Sunday, January 31, 2010

The Persistence of Vision

I'm learning all sorts of stuff about images whilst prepping for some comic projects. I've been reading John K's stuff on his blog, which he updates so prolifically and regularly I am actually starting to sympathise with readers of my own blog. The guy is a genius with pretty strong convictions.

Anyway, Animation is pretty useful for comics, particularly when my challenge #1 is:

Challenge Number 1: Draw characters who don't change proportions between every panel.

So in animation you would have a character walk around on a page, 'turn around' through rotations, tilt their head from side to side and then walk towards the 'horizon' and away from the 'camera' and away from the 'horizon' and towards the 'camera' and even though its all just lines drawn on paper, people would believe it, that an image suspended in the air the distance at all times from the viewers eyes have a picture of a person that is moving closer and further away.

Except it shouldn't be remarkable because movies do the exact same thing, its all just static images being rolled passed a globe.

Aparantly movies and animation work thanks to the 'persistence of vision', probably best demonstrated by the disc with a bird on one side and a cage on the other. When you pull on twisted strings on either side the disc spins around and it appears the bird is inside the cage. You know what I'm talking about 'course you do eat the pudding!

Both the bird and the cage image leave a faint lasting impression on the retina that allows ou to percieve that the images are occuring simultaneously even though that's a physical impossibility.

Same deal, with a movie, it's like people running past you with a whole bunch of painted portraits painstakingly painted photorealistic portraits all slightly changed from one another. If the people holding the frames run fast enough and are consistent in height you won't see 300 paintings in a minute, you will think you see 1 moving image.

Where it is interesting to comics, and animation is particularly instructive is that animation and movies are lazy crutches for our brain, because a comic demonstrates that the mind doesn't need 5 frames per second or whatever to be smooth, you can have like 1 panel per 5 seconds and the mind will fill in the blanks and, with enough skill the illusion of being within the story experiencing it in real time will happen without anybody even noticing that they are reading a story.

I guess that's why Scott McCloud defines comics as 'sequential art telling a narrative through time'.

And I'm starting to think that movies are in fact the poorer cousin of comics and not the other way round. James Cameron can play around with CGI 3D renders and it is genuinely impressive. But it's like Gene Simmons talking about the stampede into 5-string bass guitars he was saying 'I haven't mastered 4-strings yet, that guy from The Presidents of the USA plays a 2 string.'

I figure the only reason to learn animation at this stage is to help me learn for the static comic image. We haven't mastered the static image, yet comics have a bunch of tricks. You have the physical limitation of the page - for sure movies are the same you have the landscape dimensions of a screen or widescreen or IMAX or whatever, but just as you cant draw 5 frames per second in a comic and sync a soundtrack to it, you couldn't jam 9 panels onto a movie screen and have the audience follow them, or move through time in the sequence you want them to.

I think the ability to jump from 2d to 4d without necessarily having the 3d worked out yet is amazing. (which technically if you have height and width, no depth, but time you are working in 3d just not the traditional 3d).

But my mind is most blown away by this picture:

Now while this may appear to just be a picture of space akin to looking up into the night sky (in the country not the city), it really is, pretty much like that. Except with a million seconds of exposure time. In this image we have the dimensions of height, width and... time. How much time 13 billion years to be exact.

I'm 26 years old, so 13 billion years is pretty inconcievable but there it is 13 billion years worth of light arriving simultaneously to create this 'ultra deep field image'. It maps 13 billion years into one static image. It takes 8 minutes for sunlight to arrive at earth (give or take) but this image will have light that has been traveling for 1 billion years, or 600 million years or whatever and then the oldest is a redish star buried in there that is from when the universe was only 500 million years old. Which is to say, in that one patch of sky we have light that is 13 billion years old, just traveling from a source through space dodging every possible obstruction and arriving in the vacinity of earth.

So thats what a 2d image can do. 2010, pff.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Obama delivers on campaign promise.

That's right 'Hope' that's all he offered and really, we all got it. Not just USA citizens but the world over. Even 'Change we can believe in' was lived up to.

So for anyone dissapointed by Obama's efforts thus far, you need to look at yourself.

You are the one that voted for 'Hope' not 'Deliverance' and you are the one that voted for 'Change we can believe in' not 'Change that will actually take place'.

I for the record never really got Obama mania. He always struck me as dull but dignified. Really from my comfortable seat on earth, dignity in a 'world leader' is less desirable than someone undignified like Bush. Dignified is boring, it reminds me of why I was initially pleased that Bush edged out Al Gore thanks to some legal trickery.

Since then Al Gore got undignified, appearing in Futurama and doing a power point presentation and I've since liked him more. I've never really liked Obama though.

But I too consumed my fill of hope, I looked at his campaign funding though and thought 'Of all the presidential candidates he has the most indipendant funding from small time citizens yet, maybe that will give him more licence to tell his corporate sponsors to go fuck themselves.' Turns out no.

But I will continue to hope, I just hope now people will realise that the Presidents not in charge. Maybe even look at where they have their money invested, because they could be financing the very companies that are frustrating them.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Sir Psycho Sexy

Very, very, rarely I will be hit by the urge to listen to Red Hot Chilli Peppers. 90's peppers, not 2000+ peppers who are still to produce a song worth a damn. Usually for reasons I can't put down on paper I listen to 'One Hot Minute' mostly, it's just a complete album experience I guess.

But yesterday bored of One Hot Minute yet not wanting to go back to my regular music staples yet I chose 'Blood Sugar Sex Magic' and skipped straight to 'Give It Away' because you get three decent tracks in a row.

It's been so long since I've listened to BSSM that I had since learnt what 'New Orleans' was and thus had a greater appreciation of 'Apache Rose Peacock' which has some great lyrics like "My eyes popped out, my dick got hard and I... dropped my jaw." which you just wouldn't hear in most lyrics these days.

