Tag Archives: Miscellany


Cinematic Vocabulary

If you happened to read one of my older posts, you’d know I’m a fan of Yimou Zhang’s Shanghai Triad.

And if you know anything about me, you know I also like to classify things – perhaps to a dubious level sometimes.

By chance, I recently saw a newer film titled The Wasted Times.

One review on IMDb probably describes it best:

There is not a shot out of place, not a word uttered or note of music that is not just right in this film. I admit I had to watch it twice to get all the nuances. You must listen for when they are speaking Shanghainese or Japanese and you must understand a bit about what was happening in china and shanghai in 1937. There are family ties, triad ties, Japanese secret society ties and love ties. There is betrayal of all these ties. Jumping back and forth in time makes the plot unravel slowly and like a game of mah-jong the final betrayal is revealed when all the tiles are exposed at the end. This is a great movie. It does not have any kung-fu or wire-work or epic slow motion gunfights and white doves – but it is a truly original masterpiece. I recommend it to anyone who wants to see a thoughtful movie and be challenged by what a great piece of cinema is.

So what is the relationship between Shanghai Triad and The Wasted Times?  Well, Hollywood has started to develop a vocabulary for this, and it includes terms like reboot, remake, and re-imagining.

But The Wasted Times doesn’t seem to really match any of those terms.  I’d contend The Wasted Times is a spiritual successor to Shanghai Triad, where a spiritual successor would be one or two levels beyond a re-imagining.  It’s adopting the environment, the general context, and the era, but not any of the specific characters, relationships, or plot lines.

If you enjoyed Shanghai Triad, do yourself a favor and see The Wasted Times.  I have to admit, I was touched by the final scenes – complete with an alien form of chivalry.  It was extremely well done.  In fact, everything was very well done, and it tends to suggest the setting in these two films (1930s Shanghai) really lends itself to a cinematic rendering.  Something about 1930s Shanghai tends to be very crisp, and very compelling, with plenty of surface area for an artist to work with.

Although I probably wouldn’t agree with all of the director’s viewpoints, it’s very hard to argue with the quality of the film.  The Wasted Times is a very worthy and a very formidable spiritual successor to Shanghai Triad.

Still from Er Cheng's The Wasted Times (2016).
Still from Er Cheng’s The Wasted Times (2016).

And now for the dubious levels of classification.

This film incorporates a creative device that I have never seen any vocabulary for: At the end of the film, the main characters briefly meet in a completely different setting for the final resolution.

I think my mental shorthand for this is a Point-Break-style ending, although there are obviously other films that have the same device.

In The Wasted Times, as in the original Point Break, this style of ending works because it further pronounces and embellishes key traits for some of the characters.


Languages Inside Languages

Back in the era of the Iraq War, it was often repeated that Arabic was a “valuable” language to know, in terms of government recruitment efforts.

In the post-Iraq-War era, Arabic remains highly relevant to America, but it seems like America may have new strategic challenges ahead.

It kind of depends on whether you see the glass half full or half empty.

If you think the glass is half full, the USA and China will cooperate on everything and there will be blinding economic prosperity, for many.

If you think the glass is half empty, the USA and China will repeatedly butt heads, and increasing levels of confrontation will be the order of the day.

And here enters the subject of Cantonese, a Chinese language much older than Mandarin (the language favored by the government of China).

Cantonese happens to be spoken by many Chinese dissidents, and it’s currently being used to disseminate anti-government messages inside China.

One could characterize it as the “language of resistance” inside China, and abroad by older generations of the Chinese diaspora.

If the glass is half empty, it makes me wonder if Cantonese might soon be one of those “extremely valuable” languages, in terms of government recruitment efforts.

Weighing in its favor, it’s more of a greenfield language right now.  If you’re applying for a relevant government job, you’re less likely to be competing against an entire room full of Cantonese experts for that job (as compared to Arabic).

Weighing against it is the fact that many Cantonese speakers tend to also know English (technically, the same can be said of Mandarin).  Thus, the necessity isn’t quite as high.

But also weighing in its favor is the fact that the severity of the potential conflicts between the USA and China is quite high – probably a lot higher than conflicts where Arabic was relevant.  This fact alone sort of promotes the value of the language up several notches.

I know next to nothing about Cantonese, but several things in that article fascinated me.  One of them is that Cantonese can be expressed very similarly to Mandarin, while retaining a completely different meaning.  This almost suggests a degree of steganographical potential.  Furthermore, it suggests that automated censors will not be able to handle this.


