At the Solidworks World 2011 General Sessions this morning the last speakers were the guys from Bionic Builders:
They were awesome and mind blowing. The stars are Hollywood stuntman and amputee Casey Pieretti and his personal inventor/design engineer Bill Spracher. Casey's dream is to have bionic limbs of all kinds that literally give him superpowers and capabilities that transcend human (that's him flying in the picture and on stage - he was practicing to have his leg explode off for a special effect). They designed a submarine propeller leg, one for mountain climbing, one that explodes, and I think one that shoots flames and/or baseballs(!) Awesome.
I do some pretty out there things with robots but these guys rocked.
One of the coolest events I have ever been to - hearing Gene Kranz and Jim Lovell talk together about space flight and the Apollo 13 mission at Solidworks World 2011. Gene was the NASA Flight Director for Mission Control "failure is not an option"- and Jim was the Apollo 13 Commander "Houston - we've got a problem".
Actually the dialogue went like this:
Swigert: 'Okay, Houston, we've had a problem here.'
Houston: 'This is Houston. Say again please.'
Lovell: 'Houston, we've had a problem. We've had a main B bus undervolt.'
The reality was a bit more geeky but how many people have actually been to the other side on the moon in a space capsule that was on fire(!).
Having just returned from a trip to Middle Earth (New Zealand) I have been actively following the strange and twisted tale of some major US studios thinking about yanking the two new Hobbit film productions out of New Zealand.
I am quite biased here, as I have friends in New Zealand who will be working on the production - but my overall guess is that anyone who has ever visited the country would appreciate how very wrong it would be to pull the films out of what truly is the only and best place for them to be created.
New Zealanders not only love their Hobbits, they essentially are Hobbits. They are one of the friendliest, least corrupt nations on earth - they live away from it all in their rough and tumble Shire Isle. The way the native Maori have been made part of society is not perfect - but it appears to be a far better situation than the way many countries have dealt with their original peoples. They seem to go out of their way to get along and to try and respect the culture of others - by wit and by being genuine, not by military might. Hobbits be there.
Where the Hobbit gets made may not seem to be a major issue on the global stage. Terrorism and the falling economy and worldwide poverty are much bigger fish. But I think that there is much for the rest of the world to learn from this modest and isolated place - much to learn about how to live in peace and get along.
So let's all join in and support their rally - let the Hobbit stay where it belongs!
Just back from a trip to Middle Earth (New Zealand)!
I was able to spend time with some of the very cool artists and film types who live down way under working on a semi-secret project that surely and absolutely involves zero hobbits.
I was also able to procure the very mighty Righteous Bison, quite handy when dealing with voracious Venusians (or Mad Hatters from the Tea Party!):
Everyone needs a Righteous Bison of their own - I wonder if I can register it with my local NRA? Best used for zapping highly endangered species and alien wildlife.
I did manage to have mangled a very large Colossal Squid with my trusty Bison - but it seems that some local Kiwis claim to have beaten me to the punch and have ole Colossal floating about in a noxious fluid in their National Museum.
The whole thinking seems to be more about anti-factory farming, anti-pollution - "the earth factor, the gross factor". It seems that the friendly, organic meat farm is not seen as the same level of scary Evil as the factory farm - so eating meat that has been hand-raised and treated well is not seen as problematic.
There surely is a difference between the factory farm and the small, well cared for organic farm on the scale of Evil (let's reference Google's Do No Evil Unless We Can Make $ here). The factory farm's Evil points must rank higher. The small organic farm's motto is "We Are Not As Evil".
But come on - what are they doing? They are both basically killing animals for us to eat.
There is a binary position here:
Do I eat animals that needed to die for me to eat this sandwich/soup/burger?
Perhaps my fleeting hunger can be satisfied better without ending an animal's life?
Our hunger is not binary - there are many, many, many non-killing ways to eat, and we can eat really, really well without meat. But for the animal it's very binary: I live, I don't live.
So while I'm all for reducing the amount of animals that are suffering and eaten, the real change that we need in people is one from being selfish to unselfish:
Selfish - I'm vegan/vegetarian because it is healthy/fights cancer/I can lose weight/it's trendy
Unselfish - I'm not eating meat because no animal has to die to fill my belly
As humans we are granted very little power and control over life - but we have immense power and capabilities over death. Too much actually. Being vegetarian can be about giving up our power to kill - we surely have it, but do we need to use it?
When we are young the cold, harsh realities of life are hidden from us. But as we grow up the veil is lifted and we peer into this dark place. But we can look into that abyss and refuse to partake of it.
People Soon To Be In Power + Some Religion Where People Claim To Know It All = Scary Bad Stuff.