But the real revelation was when 'Sir Psycho Sexy' came on. Specifically I forgot how great a lyricist Keadas could be until this memorable scenario:

I got stopped by a lady cop
In my automobile
She said get out and spead your legs
And then she tried to cop a feel
That cop she was all dressed in blue
Was she pretty? Boy I'm tellin' you
She stuck my butt with her big black stick
I said "what's up?" now suck my dick
Like a ram getting ready to jam the lamb
She whimpered just a little when she felt my hand
On her crotch so very warm
I could feel her getting wet through her uniform
Proppin' her up on the black and white
Unzipped and slipped "ooo that's tight"
I swatted her like no swat team can
Turned a cherry pie right into jam

When I was 16 lyrics like these could make me break out in a sweat. Yet even though I think in this modern age of easily accessable scat porn, felching and rainbow kisses, there are few mainstream acts that would have lyrics as graphic and obtuse as can be found in the now almost 2 decade old 'Sir Psycho Sexy'.

Anyway think on it pet.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The Manga Fetish

When one thinks about what lonely men do in their basement on a computer one usually shudders. I question why I let it bother me, but it does because of the advent of the credit card, internet polls and basically ways for these douchebags to actually effect the world outside, whereas in the 1940's through to 1980's they tended just to collect stamps and lingeret catelogues from department stores.

That there lifestyle has gotten easier means they have also gotten more numerous. I'm sure the preference to lead a reclusive escapist life was always there but now there are no real social pressures remaining to put up any resistence to their inclination at all.

One (of many) manifestations of this new market-powerhouse is the rising domination of Manga. "Manga" it's poor cousin "Anime" and it's devotees "Otaku" get up my nose, thankfully not literally, but you occassionally one does wander out of the confines of their house into my actual presence at a retail outlet.

Straight up, I'm going to stop participating in the fetish by not using the redundant lingo that has made its way into the mainstream vocabulary.

Did you know "Manga" means "Comic" and thus is as applicable to Batman and Robin, Superman, The Fantastic Four, Peanuts and Fred Basset? A better and less pretentious way to refer to the phenomena is 'Japanese comic' which I will do from here on out.

Likewise did you know that "Anime" is just the japanese pronunciation of "Animation" the Japanese thanks to their use of chinese characters have far more homonyms (I think, I actually don't know English grammar too well, if you hadn't guessed already) and far fewer words with any more than four 'japanese' letters (usually 8 in roman characters).
While it is pretentious in Australia to pronounce 'Paris' 'Pa-ree' (ie. correctly in French) and it is probablly pretentious, if not downright harmful to the social fabric of Japan to demonstrate the presumed superiority of pronouncing an english word correctly and in full, there is nothing stopping non-japanese from refering to Japanese cartoons as 'Japanese cartoons' or 'Japanese animation'. Which I'll also do.

And lastly the most disturbing trend is that socially inept individuals all over Australian, US and UK basements are now starting to refer to themselves as "Otaku" with a sickening seeming sense of pride.
The Japanese would argue, that "Otaku" has subtle nuances that are uniquelly Japanese that make 'fanboy' the traditional western term for dudes that masturbate to Storm, Jean Grey, Lois Lane and Catwoman, that own lifesize Buffy cut-outs in their bedroom and voted 'Serenity' as Australia's favorite film of all time in the relatively recent ABC poll, yes maybe they don't literally translate, but both really are just redundant terms for 'loser'.
There's no way to tip-toe around that. Furthermore, one of the endearing traits of Japanese culture is that they insist everything about Japan is unique, including the laws of physics.
The sadness of the Japan-fetish cum Japanese-comics fetish is how much longer the wikipedia article dedicated to "Otaku" is than "Fan-boy".

Now I sympathise with kids that are blown away by Japanese cartoons in their teens and japanese comic books. I was with them back when I was 14-16. But 'Samurai Pizza cats' aside, Japanese cartoons quickly revealed themselves as inferior to what was being done in America with the medium - Simpsons, South-Park and Ren & Stimpy come to mind.

In Japan 40-50 year olds watch the exact same shows that kids do, thus they never really developed an adult market for cartoons. Furthermore, the reverse is true to say that even little kids watch the ultra-violent sex driven cartoons one could unsuccessfully argue are pitched at adults.

But people will traditionally compare Japanese cartoons to American ones by pointing at Nickelodeon and try and claim that the complex plots and mature subject matter are superior to Nickelodeon's offerings.

Comics are a bit harder. Japanese comics follow a 'creator-driven' model where the writer is the artist and they actually take responsibility for making the entire comic over its publishing life-span. Where in America comics are 80% 'publisher driven' where DC will hire a moron like Grant Morrison or Mark Miller to pick up the mess of character continuities created by every writer that preceded them and try and stitch together some messier sales promoted event. The other 20% of American comic books is the more artistic creator driven comics like Chris Ware, Seth Green and Dave Gibbons that work like the Japanese model (but more prone to creative writer/artist team ups) and realese their own serial.
What's surprising is that even in the vast superhero dominated publisher driven mess, it usually produces more interesting (if convoluted) comics than the Japanese do.
Try telling this to a Japanese person and the will scoff and flap their hand at you dismissively. This is because Japan only really discovered American comics through their poor cousin 'movies' back in like 2002 or whenever 'Spiderman 1' came out with Tobey McGuire. They haven't had a chance to actually pick up a western comic and read it yet.

True or not, what is true is that anyone who doesn't want to learn from what others are doing in the medium is always poorer for it.

But it wouldn't appear that way, it appears the fetish has many devotees, one need only witness the war of attrition going on in the Boarders bookshelves, or source the Saturday morning/weekday morning cartoons to the writers country of origin.