The Jump

I’ve had to literally run for my life twice in 6 years from killer bees.  They’re just a fact of life in this part of the country, and no one anywhere is immune from the threat.

I got away without even minor illness, so I guess my luck with killer bees hasn’t run out yet, but I will say this – the previous time was easier to digest mentally, because they were at least living in a common type of bee shelter that I had disturbed without thinking.

But the race I had recently is harder to forget.  I was walking along a clear path, disturbing nothing, and a lawnmower was mowing grass maybe 40 yards away.  Without any warning, and out of nowhere, I realized several extremely angry bees were up at my head trying to sting me, and probably stinging me already.  I started my sprint out of there without actually having seen a single bee.  (In fact, I ended up never seeing any of the bees – only hearing and feeling them, and finding some stingers that were left behind.)

I got a really good jump on the rest of the hive, wherever they were; I was sprinting away in probably less than a second.  What’s actually scary though is later I found small bee stings (with no or very little injected venom) on my torso – meaning additional bees were still hounding me even as I had created some very good separation in such a short period of time!

I supposed your mileage might vary, but I ended up taking the longer path to my house, because the shorter path had some obstructions, and I didn’t want to risk tripping and falling.  The longer path also afforded me the luxury of thinking less.

In the end, there’s really only one good explanation for what happened.  The bees had probably become angry due to the lawnmower noise, and then they happened to find me by accident.  I’m going to have to find the hive later (using a bee suit), but the truth is I have no idea where the bees came from (and if they’re even living on my property), and considering I was doing nothing where I’d expect a bee attack, this was pretty memorable.

In a surprise killer bee attack, humans basically have no advantage, but I’m a believer that getting a good jump is important, and a difference of a few seconds can mean quite a lot.  I’ve figured that if you create enough separation fast enough, it can buy you a tangible amount of extra time to get inside (or in water), and reduce the number of stings, and can also magnify the consequences of any errors that the bees are making.

One thing I would recommend to everyone is that if you have a bunch of keys on your keychain, you should probably mark the key or keys that get you inside your house.  I have a strip of green duct tape around the base of the key that opens my home’s outer door.  It didn’t save my life this time, but in a scenario where I’m not as lucky, it could certainly make a big difference.

In a panic situation, all your fine motor skills will go away, and so you’re probably going to fumble around with your keys trying to find the right one.

The other thing that helped me in this case was the clothing I was wearing.  There are no guarantees, but when bees sting through your clothing, they usually don’t inject as much venom.  So that’s another thing to keep in mind.

And afterwards, I would run all the clothing through the washing machine immediately, take a shower, and not go back outside for a good period of time.  You want to get the bees’ alarm pheromone off of you and off of your clothes, and also let the alarm pheromone that was released into the air dissipate.


Some Thoughts On Modern Cinema

Prey (2022), the prequel to Predator (1987).

The Safdie Brothers are quietly rejuvenating, re-imagining, and I would even say completely re-inventing the thriller genre, which is no small feat.  At the current pace, that will most likely be how their recent films are described in future.

2. Mosul (2019; the one directed by Matthew Carnahan) is definitely underrated at its current 7.1 rating on IMDb.  It looks at one part of the Iraq War, and also one that doesn’t directly involve Americans, and for that alone it’s already a different type of film.

3. I recently found out a prequel to Predator (1987) will be released this year, and it’s titled Prey.  The plot involves the Predator hunting a Comanche tribe roughly 300 years ago.

I’m a fan of the original film, but I don’t think I’ve been excited for another iteration of this franchise in quite a while!  I think the producers picked a great idea to run with, and I hope they pull it off.

I’m very interested to see where they go with this.

Just my two cents on what I would do with it, or what I’d like to see them put together, I would have the Comanche tribe slowly lose a war of attrition to the Predator, and when the tribe has completely lost hope, the elder chief (who’s perhaps on his death bed) pulls out on old relic that had been passed down to him (and that he had until now not understood), and the old relic is actually the severed hand of an even older Predator with the tactical nuclear device still attached.  This leads to an abrupt but memorable ending where, somehow, the female warrior divines what it’s for, rides off into a suicide mission against the Predator somewhere perhaps in an open field (with the tactical nuclear weapon counting down in the alien script), and, with a final display of bravado, takes out the Predator, saving the remainder of the tribe.