Why do we confuse Freedom Of Religion with The Freedom To Shove My Religion Down Your Throat?
I'm very nervous about atheists who fanatically claim Darwinism as their religion of absolute faith (heck even Darwin would claim some uncertainty about his theories) and overly sure religions folks who want to blend politics and belief.
Keep 'em separated people.
What makes America one of the greatest places on earth is that we allow everyone, of every religion and faith and non-faith, to live here, freely. Let's keep it that way.
Politicians pandering to religious groups and adopting the language and trappings of faith are moving in opposition to the founding principles of this country. What are your leadership skills? Your ability to to manage complex data and make decisions? What are your shared values - ones that reach every citizen?
Why are you qualified to have the power of governance over us?
Your religious beliefs? Keep this to a minimum. Keep that in your private life. Explain how they will not lead you to make decisions that alienate those who do not share your beliefs.
"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances"
Here we go - a nice fat n' juicy topic: the Mosque at Ground Zero. Please add the cheese, pickles, and mayo.
Almost everything I have read on the topic can be divided into the following:
This is in really bad taste, how dare you, the 9/11 terrorists were Muslim.
This is America - all religions are free to do as they please.
The Mosque will be a friendship outreach center, an antidote to terrorism.
The more I read about the founders of the US - the more I like where they were going with the whole thing, and the more I freak out about what people today think they were about. We tend to associate America with the the idea of Freedom Of Religion. But the deeper I go into how the original coders thought, the more I realize that they meant:
Freedom From Religion.
Now what does this mean? I do not think it means that they were against religion, or that they were all atheists. I really think it means that they wanted a country relativelyfree from religion in the public and political sphere. It was the noxious mix of oppressive religion and intolerance in Europe that drove many to cross the Atlantic Ocean in crappy little wooden sailboats(!) Imagine how bad it must have been to risk everything just for a little breath of freedom from the oppression of crazed religious folks in power.
In my own life I have friends from every spectrum of faith (and lack of faith) and religion: Christians, Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, Sikhs, Atheists, Wiccans, Agnostics, Spaghetti Monsters Folks - everything and everyone. What has really helped all of these friendships is that our discussions are mostly free from discussing religion - and if and when we infrequently do, it is not a battle of right vs. wrong but one of trying to learn about some cultural tradition and then quickly back to a topic which does not involve religion.
It is one of the things I love the most about the idea of America - religion as a non-issue: do your thing, but let me do my own thing, and let's be tolerant and not in each other's face about it. Keep religion as a somewhat private, personal, family thing - you do not have to hide it, but let's not make a big deal about it. Nothing is more personal - when we die, each of us will face whatever we believe (or do not believe) in. Religion needs to become largely a non-issue.
So what about the Mosque at Ground Zero? The organizers (because this is America) are surely free to build the Mosque. Should they keep in mind that it is probably in bad taste? Yes. I would recommend that they sit down with the families of those who died in 9/11 and really find out if this is helping to build bridges of friendship and peace. How about taking the same money and donating it to the kids of the victims and helping them all through college? How about taking taking that same money and building schools of tolerance and liberal thought in Afghanistan and Pakistan, where it is sorely needed. Are you really trying to extend a hand of friendship? If so, this symbolic act may be not the right move - and there are always ways to adapt - it is not too late.
But most importantly - this is America. It is our distinct freedom of, and from, religion, that allows to have this discussion at all. Maybe all religions need to take a small step back, and just let people come forward, and we'll all realize what has been in our way, and that we do have many things in common, once we let the walls of politics and religion take a backseat.
Maybe we all believe in G-d, or something, or not - but how and why we do should not be dividing us anymore. I have my own beliefs in G-d, my own sense of religion - but I also have to leave open a window of uncertainty. Uncertainty that as I grow I will learn more and my understanding will surely continue to change and evolve (as it has), and that none of us can really know what is by definition beyond our capability to know - so we need to be highly tolerant of everyone and their own beliefs, as our own is surely flawed. We are human, as humans we are limited - the arrogance of those who claim to know everything is in my view the highest form of idolatry - because if they do believe in G-d, only G-d knows what they think they claim to know. If we were all much, much, more humble in our beliefs (believers, atheists, and everything in-between) the world would be a much better place.
So what would good old George Washington tell the builders of Mosque? I think he would sit down with them and have a long chat. This is America, my friends - you are welcome here, and you are also welcome to build here - in the spirit of freedom and friendship. But let's perhaps discuss a better place for your dollars. You don't have to agree with me, but at least let us sit down and talk. After all - this is why we fought and defeated the British King - it wasn't all about tea (at least not all of it!).