On the animated side John K says it better than I ever could. (John K created Ren & Stimpy).

What surprises me about the fetishising fanboys, is that my experience is the more yo dig into Japanese comics the less you find.

Dragonball for example is as near as I can find to 'complete garbage' its one saving grace being its humour. But in the early days its humour was very much the Benny Hill sex obsessed kind, funnier than Benny Hill, but that said pervert humour hasn't been cutting edge in most of the world since Benny Hill.

Then there's the storelines, Japanese comics may be ostensibly 'creator driven' but in reality the Shonen-Jump publishing house is more dominent than DC and Marvel out west, (they are becoming more dominent in DC and Marvel's traditional territory too). Which means that under their profit model, Japanese comics typically conform to the same basic formula.

I'm not talking about drawing styles either, it's more the Archetypes and plots. For example the dominant genre is 'the epic' with the main character being 1 of 2 archetypes: 'kid hungry' or 'loner samurai' either character will do anything to protect their friends through convoluted and poorly planned plots designed to have them fight large vertically organised gangs.

They will usually fight somebody with fire powers, somebody with earth powers, somebody with lightning powers, somebody with ice powers, somebody water powers and then to mix it up somebody who can command the dead.

When done well, like in 'One Piece' there's nothing wrong with a piece of classical literature. Particularly when it doesn't presume as Alan Moore says 'that conflict is inherently interesting' though Japan hasn't had the Alan Moore/Frank Miller revolution that moved superhero comics away from pure conflict periodicals to deeper explorations of the human condition.

Pick up your average western comic book now and whilst you may see plenty of explosions or 'effects' the most combat you will see will be a couple of panels going up to 4 pages for an 'epic' fight.

Why then if I'm so insistent on Western comics being superior (even at their worst) does the Japanese comic fetish seem so powerful?

Simple answer: Standardisation.

I would put it out there that Japans success globally in the comic book world is just really an accident of history, that being that Osamu Tezuka was born and worked in Japan instead of France, Belgium, Italy or the US.

But before going into that, let me elaborate on standardisation, and why it sells so well. I once read an article that said 'when people tune into a television show they watched last week, they don't want to see a new episode, they want to see the episode they watched last week for the first time again.' Same applies to movies, its why sequals make the big money yet there's almost no examples of sequals that surpassed their original (evil dead II: dead by dawn comes to mind, but that's about it).
This quirk of human psychology has made some of the longest running TV shows the most tired and formulaic. Think 'The Nanny' or even 'Family Guy', or if you really want a strong example think 'Gilligan's Island'.

Now when I pick up a comic I've never read before I want it to be something new, I want it to show me something I've never seen before. Grant Morrison and Mark Miller two of the comic book industries current darling writers may write garbled messy crap, but they do at least have something going on at a conceptual level and are actively trying to break the mold in one of the hardest environments to do so - ongoing comic books.

Not so with Japanese comics, coming from a culture where precedent is everything, very very few creators try anything new. The newness is always a matter of details not actually story telling technique. Reading even the better examples like '20th Century Boys' its clear Alan Moore's deconstructionist influence hasn't reached their shores yet.

Whilst they can kill a character and leave them dead, Japanese comics pull very few tricks over their western competition. In terms of composition and pacing there's very little Frank Miller could teach them, but beyond composition and pacing, Frank Miller isn't actually a very good writer. (he likes dark and gritty Noir, even his revolutionary work on Batman in the 80's was brought over from his revolutionary work on Daredevil, another 'dark noir loner' archetype).

Which means, Japanese comics often have less interesting artwork than western comics because of the homogenous approach they take to character design versus the blown open rotating stable of artists the superhero comics employ from OTT classicists like Greg Cappullo or Skottie Young to cutting edge mixed media artist like Ben Templesmith and that guy who does 'Kabuki'. In the west it's technically possible for all four to work on the one title, over the same story arc.

I haven't yet heard of anything near the equivalent happening in Japan.

But to the average comic book reader, picking up a Japanese comic is a much surer bet than picking up an American comic. While it's true your chances of picking up a 'Watchmen' are 0% your chances of picking up a 'Prelude to Final Crisis' are also 0% and many people would happily sacrifice the upside to eliminate the downside it would seem.

This safe bet has a foundation, that foundation is Japan's 'God of Manga' Osamu Tezuka, best known for 'Astro Boy' but whose work was so prolific that he pretty much invented every advantage Japanese comics have over western today. The large female audience is the result of his pioneering works with 'Princess Knight' he created diverse genres in samurai epics, historical biopics, literary translations (like crime and punishment), sci fi and of course Astro Boy created an explosion in adventure comics.

In many cases he solves all the problems for generations to come. Many comic writers can learn for example from Alan Moore on how to avoid tired conflict based plots in his 'Writing for Comics' essay, and look at Frank Miller to solve a lot of composition and pacing issues.

Tezuka pretty much set the rules (without trying) for Japanese comics and has pretty much been imitated ever since. There has been no quantum innovation in Japanese comics to compare with what Miller or Moore have done in the same time period.

There hasn't even really been one as regards character design or artwork alone.

But the fanboy dollar is powerful and it can cannibalise something worth keeping, it destroys opportunities for the artform to advance by having all the publishing companies back the same tired formulas.

Thus thusly, I'm through with the fetish.

Friday, January 22, 2010

National Identity, Identifying with Strangers

In the aftermath of the 2005 Cronulla riots, then prime minister John Howard famously said: ''I do not accept that there is underlying racism in this country. I have always taken a more optimistic view of the character of the Australian people.''

The statement is a tautology. In the tradition of Australia Day, and being an anarchist at heart I will talk about Australia and my dislike of nationalism.