Then, another prequel is released where we find out how that Predator hand came to be severed.  The sequel would be much further back in time – perhaps as far back as the “cave man times”.  I really like this idea because we tend to figure the cave men were idiots, but it would be interesting to see how a group of cave men might be especially wily and somehow overcome a single Predator.

That’s how I would run with the franchise.

But no matter what, the female protagonist in Prey absolutely needs to bring back the line, “If it bleeds, we can kill it.”  I’m going to be very disappointed if they didn’t think to do that.

I actually liked the last iteration of the franchise – Predators (2010).  I’ll give my take on it also, which involves a few spoilers.

I would have shaved maybe 20 seconds off the end of the film.  The entire film was pretty bleak, and I don’t see why they can’t just be stranded on the alien planet at that point – without any hope of further human contact.

But what I would have really liked to do is completely change the surprise mole character.

I would have liked to see a twist on the “don’t judge a book by its cover” proverb.  I would have liked the group to identify the Japanese warrior as a Yakuza member by the volume and nature of his tattoos, but I think it would have been a great twist if they didn’t look closely enough.  In my opinion, the Yakuza member should have had one additional tattoo unrelated to organized crime – one for Aum Shinrikyo, the infamous Japanese death/doomsday cult mostly remembered for their sarin gas terrorist attacks in Japan.

So the idea is that his organized crime involvement, while congruent with his radical views, is maybe just like a day job for him, and what makes him the most notable is his involvement in that infamous cult.

The idea would be that the Predator clan handpicked him to be the mole in the human group due to his obsession with doomsday and human death, and so, ultimately, he’s essentially working with the Predators against the humans – most likely eagerly so, as he possibly perceives this whole thing as a sort of grand religious consummation.

Perhaps after this is finally revealed, we also see something like a telepathic link between the Predators and the death cult member, which would be a memorable first in the franchise.

Most of all, maybe the Yakuza member was handpicked by the Predator clan as a particularly twisted or poetic element in their competition – an element that would also be a rare demonstration of the Predators’ higher sentience and intelligence.  The idea would be that this was a distinct challenge for the other humans – would any of these clever criminals, intelligence agents, and elite soldiers be astute enough to see past the “noise” of the Yakuza tattoos?


Three Security Observations

1.)  In the technology world, the strength of security is often quoted quantitatively in terms of combinatorial complexity (e.g. an 8-character password with all normal keys available has a combinatorial complexity of 94^8), and qualitatively as if there is only one attack vector and the context for that attack vector is full access over the technology in question, with no significant time constraints, by a malicious actor.

That attack vector is more or less equivalent to scientists in a laboratory trying to attack some piece of technology you have.

Scientists in a lab doing something with a computer. Photo courtesy of Washington State University.

That’s pretty much the worst case scenario, and so it makes sense to judge security by this standard prominently.  But the world isn’t perfect – not even for malicious actors.  There are many other attack scenarios that don’t resemble this full-control-with-no-time-constraints setup.

What seems to be missing in security analysis are metrics that are relevant to many other imperfect attack vectors that are liable to exist.

One metric, for example, might be coined time-pressure-complexity, and it would measure how long it would take an intruder to attack some piece of technology if the intruder also wanted to not remove the technology from its current setting.

And imagining a similar setup, another metric might be how much dexterity-complexity an intruder would face when attacking a piece of technology.  This metric is not specific to passwords, but just as a simple example, let’s say one created a very long password that was easy for the owner to remember and type, but that would just naturally take longer for an intruder to enter.  We can take that further and imagine the password not utilizing common typing patterns (e.g. languages) the intruder is used to.  Even if the intruder knew the password letter for letter, he might fail to enter it correctly when under time pressure, which could lead to panic and a further degradation in that entire attack vector.

In a panic situation you tend to lose your fine motor skills, and a high dexterity-complexity would attempt to attack that weakness.

Although these are secondary metrics to consider, they’re still extremely relevant to the real world, and so it would make sense to have a proper accounting of them in many types of security analysis.

2.)   Security analysis for multi-factor authentication often describes three separate notions: something you knowsomething you have, and something you are.

MFA diagram courtesy of Litzia.
MFA diagram courtesy of Litzia.

But I believe there’s actually slightly more to this security space than what the current model is describing.

