? Well whoever is on Kobe has either gone out to him and Kobe has adjusted his strategy, or Kobe moved in anticipation. Perhaps he couldn't get by because of where he was forced on the defensive play, perhaps they switched to a box-and-1 defence.

The point being that even though basketball has far less variables, (perhaps because it has far less variables) the players are far better at recognising and reacting to changes in the external environment. That is everything beyond their direct control. Thus the offensive strategy (and defensive) is constantly adjusting to both realised and potential threats.

Businesses have a bad habit of being good at something in a certain environment, and then when the environment changes, taking measures to fight the environmental change, not actually adjusting too the environmental change. They do things like ask for subsidies when another team starts killing them on labor costs, or marketing cars that don't suit the economic environment, they demand the market serve their company, not make their company serve the market.

Contributing value is the business offense, just as scoring points is in basketball. Value has to be constantly generated in order to sustain the successful existence of a business, just as a lead has to constantly be maintained in basketball. Furthermore, business has to contribute more value than it's competitors to take the lead. In basketball you can be a superstar on a losing side, you can't take the championship every year, but if you come close you can sell enough memberships and season passes and sponsership to stay in business. In business, you can not have the lead but through creating enough value, return profits to investors. But coming second is as ephermerial state as coming first, second has to be maintained just like first does. To progress requires either better competitiveness, or weaker competition both are possible, but there's only one you can truly control.

That's the fundamental connection between business and basketball.

Monday, June 08, 2009

The End of the Detective Story

In the past fortnight I have picked the killer about 45 minutes before I was supposed to. I just watched 'Horsemen' with Dennis Quaid, not that Dennis Quaid and I went to the movies, but that he was in the movie.

Anyway, I doubt anyone is particularly hanging out to see that film, even though I'm sure heaps of people read nothing but 'Crime Fiction' and watch all the CSI shows.

So it occurred to me shortly after the opening scene that they made a superfluous effort to call in the detective character as an expert, when they could have just left this out and had him show up at the sight and no member of the viewing public would have gone 'hang on a minute, how come he got the case?'

And because it's a movie, this is information. Which you can couple up to the information you have going in, that it's a religion themed serial killer film. Which basically means its going to be like se7en, which was actually a really good film. You know it's going to be worse than se7en though because of the actors in it.

So I drew the parralal, you know because the director gives you the superflous expert information that the Detective is going to ultimately end up being the target a la se7en. Then they cast a creepy emo-kid as his son and crucially you see him in the second to opening scene of the movie.

Now here's the thing with the traditional detective story, to be clever you can't have people running around to solve a case and then at the end the killer turns out to be 'Henry Peterson' some serial killer dude you've never heard of before. To be an interesting and 'clever' story you can't pull out the 'Deus Ex Machina' that is the resolution of any story has to come from within the internal logic of the narrative. Thus typically the way to avoid 'Deus Ex Machina' is to introduce the killer as early as possible and hide them in plain site.

Now it may not be the stuff of good police work, but in movies you can make such safe assumptions as to conclude when they give you superflous information that it won't be so superfluous in the end. Hence you can go, 'aha it wasn't necessary to establish why Dennis Quaid was on the case, but they did therefore he is the target being played with therefore his son is actually the killer!' and it was right.

Mystic River was the other film I saw recently, and it was infinitely better. Albeit the films are almost two different genres of detective movies. Horsemen is you know all about shocking horrific murders, whereas Mystic River was more about the community and the characters than the singular unremarkable murder that takes place.

But anyway, it was one of those movies I'd thought must be good on account of the Oscars it won, being Sean Penn beating out Bill Murray and Johnny Depp, and Tim Robbins beating out Ken Watanabe and Benicio Del Toro.

Furthermore Clint Eastwood directed it, ergo it must be brilliant. Alas for me it wasn't but that's probably a product of films like 'The Departed' and 'Gone Baby Gone' that have come since but I saw before it. Alas though, people may actually want to see Mystic River and enjoy the realism of the actually detective story involved, and preserv a bit of mystery. So I won't go too far with the spoilers:

Here's all the information you need.