Racism is positive and negative, hence to make a generalisation like 'Australians aren't racist' is a self contradicting statement. It is perhaps easier to see the racism if you rephrase it 'racists aren't Australian'. admittedly the first version only implies that such a thing as 'racists' exist.

Am I racist? probably.

But looking back at 2009, the two items that got the police in the headlines were - 'Attacks on Indian students' and 'Drunken youth riots/Inner city violence'. It's the latter I'd like to focus on.

Nothing is more Australian than having a drink (?). VB sponsors Anzac day, suggesting Veterans not only by themselves a beer at the local RSL but one for their dead compatriots too.

But when drunken kids (and older) wail on each other late at night in the CBD you don't see people commenting 'If these kids were Islamic we wouldn't have this problem'. Which is true, the violence in the CBD it would appear is not caused by Australia's growing Muslim community.

Nor would any press stating 'This is an inherently Christian problem' see the light of day, even though it was monks that invented beer, Islam prohibits it in all it mainstream incarnations.

Well, welcome to the party, most Australian's would be indignant if somebody suggested (say India) that we were a pack of violent drunken racist yobs, knowing that this was actually some small white bread minority presumably from a set of suburbs occupying a different point on the compass.

But this is how the image gets hijacked by the misbehaving minority. Suck it up, suck it up real good. They say you only lose your integrity once, even if your track record is shining for 40 years it just takes one stupid or criminal act to undo it all. Forging a 'national identity' simply makes you 21 million times more vulnerable to having one person fuck it all up for you.

When you choose to identify with strangers, be prepared to share their identity. I know the practicalities of citizenship in this world of passports, visas and what-not make it appear as though we have little choice, but being lumped in with a pack of drunk hooligans is just how the cookie crumbles.

Much like being lumped in with a small group of terrorists, fundamentalists and probably a much larger group of plain old freedom fighters is the fate of those who choose to identify with Islam. It doesn't make it right, and it could be worse, you could be Christian and lumped in with pro-lifers, creationists and republicans, just taking the example of minority writ large on your national identity as a wake up call to treat all national 'characters' with a grain of salt.

Better yet, be a person, and just treat everyone you meet with compassion.

A national identity whether positive or negative is racist.

Naive Investor Chapter 3: Savings vs Interest

Investing with 'Other People's Money' is complicated and not the place to start accumulating wealth. Savings are.

Savings work because money has no expiration date. One of the functions of Money is as a store of wealth. Wealth = command of resources = purchasing power.

To put it simply, if you got paid in coupons, identical to cash in every way except that they expired by your next pay day, there would be no point to 'saving' your coupons. They expire.

Cash doesn't expire, so if you get paid $100 today, you have $100 of purchasing power today. You can save some of that $100 till next pay day. If you saved $50 per week, then your purchasing power on pay day next week would be $150, the week after $200, and the week after $250.

If you live within your means (and then some) you will be wealthy. By far the best return you can get on anything is to be paid for your time. Trading on your labor.

Thus there are good practical considerations like 'pay yourself first' which is putting your savings away at first opportunity into an account you can't readily access.

How wealthy can you get by saving? It depends...

First on your savins ratio, this is something you should know and many don't. Savings ratio is what amount of your pretax earnings you save per year (month, week etc.)

Apparantly 7% is good. I've always managed between 20-30% but admittedly I have little to no financial obligations. I'm also told via hearsay that the average US citizens savings ratio is (-3%).

With savings your purchasing power increases over time, therefore to some extent financially you become less and less vulnerable.

But in its basic form, your savings uninvested are passively invested in cash, and cash generally speaking is a terrible investment. (It's why companies pay you in cash over an ongoing ownership stake in the company).

Cash basically is a promisory note, it has no intresic worth and is rather like a coupon that gives you an entitlement to a piece of all the resources in the world (value added or not).

The thing is that more money is created but resources are finite. So your 'share' in the world resources gets diminished by a growth in the money supply.

Hence 'printing more money' doesn't work. Because it just reduces the value of the money already in circulation.

Think if you will, of a company that earns $100 per year. (a poor company I know). They have 10 shareholders, that 'Share' that $100 between them, or $10 each. If the company offers more shares (90 more) then your entitlement shrinks from $10 to $1. So too if the government prints more cash, or banks create more money, or store owners put up their prices.

The purchasing power of money erodes over time. This erosion in purchasing power is called inflation and gives way to the general principle that 'a dollar today is better than a dollar tomorrow'. A sentiment that runs contrary to the notion of saving.

The 'healthy' rate of inflation measured against a 'basket of goods' called the Consumer Price Index or 'CPI' is somewhere between 3-4% per annum. What this means is that after a year, your dollar from January 1st, will be worth about 97c in terms of the goods it purchases. The tricky thing is, your bank balance will still say '$1' thus many people don't realise that inflation is the enemy.

Thus if saving is about preserving and building your purchasing power, inflation is the only enemy to beat.

While you have an income, if you squirrell away $2000 a year, you don't have to worry so much about the $60-$80 lost purchasing power each year. When you don't have an income its worse, but also not forebodingly worse.

If you retired in 40 years time with $1 million in the bank you might think it a princely sum. The danger of inflation is that with 3-4% inflation compounding per year, that might cover 3 years living expenses.

"Americans are getting stronger. Twenty years ago, it took two people to carry ten dollars' worth of groceries. Today a five-year old can do it." - Henny Youngman.

Inflation is what necessitates taking some risk and investing. A high interest online savings account at the moment gives you about 3% or so, which accounts for most of the lost purchasing power of inflation currently. But it is still losing purchasing power.

The general principle of investing, for the sole purpose of improving your financial position is beating inflation. If inflation is 1% you just need to beat 1%. If inflation is 14% you have the much more daunting task of beating 14%.
I would add at least a couple of percentage points onto whatever the official inflation rate is. The reason being that the CPI isn't what it used to be.