I believe there’s another distinct notion: something you inherently own

Perhaps it would be a subset of something you have.

The difference is that if a malicious actor takes your metal key (something you have), it is now something that the malicious actor has.

But, for example, if a malicious actor steals a phone with a SIM card tied to your phone number (perhaps utilized for 2FA), you will, generally speaking, have the ability to get that SIM card invalidated by the carrier and have your phone number re-associated with a new SIM card.

To a significant degree, you inherently own that phone number – it’s not just something you happen to have.

Although that was an overly simple example, it demonstrates an additional security notion and a meaningful difference between it and its closest relative.

3.)   Major mainstream technology providers (e.g. email providers) offer a sizable amount of security options, ranging from rustic passwords to biometric technology.  But I believe the not-so-state-of-the-art communication space therein is serious cause for concern.

Currently, the consumer/user is not provided clear guidance on what’s going on with their security options.

There are generally three different times an email provider will bring those extra security options (e.g. phone text message, biometric) into play:

  • MFA login
  • account recovery (can’t log in to your account)
  • trying to change security settings for the account

The technology providers allow the user to define their additional security options, but they do not provide any guidance at all regarding what will happen in each of those three different scenarios, and if I’m not mistaken, there are differences.

What will specifically happen in each scenario should be communicated clearly to the user, but currently the system is unclear, ambiguous, confusing, and opaque; you set up your security options and then find out later exactly how they’re employed in each individual scenario.

In my opinion, three visual diagrams should be shown to the user – side-by-side if possible – depicting what will occur.

Knowing how those options are actually employed in those three different scenarios can definitely affect the user’s decision making, and it’s just generally a good practice.  But unfortunately the providers are not living up to their affirmed security and corporate responsibility principles when it comes to this.

As a final quiz, imagine a user who has set up a mainstream email account (of your choosing) with a password and a garden-variety authenticator app.  The user forgets the password, and also, his phone is completely destroyed.  (In this example, it sure is especially clear the authenticator app is something he had, not something he inherently owned.)  How do those three security scenarios play out?  Don’t know, do you?  But shouldn’t you?  Additionally, if a phone number was also required to set up the account, perhaps to save the user in this situation, would that or would that not contradict the theory that authenticator apps are superior to text messages for account security?  Whatever your answer is, it should serve to further articulate the distinction between something you have and something you inherently own.


My Contribution To The Mnemonics State Of The Art?

In my previous post, I talked about some products designed to improve mental speed and memory.  As an absolute beginner, I don’t anticipate too many novel insights on my part, but I did discover a few things that didn’t seem to be covered, and might be worth sharing.

(If you aren’t familiar with the subjects in that previous post, the following won’t be very useful to you.)

1.  Kevin Trudeau’s Mega Memory teaches the listener how to organize memories so they are easily accessible later.  With the methods that are shared, one tends to end up with a lot of different ordered lists.  (Ordered lists are a strong motif in the course, but it’s not the only memory application taught.)

For example, one might memorize all the U.S. presidents in order, the periodic table of elements, the human bones, and so on.  For a task like that, at least two memory systems were taught.  Using the primary system, each element of each list goes onto a “peg”.

You develop various “peg lists”.  The peg lists are ordered.  Some peg lists might be 10 pegs long.  Others might go up to 100, or even more.  The pegs are where you place the individual items to remember.

You pick the peg list you feel is best for the ordered list of data to memorize, and then, using specific criteria, go element by element and associate the ordered elements with the ordered pegs, pairwise.

But with even just a few ordered lists, it seemed to me like sometimes one of the challenges is remembering which peg list you used.  And furthermore, it seems to me that when you do remember the peg list that you used, and then remember the first peg/item memory that you created, the rest of the list, at that point, gets recalled relatively easily.

Therefore, if the first peg/item association has greater significance, greater effort should go into creating it.

Taking the example of U.S. presidents in order, George Washington will be the first item.  As far as the peg list to use, the listener can pick from various peg lists that were taught in Kevin Trudeau’s Mega Memory: the “tree list”, the “body list”, the “house list”, and also a custom list based on the major system.

The best list to use virtually gives itself away in this case.  The “tree list” begins: tree, light switch, stool, …  (Although that list only has 20 pegs to begin with, the listener is challenged to add more, and in this case will need to create 26 more.)