1. Girl is scene with Tim Robbins character in the same bar the night of her death.
2. Tim Robbins shows up home covered in blood later that night, tells his wife a man tried to mug him and that they can't call the cops and they can't go to hospital.
3. Director does not show the murder.

Here because it's a movie it's safe to conclude that Tim Robbins didn't do it. Real life, different story. Why? Because the director is pushing you hard in that direction, but crucially won't admit it. It's like listening to politicians once you know the tricks of avoiding responsibility eg. passive tense 'The report was poorly written' as opposed to 'I wrote a poor report'.

4. Early in the film you are introduced to a completely superfluous character, sadly decked out in very symbolic attire.

Which lead me to call it very early. And don't get me wrong, you don't go see Mystic River because it's a mystery like say 6th sense. The film still offers heaps in terms of the characters and drama within the story, albeit it is a bit of a mess of a film.

Thus though, I find there are certain intractable plot limitations to writing a 'crime fiction' screenplay, made worse when put into motion pictures because in a book it doesn't cost much to add heaps of superfluous information, an extra page is like 2c per. Shooting an extra 15 minutes of movie comes at the expense of something else and probably costs in the neighbourhood of $2 million dollars. Hence hencely detective movies are inherently predictable.

Yet they endure. Will anything kill off this staid and boring genre? Well Horsemen may ironically be ringing in the end times for the detective story. In it there's a scene where a kid says 'Come and See? Come and see what?' and Dennis gets up and dusts off his old book 'Dickensons Quotations' or something and finds out 'Come and See' is from Revelations 6. Then he rummages around in the bottom of a closet and discovers the passage in the bible.

As it turns out the '4 horsemen' in the film end up having met on some thing called the 'internet'. Something book reading on gut instinct Dennis Quaid is presumably baffled by. And it is in this mystical 'internet' that one could see the end of the Detective story.

You see, forgive me if my expectations are too high, but I had assumed that in modern detective work, if people were to write 'come and see' 4 times at a murder scene, then one might actually plug that into google. As it turns out, it appears several times, most popularly according to google in John 1:46, which would have been problematic. But hopefully that there were 4, and that it appears to be a bible reference, the cops would have made this connection on day one.

Mystic River was different because the turning point in their case was actually the forensics coming in to Id the murder weapon, ruling out the obvious suspect and ruling in the actual killer.

But at the very least, serial killers be warned, your undoing has come, and it is the internet, a vast mystical land where you can leave your digital fingerprints all over, even in cached websites, and no longer will you be able to rely on obscure religious texts and rest safe in the knowledge that only some kind of super expert profiler detective will have that obscure text in their bookshelf.

The end is nigh for biblical killers because now, anyone can look up your favorite passage in a matter of minutes, seconds even. Dropping pennies just don't get up the velocity to kill people anymore (and its a myth that they ever have).

Curiously, se7en stands out because the killer was nobody you'd ever heard of before, the director won out because it became a film that wasn't about the killer and the mystery but about the plan and machinations itself. Unfortunately if you just make a whole bunch of movies like se7en then you end up with a bunch of depressing films being watched by depressed and desensitised audiences.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Contingency = Confidence

Also possibly momentum, as in when Mike Patton at the Brixton Academy attempted to fart into his microphone, but it was silent, he just ploughed on with sniffing the microphone head and you'd swear he knew what he was doing.

But anyway, I started listening to some of the 'Career-Tools' podcasts on manager-tools, and I thought there is a real dividing line between employees and curiously it ties in with 'those who walk the walk' except for me it was the employees willing to 'walk' as in say 'you can take this job and shove it' or 'damn your eyes!' in obviously a much more diplomatic way that curiously had the brightest prospects.

ostensibly I set out with this post with the intention of not bringing up the NBA finals for once. And so will avoid mentioning the LA Lakers league best employment of the bench.