John Howard for example, instructed the ABS (or whoever) to remove credit card debt from the CPI, so that inflation wouldn't look so bad. The point being, a lot of subjectivity and interference has been applied to the CPI since its inception, no matter which country in the world. So better to be safe than sorry and add 1 or 2% to the official inflation figure and adopt that as your wealth preserving goal.

Some risky investments though, can result in you losing money on them over a period of time, meaning you have to suffer the loss and the effects of inflation.

Thus if you are particularly risk averse, just leave your savings in cash and suffer the effects of inflation.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

The Butcher's Unfinished Symphony

Well, this blog has been named 'Run. Draw. Write' for a while now, so I thought I better actually put up some drawings at some point.
Right now I'm trying to do minimum 1 hour drawing a day, I've been working largely on anatomy for the past 3 months, so most of it is just poor copies of renaissance masterpieces.

Anyway, going back into my Garage days, I've been running with 'The Real Gayle King' which is our filthy euphemism for the even filthier combination of Butcher, Harvard and 150pages.

In order to get to know eachothers creative styles, if you may permit my narcissism, I suggested we take turns at collaborating. Butcher and I could do a comic, Hwang and 150 could do whatever they want.

We got off to a great start, that is what I had envisioned as a manageable 4 page comic immediatly blew out into an epic poetic, nightmarish comic of comical proportions.

all rights reserved.

Don't get me wrong, I was incredibly impressed with Butcher's enthusiasm and ownership of the project, if anything it was a bit daunting and whilst the man has vision, there's no denying it I couldn't help tears from coming to my eyes when he replied to my suggestion of '3 panels per page' with 'Okay I want like the next page to have 100 panels filled with all sorts of people over history holding guns so the reader goes like 'woah'' and stuff.

mercifuly he didn't tell me what to fill the panels with so I got away with 5

It was a bittersweet experience, for one having butcher say 'I love it! I love your artwork BUT just if you could change this, this, this, this and this it will be better.' and 'exactly you nailed it, but I changed my mind!'

In the end I killed the project, being nasty and justifying it to myself as 'tough love'. Put simply I couldn't cut the demanding pace Butcher was setting for me.

Anyway, here's the drawings without captions, I must have grown as an artist since I did these 6ish months ago, because I can't believe how poor they are. Hopefully I've grown... otherwise I'm just a shitty artist.

I'd like to work with Butcher on a comic again some day, but I wouldn't use the to & fro process we did here. I think probably doing a 'panel at a time' comic is always going to produce stories of the same literary merit as 'word at a time' stories in theatresports.

I have captioned images around somewhere, maybe butcher will post those on his blog.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Rethinking the Oscars

The past year saw two movies come out that will in all probability recieve absolutely no consideration from the Acadamy. What with dedicated performances of disabled and mentally disturbed people, serial killers and what not, and on top of that, somebody stole my idea and made a movie about the Holocaust several in fact.
This is what fills the hours of the academy, which reinforces the same kinds of actors and the same kinds of performances and the same movie ideas over and over again. Rather like the Nobel Peace Prize for Economics keeps reinforcing the Normal Distribution risk model that worked so well in the GFC.

No indeed, the comedian at the Oscars is the saddest man in town.

The two movies are:

A) Bruno
B) Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs

Now hear me out. When I saw Sacha Baren Cohen (or however it is spelt) gazing up into the stars and say 'It makes me wonder about all the millions of hot guys out there' in the midst of three hillbillies, I was amazed at his dedication to the role. Robert De Nero may drive a taxi around for taxi driver and Christian Bale may lose hundreds of kilos, but without being sarcastic at all, nobody approaches the level of commitment and dedication to a role as Sacha Baren Cohen does.
It made me rethink acting all together. What he brought to the role made the 'mocumentary' the suspension of disbelief isn't so much the audiences, but the documentary subjects. I think he should be considered for 'Best Actor' regardless of how scrappy the rest of the films composition may be. I mean John Safron or Jackass doesn't compare to the dedication to a role. And the ability to just say the worst most agravating thing at every possible time you possibly could.
Give the man an Oscar and put an end to Oscar chasers like Nicole Kidman and Russell Crowe. Confuse them, by suggesting maybe there's more to acting than playing a mentally disturbed person, a holocaust survivor or a serial killer.

Moving on to Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs, I think in all honesty its a contender for best picture. It's stupid and insane and implausable. But in terms of story telling, nothing really compares. For one, I have never seen better examples of foreshadowing ever. For two, ridiculous though they may be, the performances they get out of the cast are amongst the best of all of them, Bruce Campbell, Mr.T, James Caan and Neil Patrick Harris they all just work.
It took me till this year to watch it, because the trailer made it look like a film about raining food. Which it is. But damnit its the best damn movie about food rain ever. The subject matter is no holocaust, sure, but its the execution particularly given that its 3d computer animation, i one of the best executed films ever.
I'll go so far as to say, whilst maybe lacking the emotional impact, it puts Pixar to shame. They appear to walk where Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs runs. Perhaps if anything its brilliance is too subtle, and many just see it as a superficially stupid film about food rain.

Anyway, I'm serious, the Oscars needs to shake itself down and consider comedy for recognition.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Feedback - Thus Far

In Marshall Goldsmith's corporate consulting world feedback should be annonymous and carried in 360 degrees from the subject. Being neither in corporate consulting nor in possession of the people to channel anonymous feedback through I have done the best I can. I asked 8 people I trust to be productive.

The results thus far haven't been surprising in and of themselves, but what is surprising is that even though I know better, my natural reaction is to argue and make up excuses. To insist people are just misinterpreting me, misunderstanding me or misunderestimating me.