Very cool mash-up of retro video game vibes + indie music + slackers + Canada/Toronoto
Is sadly flailing at the box office - but thus is the fate of going all out indie
Hopefully will make all the $ and then some somehow through DVDs and word of mouth
Is the kind of film/graphic novel thingie I love
Actually read all 6 graphic novels(!) - and liked them better - somehow they have more heart and depth and ambience
Why Avatar scored billions in its box office and Scott Pilgrim will likely barely make back its budget is a harsh lesson for any writer, filmmaker, and studio. They seem to both appeal to the core ComiCon crowd (strange blue aliens vs. indie rock video game slackers) - but somehow Avatar widely broadened its appeal across the world and won over practically everyone.
I think Scott Pilgrim suffers from what I will call the "Williamsburgh/Indie" ghetto mentality - which ultimately makes its world much smaller. If you have ever visited Williamsburgh it has bloomed into a indie arts/music Nirvana of sorts - a very inward, self-referential world - a living Facebook of hipsters and artsy types. It's a really cool place - but it bears little resemblance to the rest of the world. One wakes up, heads down to the local ultra-wicked-cool coffe shop, hangs out with other really cool and interesting people, works on one's band/film/art project, and then at night heads to a loft for an even cooler secret show featuring some amazingly uber-hip band (some TV On The Radio/Sleigh Bells mashup). Williamsburgh has distilled the best parts of college into a persistent art-slacker experience - one you never want to leave. It is the land of the Lotus Eaters - and it's good stuff.
Williamsburgh = Austin = Portland = Toronto = Seattle (sort of). These are coral reefs - very specialized clusters that can only exist under unique conditions, often within vast seas of danger and conservatism and blah. They are the fragmented, bastard children of the Beats and Woodstock and Paris of the 1920s and every idealized art dream. The connectedness to the rest of the world is thin - and often alienating. The battle cry is "your world kinda sucks - I'm dropping out and tuning in somewhere else". This is both the greatness and limitation of Scott Pilgrim - it drops a sharp dividing line between those who get it and those who do not. If you do, welcome in, if you don't, well f--k off - who invited you anyway?
I get it, thought it rocked - but.
The genius of Star Wars, of the Beatles, (maybe even of Avatar) - of a rarefied few was this: we'll bring this other place to you, all of you. We know all of you need to escape every once in a while, and everyone needs to have the world widened. We all may not be able to live in the indie cool villages, but we can all live in the Yellow Submarine. For all of Scott Pilgrim's awesome cool innovations and creativity, I think that they forgot this - they built a small bus for a select few - and it's a great ride if you can get on it.
The harder thing is to crawl over your own walls and beyond those walls of people you think are just not the bees knees - and to somehow get past all of that. That harder thing is what Pixar does well. It's not mandatory - but it can explain success in a small circle vs. wide universal appeal.
I love the fact that Scot Pilgrim exists and I hope that many more films like it can and should get made - but setting expectations correctly up front can help soften the disappointment later.
I am the co-founder and CVO of MAKO Surgical Corp. (NASDAQ: MAKO)
I recently started-up a new company, Magic Leap Studios (www.magicleap.com). Our first major project is called "The Hour Blue" - a graphic novel series that is also being developed as a CG based feature film series. I am currently in discussions with publishers about the series.
Working on co-writing and producing an album with my ultra-slacker band, Sparkydog & Friends. The first single "Red Light" has unexpectedly crossed into college and commercial Top 20 radio!
I just finished touring one of Frank Lloyd Wright's great works - Taliesin West (thank you to my architect uncle who recommended that I stop there after COFES).
The best way to describe it is one of the places you should see in your life, in order to better understand what life is.
I have never been a fan of what I call Ego Architecture - giant tall buildings, massive arenas, Roman Coliseums. Ego Architecture is mostly about how people are displaying their ability to dominate, show-off lots of money, subjugate - the philosophy behind it is bankrupt.
I have also really not liked what I call Crap Architecture - pretty much most buildings you see in developments, malls, Taco Bells - just generic, bland, numbing, crap. These structures, which most of us live in or are subject to daily, do not even have a bankrupt philosophy - they have no philosophy.
It is very much like music - you sift through lots of garbage and then you happen upon the White Album - and then everything is different.
As I was walking through, I became convinced that Frank Lloyd Wright was with the Tao. In the music hall I find this:
Lao Tse is known as the founder/early philosopher of Taoism, which in modern terms, makes him basically Yoda.