Instead, I think confidence comes from having 'an ace up the sleeve' in the basic corporate form it is in having savings. The more savings you have, the longer you can take to find another job whilst maintaining the same lifestyle. This goes beyond quelling the fear of being fired to actually having the option of walking on your own volition.

Germaine Greer made a point of 'security' that companies and social scripts often promote as your basis of confidence. Has nobody ever noticed that having a mortgage on your brow is the very opposite of security, never moreso than the threat of losing your house does getting fired suddenly threaten to wipe out everything you've striven to achieve.

Also you can look at the notion of security promoted in groupist cultures, most notably Japan. My friend Yoshi was amazed that in Australian high-school life, in most cases if you decide your current circle of friends are a pack of douchebags you can just switch circles. It's only as hard as changing a habit. Whereas groupism as practiced in japan your 'nakama' in highschool is pretty much the only 'close' friends you'll have for life. The security of the group infact restricts you to just maintaining the status quo.

I know I practice a model of this contingency planning of savings/switching friends that is probably a bit extreme for most people, being used to hard living as I am. But I recommend at least in acknowledging that insecurity paradoxically gives one the freedom to move and master their own destiny. I recommend it. Security then is the opposite of confidence.

Friday, June 05, 2009


Did you know there's a


Kobe knows who he is.

Whereas Lebron just gets told who he is supposed to be. Already the two vs. Magic series have nothing in common. The Lakers won game 1 at home convincingly. So all my fancy analysis amounts to shit.

I think though the Lakers key advantage is their 2-starting line-ups. Big with Bynum or fast with Odom. But both have their options offensively against Magic, so Bynum can get in foul trouble early and just play the same sort of minutes that he has been. Dwight's far more likely to get in foul trouble than Kobe, but unlike the Lakers' line up that destroys their ability to spread the floor.

And most crucially they actually shut down the Magics 3-point game even with Dwight in the paint. I'm not sure they can count on that during games 3 + 4 when Magic's accuracy will pick up at home.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

As Game One Unfolds At the Staples

The thing about Dwight Howard is that he's throwback to NBA days of yore. Until Dwight sank the Cavs, it was hard to understand given the past decade or so, perhaps even stretching back to pre Jordan days, why the preference to go big with draft picks still dominated mentality.

If you dismiss Jordan as a freak at the 2 position, the two most lasting trends in NBA teams have been the emergence of the truly powerful, power-forward, and the emphasis on Point Guards. This logic works perfectly if you look back to the Payton-Kemp Sonics vs. Jordan & Pippen Bulls finals won by Jordan in 6 games. You dismiss Jordan as a freak and try and emulate the Sonics.

The point guard has been the star of the past 5 years, with Tony Parker, Billups, Gilbert and Iverson as your shoot first style point guard, your Nash's and Kidd's as your pass-first style point guards and lastly your Chris Paul all rounder floor generals.

Then there's the Barkley lead school of uber forwards, culminating arguably in MVP's Nowitzki and Garnett. They rebound, and dominate the low posts, yet drop back to downtown and sink 3's.

But the Magic dismissed with the Power-Forward all-together. That's the luxury of Dwight Howard. Big enough, strong enough, dominant enough to require a double team, they are best off just running an isolation play permenantly. They go 1 point guard, 3 shooting guards and Dwight at center. Then they just pass around the 3-point arc until they get an open look. They spread the floor, that's Orlando's game summed up, and they can do it like no other team can, because they have the best center in the game.

And I thought, how the fuck do you defend against that? Best bet is to try and get Dwight in Foul trouble, but even their back up center allows them to play a slightly less effective version of the same game plan?

The Answer though is to adopt the Magic's perspective. Lakers can run two centers, Bynum and Pau Gasol, They can run them at the same time, if necessary they can go to three low-post players in Bynum, Gasol and Odom all much bigger than anyone in the Magic line-up bar Dwight. Then to spread the floor they have the reverse situation, they have Kobe who arguably could be called 'Mr. Tough Shot' next to Billups 'Mr. Big Shot' out west.