Also there's a big difference between suspecting and knowing, largely in the fact that I went into a deep funk for about 12 hours which was only relieved by sleeping even though I truly am grateful to those who bothered to give me honest heartfealt feedback. I hope I treated their efforts with due respect and can implement them to make myself stronger, faster, harder and most importantly kinder.

I have said I'm not afraid of failure, I am afraid of not trying. And I'm definitely afraid of not trying to be a better person than I am.

Actually I'll start with one now - yes you are a pussy. You lack confidence with the opposite sex. Take the confidence that you exude when enlightening everyone on a new business narrative and use that energy productively in talking to a girl that you like. Don't bore her with your long winded intepretation of the world, you can get carried away sometimes - just get to the point! Maybe you are inadequately gifted but that shouldn't stop you approaching a lovely young thing because you are intelligent, capable of carrying an engaging conversation and alright looking. On a first impression note, as you are a rider, use of a good anti-perspirant and manly cologne is a must! One of the most memorable things about my first date with **a* was that he smelt great. Fresh as a can of Lynx Africa. But back to my point about conversation. You have a tendency to convolute the point that you were getting to with the use of too many words. Be succinct!
- the irony of how convoluted my request for feedback was not lost on me.

Well, let's see how to be more succinct. Sometimes it's just about taking an extra couple of seconds to think about what you are going to say before you open your mouth. Think about what is the best way I can articulate my thought without taking 30 seconds. Most of the time things can be said with few words. There is a guy at work that suffers with this and it can be tiresome to speak with him. Or sometimes the reason why you are not succinct is because while the other person has been speaking you have been thinking about what you want to say. Just listen and let your thoughts catch up once they are done. I saw this on Dr Phil and he brings it down to being selfish. One of those may work depending on what you think is the cause of verbal diahorrea.

At times with your use of your extensive vocabulary and way in which you can elongate what essentially could've been said in a short sentence you can come across as a know it all. You sometimes speak with a high level of self assurance or 'I know I'm right when I say this' tone that can make other around you feel as if they are being spoken down to. In other words come across as condescending even though it is just you expressing your opinion. Sometimes people don't like when others are too opinionated. **** and I don't really get this vibe from you but others at ***** have mentioned it in the past.

To me those are the things that come to mind. But realistically I am kind of blind to it as well. I've only been able to bring this to my own attention because of your request. I like you as who you are: well educated, foul mouthed, opinionated, quirky, funny, honest, confusing and caring. Now I'm going to throw some self help cliches at you and the first one is don't just change because someone tells you to or has attacked you for being who you are. Those characteristics are probably the reason why your 'true' friends like you. Yes, we all need to improve parts of our behaviours, e.g. me being too blunt or abrasive with people. I know that I will never completely rid myself of that behaviour because that's just who I am and at times people need to know the truth, I just need to approach each person differently and articulate it in a way that won't offend even though I know I occassionally will.

Over our time together Trav and I have made many minor changes to our behaviours in certain areas but I would never wish for him to lose any of his natural qualities or behavioural flaws. If I wanted a clone of myself I would've found some good looking idiot who did everything I told him to. As long as in your quest to improve yourself you just make minor adjustments that you see fit then that's fine. But I don't want to see you become someone you are not. Things that others say may just be a mere reflection on themselves and their insecurities because we find it easier deflect similar inadequecies on others than to admit to them ourselves.

Lastly, sometimes it is ok to be selfish and not make improvements in certain areas. If the behaviour that you have been noted on is one that you don't necessarily agree on then leave it alone. The only exception is if it is a common opinion. We can be too busy thinking that we need to make others around us happy but we need to take time out and think about what makes us happy.
- This is truly excellent feedback, and unsurprisingly it comes from one of my 'definitely hire' people.

So after going through the tohm email folder to refresh my memory, I have come up with the following. Most of this is from our email communications but a lot of it spills over into the 'real' world....

Super long emails...... Ok I admit it. The only reason I never replied to the email you sent me not long after we caught up in Oz (the one that I found heart wrenching coz you were laying yourself bare about feeling like a loser, etc) was because there was just WAY TOO MUCH to absorb and dignify with a response. I found it really hard to make the time because I was put off by knowing how long it would take me. Yes, I have to take some responsibility for not making the time, but in general, I find your emails too long. Is that too harsh? Would you be just as happy for me to write a quick reply letting you know I'd read your email and was acknowledging your state of mind? I think I've just answered my own question.... Forgive me for being a bad friend.

Related to the above, when you communicate via email, they are often rambling.... Which I know is your style, but the problem is that most of the time, they are so rambling and lacking in punctuation that I have to read and re-read up to 5 times to actually understand what you're trying to say. Problem of course with that is that I'm (mostly) a pretty busy person, and so instead of your email taking me just a few minutes to read over, absorb, and respond, I find myself a) feeling daunted by the fact that I'm just about to read a massive email, b) spend 5 times longer trying to decipher what you mean than I need to, and c) deal with subject matter that ranges from a to z, with no clear connection between any of those things. So by the time I've finished reading your email I'm already exhausted and don't have the energy to reply, and put it off, knowing it'll take me forever to go back over all the parts of your email to provide a decent response to all of those issues.

Offering advice when it's not asked for. I've definitely told you this before, but you keep throwing it at me. On occassions, I've found it really useful and positive. But a lot of the time I just find it frustrating. When I want advice, it means I'm ready to receive it, which means I'll ask for it.