The “body list” begins: toes, knees, muscle

(My) “house list” begins: chest, dresser, map…

The major-system list begins: tie, Noah, mow

The list to use really is a dead giveaway.  The “tree list” is absolutely what should be used.  George Washington and the cherry tree he felled are part of the national consciousness.  There’s even a little bit of scandal and drama, and that makes it even better.  His act of chopping it down will be the memory, that, in this case, doesn’t even need to be dreamed up; all the hard work has already been done for us.

Several years later, when you want to randomly recall the list of U.S. Presidents, and you have also memorized hundreds of other lists, I believe it will be very important to remember the peg list that was used, and the first peg/item association.  And since a natural and intuitive first peg/item association has been created (more like adopted in this case), that will not be a problem.

Diving a little deeper into cognitive psychology, the instructor talks about how once you mentally get a handle on something related to what you want to remember, it’s like grabbing ahold of a chain that you can start pulling on.  So the idea here would be like we are trying to make that first chain link big and easy to find.

If I were daring enough to create terminology for this concept, I would label this first peg/item association the door association” and/or the window association”.

In my opinion, it’s tangibly more important than the rest of the associations to come, and so additional care should be given to it.

Finally, perhaps there is also a generalization of this idea, or at least an application for any level of granularity.  Going down the presidents list, I realized I could recall the other presidents easily, but for some reason 27 was difficult.

27 letters in the Spanish alphabet.


My 27th peg in the tree list is morion, and there was no trouble remembering that.  In the presidents list, William H. Taft needed to be associated with it.  My visualization was an NFL player in the NFL draft (“Taft”) being selected at the podium in a celebration, and then he kicks a morion into a TV and it goes into the TV programming, which is showing an old-style H-shaped field goal (“H.”), and it bounces around the goal posts and then through the goal posts, and then the morion finally hits another visual representation I have for “William”.  The reason 27 was taking longer to recall is because the morion was not immediately active.

Having to wait for the NFL player to hold up a jersey at the podium (to signify this was the NFL draft) was delaying the introduction of the morion, which was the mental peg.  When I got to 27, my mind was searching for action involving a morion, but my visualization started with action not involving a morion, and also made it so that the morion’s action was not obviously the most significant action – the draft selection could be viewed as equally significant or even more significant which just creates more “noise” that distracts the mind.  (And to make matters even worse, there was almost no memorable connection between the draft selection and the player then kicking a morion into a TV.)

Just a split-second delay, and just an ounce of ambiguity can stall the memory recall, or prevent it altogether.  Therefore, applying the “door/window association” principle at this level of granularity would mean etching the mental peg first and foremost within the visualization, and also striving to elevate its significance as much as possible.


2.  In general, and certainly in specific situations, spend extra time creating multiple mental linkages.

The custom major-system list taught in Kevin Trudeau’s Mega Memory goes up to 100.  Pegs 60-69, as taught, are below:

  • cheese
  • cheetah
  • chain
  • gym
  • shower
  • shell
  • judge
  • sheikh
  • shave
  • Jeep

I don’t think that list is very good, and I’ll elaborate more on this shortly.   Furthermore, 60-69 is especially difficult because the words can begin, phonetically, with three different consonant sounds (ch, sh, j).  That alone makes this series of 10 pegs more difficult to remember than the other 90 pegs.

It’s worth the effort to improve the list.

The image of a horse jockey is clear, crisp, loud, and unambiguous in the mind's eye: garish clothing, huge helmet, short stature, and a short whip. Photo courtesy of Benoit Photo.
The image of a horse jockey is clear, crisp, loud, and unambiguous in the mind’s eye: garish clothing, huge helmet, short stature, and a short whip. Photo courtesy of Benoit Photo.

Here’s my customized 60-69:

  • cheese
  • cheetah
  • china
  • shim
  • shore
  • shell
  • judge
  • jockey
  • shave
  • Jeep

(For me, “china” as in “fine china” is what works best, but for someone else, it could just as easily be uppercase “China”. )

Here’s why I prefer the customized list that I created:


•  Much better verbal flow.

“cheetah” verbally flows/rolls to “china” much more naturally/fluidly than “chain”.  “cheetah china…” just rolls off the tongue much more naturally than “cheetah chain”, and most people will quickly realize that when trying to memorize about 100 other pegs.

Good verbal flow from “shim” to “shore”.

And so on.


•  Much better semantic flow.

The semantic link from “shore” to “shell” is very good.