I was impressed by Brandon Roy's ability to seemingly be unfased by Houston's defence, but when it comes to experience, Kobe can probably take a Ron Artest & Battier double team and make 20 points worth of shots. Beyond the low post, Magic don't have a defender anywhere near the calibre of Battier or Artest. And they would be useful against a good field goal shooter like Paul Pierce or Ray Allen, not a guy that can create shots for himself out of nowhere.

The situation with the Lakers is reversed, instead of having a defensive liability in the low post, they have one out in the field, then they have 3 low post to midrange scorers, and players like Vujakic that can sink 3's off the bench.

So Lakers have a one man floor spreader in Kobe, and multiple threats in the low post, Magic have a one man floor spreader in Dwight, and multiple threats in the field. All things being equal - mathematically the Lakers are going to win offensively because the field goal percentage is where it will be decided, and the best 3 point scoring team in the league is only going to hit 34% of their shots.

Except History says that Magic have the Lakers number, the Lakers haven't beat them yet this season, and the Finals is a bad time to have to start beating a team. Furthermore Lakers were the 'giant slayers' when it came to ousting Cleveland and Boston at home, but that was last year, Orlando are the true giant slayers, I don't know how their record ended up worse than Cavs and Boston, because they must have dropped some stupid games along the way.

The tend also to just gather momentum over the course of a match, slow to start but good strong finishers. Lakers wins come all over the place. I actually think one of the factors that really decided the Cavs magic series was timing. It was all about when you had the lead, when you pushed etc. I think if the Magic push early in the 2nd quarter, they give the openents too much time to adjust, vis-a-vis game 5 against the Cavs. If they make their push in the 3rd quarter that's optimum, because that hits the right combo of the opponent thinking they have time to push back, but not actually leaving enough time.

From the other teams perspective, at least in the Cavs series, they would go out and build these seemingly dominant leads in the first quarter. I think building big leads early is exceptional in that it's bad against the Magic. Normally a team only resorts to 3's out of desperation or necessity, as in the only way to make up the point differential in the time remaining is to hit a bunch of 3's, you switch to long-range game to get you back in it. Putting the Magic into the long range game as early as Q2, puts them in their most dangerous game, that is rotating the ball between their 4 3-point shooters.

Furthermore it gives them each a few practice shots to get going, and once 2/4 or 3/4 have seen the ball go in the net, that is your defence shattered, you can't double team Dwight anymore and you don't know where the next 3 is coming from.

Once those shooters get going on the 3's they will have that up their sleeves for the 2nd half of the game. They'll shoot daggers into your heart.

The Lakers need to visualise these matches as a 800m-1500m foot race. You don't want to sprint out and play 'who hits the wall first' basketball, because shooting 3's is less energy intensive than driving the lane or backing down a defender for the low post plays. They want to tuck in just behind or just in front of the Magic, and then: LISTEN, WATCH, FEEL for when they try and make their move.

If you know you have a strong sprint finish, that is, you are a strength runner, then the longer you can keep your oppenent(s) from making their break, the more guarunteed is your victory. That is what the Lakers need to do with Magic, don't sprint the first lap, because Magic will just open up their stride a little and beat you down to the finish line.


With Dwight, Mike Brown was right, the league has no Ben Wallace these days, not even in Ben Wallace, so you are probably going to foul him to get the stops and send him to the line. What you don't want is to make a 3 point player out of Dwight and give him the And-1 plays. So you have to fall on his arms or some shit so he can't follow through on his scoring play.

The Lakers really should be the underdog/dark horse of this finals series, except they have the home court advantage, and the idiot media will overhype them on their win loss regular season record, which is bullshit, because the only regular season games that count in this series are the 3 against Orlando, for which their record is 0-3. In other words the Lakers should be the underdogs, but have lost the underdog advantage.