I tried to find examples of communication that left me stewing..... I couldn't. But there definitely have been. When I try and recall the themes of what triggers that broiling stew, I'd have to say it usually relates to that undertone (actually, often it's an overtone) of condescention and sarcasm you weave through your communication style. I think it's the moment you weave it into personal stuff that makes me boil. Sometimes it's about *****, sometimes it's about my family.... It's when you poke fun of those things it kind of jarrs. I don't take offence, because I know you always say/write these things in jest. But it's an involuntary reaction I have whenever you make little comments like "*****-loving freak", or that my family gets "excited by making daily goals and shit". I remember sending you an email once about having a panic attack and you made some joke about me saying 'thank god ***** was there", when it should've been "thank Allah ***** was there". Little things like that. I guess maybe I'm sensitive, but it just irritates me. And so I guess because of that, I often find that your emails are draining, rather than energising. Where 90% of your email could have been really great and interesting, there's that one sentence in there that just brings the whole thing down. I guess the problem is that this is part of your signature style.... There are things that tohm and only tohm can say and get away with - and you do. But it still leaves me sour sometimes. And means I don't feel comfortable talking to you about my family or *****.
- really great feedback, and I removed the 4 balancing positive feedback notes, because well I don't have to work on those.

The reason why I hang out with you tohm is because I enjoy ur company and input in my life, or else I would have told u to fuck off a long time ago. I guess I could say things like " I wish you were vegetarian" or " I wish you drank coffee" but then that would be like my friends who wish I drank wine so we could drink together, which pisses me off. Probably the only thing that I can point out is when you (pleasantly surprisingly) turn up unannounced, which I like, but it only means I can't do that one thing that I wanted to do one my only day off for the week, like going to the gym. Knowing it in advance just allows me to plans things around and make it all fit according to both our timetables. I guess its also about me being disorganised, and planning the whole day around myself too, I don't know.
- I'm trying to fix this one already, and sympathise but was surprised that this is the only way I piss this person off.

I'm really greatful for those that bothered to email me feedback, I'm really greatful to those who bothered to read my request. I'm still holding out for a few more before I decide which issue to address first.

I'm fortunate in my call center work giving me a bunch of people to practice my interpersonal skills on an almost daily basis.

But I posted it up here, so that if you meet me face to face you know I'm supposed to be working on this stuff. So feel free to say 'just shut the fuck up and listen for a minute tohm' or 'man stand back tohm you stink.' or 'if you'r going to be vindictive and sarcastic I'll shove this pinecone up your arse.' etc.

More to come. (yay more!).

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Naive Investor Chapter 2: Advisors and Managed Funds

Chances are at some point, if not already, you will feel you are the recipient of bad financial advice from a professional or entrusted your money to a charletan managed fund.

I'm almost certain you will feel this way, but the advisor and the fund managers aren't actually wrong. You are. Because financial advisors and managed funds are tools to be used, but to be used successfully you need to posess a core of financial knowledge.

Imagine if you will that you are playing basketball, and whilst a team mate is shooting free throws the coach calls you over to the sideline and says 'run a pick and roll next possession'. Alternatively he may say 'call an isolation play'. With both the core knowledge of the basketball rules and knowledge of basketball strategies etc, it enables a player to utilise the experience and advice of the coaching staff, but ultimately when the ball is in your hands it remains your call.

Thus financial planners are like a coach for finance. They may know different areas well and they are also governed and regulated by rules, but if you don't walk into their office in possession of a functional understanding of investment (including the first chapters definition) then you really can't expect to benefit from any advice they give you.

I assume then that many financial advisors spend time playing teacher to their clients. But dealing with investment is dealing with uncertainty, and thus any advise is going to be coached in uncertainty. To cast loose the shackles of naivety you need to come to terms with this.

As Benjamin Graham pointed out, if a company was guarunteed (certain) to grow 8% a year its price would be infinite. Thus by the time you found out about its share options you probably couldn't afford it and would be able to make money out of it.

But when Microsoft was a relatively unknown company making strategic moves in the unknown industry of operating system software there was potential to make money out of it.

Risk = Profit AND Loss Potential.

To use a financial advisor you need realistic expectations of what they & you can achieve.

What they can achieve:

They can make a budget for you that enables you to save.

They can advise tax effective ways to invest your money.

They can weigh up the relative risks of investment options and match them to your personality for you.

They can advise you on ways to protect your principal.

They can identify insurance needs.

All pretty banal but practical stuff, they cannot however pick winners for you without exposing you to losses of the same magnitude. They can't make you rich without earning it, if they do it would be accidental.

It extends to managed funds aswell.

Here it is vital to adopt realistic expectations of what you can achieve, none more vital than in security analysis and share portfolios.

The easiest cheapest and often best performing managed funds are low cost index funds because they will achieve the average market returns.

The art of picking winners is much more difficult. Very few highly educated, very informed security analysts and professional investors actually beat the market consistently.

It is naive to think you can walk in from the street and excellerate the growth of your wealth beyond every dedicated investor in the market.

Picking winners in other words requires you to pick a winner picker first. Something you are unlikely to do amongst all the noise in the managed fund market if you have no actual financial literacy.

Where a financial planner might be thought of as a coach, a fund manager is a teammate. That is at any time you can delegate the task of investing to them. Just like distributing the ball to (hopefully) a star player.

You cannot successfully make that decision if you aren't willing to put the time and effort into understanding the fund manager you are delegating your financial wellbeing to.

In summary, beating the market is very very hard either way. If you aren't able to put in the effort, you absolutely should become what Benjamin Graham calls a 'defensive investor' placing 25-50% of your money into good quality bonds and 50-75% of your money into shares, specifically a low cost index fund.*

Why? Not because it will make you rich beyond your wildest imaginings, but rather because it requires little to no effort or interest to maintain and will take the emotion out of investing for you. At the very least you won't be stressing over where your money is all the time.

Otherwise as it comes to taking advise, or picking a managed fund or any other person you bring into your financial sphere - they can only be as useful as your knowledge base allows them to be. You in the end make the decisions, they operate under the assumption that you understand how they operate.

Next we'll move onto creating financial plans, expectations etc.