The semantic link from “shell” to “judge” is vaguely kind of good once you consider the idea of a fraudulent shell corporation.

And so on.


•  Also, just better individual pegs.

For example, the mental image of a “sheikh” was bound to look like an abstract Arab, and this would later present a problem when trying to remember why in the world you have a mental picture of an “Arab” in a memorized list you’re going through.  On the other hand, a (horse) jockey is a much cleaner, crisper, louder, unambiguous image, unlikely to be confused with anything else.

But on the other hand, “shore” will definitely be confused with “beach” later on, unless you devise a way to disambiguate it.  My method for that was to visualize “shore” as very rocky, without sand, without people, and overcast – basically the opposite of a beach postcard teeming with humanity.



Sub-item #1 (better verbal flow) and #2 (better semantic flow) constitute the additional mental linkages that make the updated list superior, in my opinion.

You’ve added more ways to remember a list.


Dumb Hacks: Help!! My dinosaur Windows computer doesn’t keep time anymore, but I’m too lazy/afraid/cheap to change the CMOS battery!  

CMOS event for dinosaur tech.

Deep inside old Windows desktop computers is a CMOS battery that helps Windows keep the correct time after the computer has been turned off or put to sleep.

When that battery eventually dies, Windows will not have the correct time when the computer comes back from sleep or from being turned off.

There are actually plenty of reasons one might not want to bother changing that battery out.  I figured out how to make the computer sync with internet time when it powers up or when it comes back from sleep.  In doing so, time synchronization is done completely through the Windows OS, and it only requires internet access.  For a simple use case like mine, that was the superior solution.

What actually didn’t make sense was how scattered around the solution for this seemed to be.  Everyone seemed to have this same problem with their old desktop computers, and 99.999% of the time it’s a dead CMOS battery – yet there didn’t seem to be one comprehensive solution posted anywhere.  I had to pick up the different parts of the solution from different web articles buffet-style.

Below is a solution for Windows 10 that works for me.  I’m not an expert in most of what’s going on, and I can’t guarantee there won’t be rare edge cases that come up and cause problems.  What I can say is it solves the problem for me.

  1. Copy the following block of text and paste it into an XML file somewhere on your computer.  (Alternatively, you can just download it as the following text file [Wordpress doesn’t allow standard XML file downloads].  Then, change the file extension from .txt to .xml, or alternatively, leave the file extension alone and in step #5 broaden the search filter from ‘XML files’ to ‘All files’ and simply navigate to the text file.)
<?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-16"?>
<Task version="1.4" xmlns="http://schemas.microsoft.com/windows/2004/02/mit/task">
    <Description>Syncs time upon power up or wake from sleep.</Description>
    <URI>\Microsoft\Windows\Time Synchronization\SyncTimeOnPowerOrWake</URI>
      <Subscription>&lt;QueryList&gt;&lt;Query Id="0" Path="System"&gt;&lt;Select Path="System"&gt;*[System[Provider[@Name='Microsoft-Windows-Kernel-Power'] and EventID=107]]&lt;/Select&gt;&lt;/Query&gt;&lt;/QueryList&gt;</Subscription>
    <Principal id="Author">
  <Actions Context="Author">
      <Arguments>start w32time task_started</Arguments>

2. Open the Windows Task Scheduler.  Typing “Task Scheduler” in the Windows search bar should bring it up.

3. If you want to keep this task organized, expand down to: Task Scheduler Library | Microsoft | Windows | Time Synchronization.

4. Right click on the Time Synchronization folder and select ‘Import Task…’

5. Navigate to that XML file you saved on your computer and open that file.

6. You will get a dialog with multiple tabs.  You can review and edit all the properties of the new task.  If you want to proceed with it, then click ‘OK’.  Clicking ‘Cancel’ will abort the entire process.

Once you add the task, it will run whenever the computer powers up or when it wakes up from sleep.  This should sync your local Windows OS time with internet time, reliably, and irrespective of your dead CMOS battery.

Finally, you can always right click on this new task and simply click ‘Delete’ if you want to get rid of it.


Systemic Risk

With the holidays fast approaching, experts are predicting one of the harshest periods yet with respect to COVID-19.  This is probably all the more likely now that there are reports and rumors of vaccines that will probably be viable and probably be available, in the future.  With this new information, people’s defense shields, on the whole, are probably lowering as the holiday season approaches, and this may re-illustrate, or unfortunately illustrate definitively, why COVID-19 is different than the common flu.