Frank Lloyd Wright was less of an architect and more of a Tao Master - a Jedi. Taliesin is an embodiment of this philosophy, and it has not been very well understood or replicated. People try to copy his style and end up at a loss. Taliesin is an example of people living in the Way, and it is a good way for us to be in the future: sustainable, humble, local but expansive in thought, built for humans, built for what life is meant to be. The energy expended by the collective set of humans, under the right philosophy, could let us all live this way.
Having been at the top of the mountain (literally, at Davos) and now having been at the side of the mountain (at Taliesin), the side is much better. We are meant to be at the side, co-existing, blending in seamlessly. If we want a future, and we want future generations to respect what we did, we need to start thinking this way.
Overall a great conference on the future of technology, software, and engineering. Unresolved questions as to how to integrate or possibly change/blur what it means to be a developer. Users may become developers on a mass scale - but no one has figured out how to do this yet. The wide net of collaborative development, concurrent engineering, and searching the long tail for good thoughts has been thrown - lots of strange fish to sift through.
At dinner Saturday night I sat near a key scientist who used to be at Bell Labs - we were lamenting the loss of fundamental research in the US (and discussing how in Asia they are building massive scientific research parks). The lack of interest in US students in becoming engineer/tech people is alarming - its like we have a our collective head shoved in a dark hole. The way out of the economic mess for the US is through innovation and driving technology and industry (think automobiles, computers, software). We're losing ground. Perhaps we should focus hugely on solving global healthcare and energy - and be the technology leads in these areas.
This is my first year at theCOFESconference, which is a yearly Congress On The Future Of Engineering Software. The overall atmosphere is very laid back and collaborative, which is pretty amazing given that many of the participants are fierce competitors every other day of the year.
Stephen Prusha and the future of "Team X" at JPL.
Transformational Computing - and what this may mean for healthcare computing.
Microsoft's vision of the year 2020 in computing - was simply awesome and very unMicrosoft and very Applesque in its awesomeness.
A cool Australian researcher's populist use of webcams for very elegant and fluid face tracking and integration into control of 3d software + a great live demo that included a Quake like shootout.
I recently saw the HBO Film "Death on a Factory Farm" ( http://www.hbo.com/docs/programs/deathfactoryfarm/index.html) - and I have not been able to sleep well since.
I have been a vegetarian since I was a kid, essentially because I always believed that there was something morally and ethically wrong for humans, in this day and age, to eat meat. The film reconfirms every horrible notion and reality about what really seems to be a fundamental evil.
Meat - bacon, ham, burgers, steaks, ribs, chicken, fish - there is no doubt that it tastes really good. Billions of people love meat - the notion of not eating meat does not compute. However.
Most people block from their minds where the meat came from (it's in a box on a bun, or in a hot dog pack at the supermarket). Most people do not realize what happens so that they can get their meat. Yes, someone else does bad things so I can get my meat, but damn it tastes sooo good. This group may be bothered by killing other creatures - but if they don't see it, it's ok.
A smaller minority actually kill for their meat - they fully realize what they are doing and understand what has to happen so that they can eat their yummy meat. On one level this group is at least more consistent and honest - but on another they scare the crap out of me. Not being bothered by killing is a problem - humans should be greatly disturbed by the act of killing anything.
In all cases a major problem is the concept of a creature who is there to die for you to eat it. A living creature as property with no to minimal rights. The assumption is that our ambitions, our fleeting sense of hunger, and overall sense of superiority over all life somehow allows us to do anything we want to other forms of life. This same thinking is found in human interactions - where one religion, race, sex, etc. feels that because it is superior somehow, that it now has a free license to use and abuse. This notion of use and abuse permeates the film, and the most disturbing aspect is how many people felt that they were doing nothing wrong.
In most religions and philosophies of life, there is the concept of achieving a higher state of being, of an expanded spiritual view - and a view that there is something inside. The view of Decartes that animals are machines with no feelings and no intrinsic value still widely persists today - and often it is compartmentalized - I love my dog, but cows are food.
I do believe that one day most, if not all, of humanity will wake up and realize what horrible things we have done, and continue to do, to other living creatures. The extent and magnitude of the horrors we have committed is almost beyond calculation, to billions and billions of living, sentient creatures.
I can not explain this divide, of those who get it and are extremely disturbed, and those who do not. It is a great divide - and many who do not get it can otherwise be warm, caring, and extremely nice people. And those who do can sometimes be terrible humans in many other regards. But in watching this film, in watching extreme abuse in action, the divide becomes clear.
I am always very accommodating and cordial when I eat with others who eat meat - I do not impose my views on them and generally do not push the issue. Is this wrong? Is meat murder? How and when will the world as a whole come to see, as it has slowly come to see other past evils, that this is yet another evil to one day abolish?