*I should point out I am not qualified to give financial advice. (yet)

Monday, January 11, 2010

The Naive Investor - Chapter 1


I get angry and nasty. I think it is at the world, but I believe that I am actually angry at my own insignificance. So I decided to just calm down and stop being angry, and quietly work away at... things. This happened on my holiday.
Also on my holiday I read 'The Intelligent Investor' by Benjamin Graham, an important book I suspect. The funny thing about 'investing' is that it is just such a subject to inspire anger, as it is particularly prone to illustrating some of the pitfalls of human nature.

Reading publications like 'The Financial Review' and 'Crikey' and 'BRW' and their global equivalents promotes a temptation to be nasty and synical about peoples foolish 'investment' behaviour. It doesn't really help anyone.

So I intend to write a reflection on 'The Intelligent Investor' that succeeds in being helpful, if only to me rather than a self indulgent snipe at the stupidity of 'investors'.

So without further introduction -

Chapter 1: Bastardized Terms.

You may notice that I wrapped many instances of 'invest' in the sarcastic quotation marks in the introduction. This is because Invest/Investment/Investor are bastardized terms. That is to say, their meaning in common usage has departed from their original intent.

Benjamin Graham (author of the Intelligent Investor) defined an investment as:

"An investment operation is one which, upon thorough analysis, promises safety of principal and an adequate return. Operations not meeting these requirements are speculative."
(my emphasis)

I have been given the impression by many that something is an 'investment' if it is an assett, regardless of the price paid for it, how it will generate a return or the purchasers understanding of the assett class and/or their specific purchase.

The most common place to hear 'investment' misused is 'investment property' yet it never seems to be affixed to something like 'share portfolio' or even 'shares' people don't have 'investment shares' and 'investment share portfolios'.

But far from deeming 'investment' as superfluous in the case of property, it is innapropriate often. Because often the analysis is not thorough, nor are there 'promises of safety of principle and an adequate return.' There cannot be, because their is no analysis.

Benjamin's definition introduces another term 'speculative' or 'speculation' (and perhaps the least known 'speculator') The dividing line between 'investment' and 'speculation' is knowledge.

Speculation is basing decisions (in this context to purchase, hold or sell) on assumptions rather than thorough analysis. Even after thorough analysis of any share, property, bond etc purchase anyone is going to speculate to some extent. Thus in practice you are speculating when you simply don't bother to understand information made available to you.

It will most commonly manifest as 'Property Prices have been going up and I expect them to continue.' rather than checking ABS sensus data to get a sense of the supply/demand balance, understanding the effect of interest rates, government subsidies or even the current rental income.

Thus many of us naively call ourselves 'investors' where we mean 'speculators'. Why is it important to know that 'investment' is a bastardized term? To create an intellectual and emotional framework for making investment decisions.

Benjamin Graham points out that 'much bad advice is given freely' and I was sorely tempted to call my psuedo-book 'Your Stupid Parents' for my generation they greatest source of investment risk by virtue of their advice.

Thus if you want to be an 'investor' endeavor to make the following true of yourself:

1) That you understand to increase your wealth, the benchmark is inflation and only inflation. So long as you outperform inflation your wealth has lost no purchasing power.

2) You understand you don't need to 'beat the market' or be in the top performing managed fund, not losing money is a real achievement for an investor.

If you know the above to be true you will be innoculated to much speculative fever (though not strictly immune from the temptation).

The single greatest piece of investor knowledge you can possess is a good and true definition of 'investment' itself. Speculation is for most people only diagnosed in hind-sight by news and media and even then many speculators don't realise the news reports are talking about them.

Speculation has many negative connotations (like the word 'moron') and people like to think of themselves as 'investors'. Investor 'good', speculator 'bad' it is not necessarily any more complicated than that.

By knowing that "An investment operation is one which, upon thorough analysis, promises safety of principal and an adequate return." you know when you are doing 'good' as opposed to 'bad' and can begin to moderate your own investment behaviour.

Thus when a gamble on a powderkeg housing market blows up in your wallett you can actually blame yourself, possessing the knowledge that you pushed your money into something you don't understand.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

One Sentence Book Reviews

Making Comics: Scott McCloud

Thorough and insightful, let down by too many allusions to where the author thinks comics are 'at'.

The Seven Day Weekend: Ricardo Semler.

Not as good as Maverick, yet full of inspiration for just how much better our jobs could be.

The Intelligent Investor: Benjamin Graham

If you get past the somewhat taxing chapters on history of the stock market, it really is THE book on investing.

If Chins Could Kill: Bruce Campbell

He really is nothing like the characters he portrays, you wouldn't introduce Bruce to Ash at a party.

How To Win Every Argument: Some Guy

Based on his initial book 'The Book of Fallacies' I wish I'd just bought that for an education in logic, rather than this publisher marketed 'how to win' guide since most fallacies seem to just be bad habits.

What Got You Here Won't Get You There: Marshall Goldsmith.

There are 21 bad habits but 3 solutions, that said it is one of the most through and convincing books on instituting behavioral change in one's self.

Why I Write: Goerge Orwell

He really is the shizznizz of writing though his prediction that only a socialist England could win 'the' war fell a tad short of the mark.

The God Delusion: Richard Dawkins

Rereading this Dawkins smarm came out, but his rational case is still brilliant to behold.

The Fountainhead: Ayn Rand

Along with Dune, it's an enjoyable read I'm not sure humanity wouldn't be better off without, an intellectuals soap opera.

Goedel Escher Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid: Douglas Hoffstader.

Don't read it unless you have 8 months to prove something to yourself.

Any other books I read in the past year weren't memorable enough for me to remember just now. Pick of the above litter would be a tie-breaker betwixt 'The Intelligent Investor' and 'The Seven Day Weekend'.