It’s not exactly rocket science.  The most dangerous difference between COVID-19 and the common flu is COVID-19 has a far greater potential to jam up the health care system – specifically, our hospitals.

Since a vaccine would obviously reduce infections, we can strip out the issue of vaccination altogether, and simply look at what percentage of people need hospitalization after infection.

For the flu, apparently the rate is 1.05% for the previous season.

For COVID-19, on the other hand, we have seen rates ranging from 6.6% to 20%.  (It’s not even clear if the staggering 9% hospital re-admission rate for COVID-19 is factored into the above calculations.)

Again, this is once you are infected, so a vaccine makes no difference at that point.

COVID-19 puts more infected people in the hospital.  Too many people in the hospital and the system breaks.

The 2020 holidays haven’t even started, and we are already approaching a breaking point.

Finally, although risk to the entire system obviously implies risk to the individual, even a partial stress to the system carries significant additional risk to the individual – due to the highly unpublicized reality that hospitals are already imperfect to begin with – even in the best of times.

This is certainly very real – you do not want to be hospitalized, for any reason, with a hundred other patients who have COVID-19, plus any number of non-COVID-19 patients, plus a staff that’s operating under Apocalypse Now conditions.


The 7th Sense

Still from Beyond The Gates (2005).

In a previous blog post I suggested that the Academy Awards should introduce new award categories to liven things up and keep things fresh.

I realized there’s an additional category that should definitely be included, but it’s a minor challenge to articulate just what it is in only a few words!

The award should be given to the film that most elicits an empathetic sense of dread or doom.  This is something that most people would usually feel in their stomach (sometimes called “gut-wrenching”).  But it can encompass more, and perhaps even reach an indescribable dimension of negative feeling or negative sensation.

In this prospective category, you’d expect a slasher-type horror film to win, and maybe it usually would, but not always.  The most recent film that comes to mind, and one that really excelled in this category, is Beyond The Gates.

So why dread and doom instead of happiness or levity, and what does any of this have to do with 7 senses?

First, apparently we have 6 senses, not 5.  According to wikipedia, our 6th sense is actually vestibular, and it governs our sense of physical balance (equilibrioception).

So, if we have a sense of physical balance, might we also have a sense of life balance, or rather, sense when there is impending risk to life or well-being?  I would certainly keep as an open question the idea that our physical body can sense very acute situations that threaten life or well-being, in ways that don’t correlate directly to the 6 basic senses.

Then again, maybe it’s all just fear and certain thought patterns.  Either way, the prospective category would be a winner.  The ability to affect an audience this way is a triumphant selling point for cinema.  One might even argue that there are few aspects greater than this!  So when you stop and think about it, it’s kind of strange that there’s little in the way of recognition for those who do it skillfully.



Mandatory Sensations / The Experimental

In most organizations, there’s going to be a tension between what’s been proven to work, and what’s worth experimenting with for the future.  Last time I checked, facebook is a company that experiments a lot; it’s a core value at the company.

Of course, new initiatives aren’t always successful.  I can remember a long time back when Monday Night Football selected comedian Dennis Miller to be a commentator.  My recollection is that it was not a good idea at all.  However, one certainly can’t fault Miller, and although the ABC network was perhaps too lax in screening this experiment beforehand, you can at least credit them for being willing to fail.

Virtually all organizations – no matter how ancient and stoic – have to eventually try something new and risk failure.

Moving along with a simple case study, I can’t really remember the last time I saw much or any of the Academy Awards, but in recent years I more or less remember the headlines surrounding the event.  To be pretty general, there were calls for change regarding the award results.

Now, my gut feeling is whether or not the suggested changes were warranted, the Academy Awards was like a sitting duck.  It’s perceived lack of experimentation, and more generally any sense of movement or change, inadvertently created a curious vulnerability for it at that point in time.

This is the curious vulnerability:  It didn’t really matter if it made sense for the Academy Awards to experiment radically.  It also didn’t really matter if the changes demanded by external forces were warranted.  Today, by default, an organization is expected to experiment, and more generally, exude a sense of movement or changingirrespective of what that movement or change is!  Organizations that don’t do this are automatically, implicitly, and perhaps subconsciously, considered faulty, if not guilty!

Yes, it seems as though your organization has to propagate a sense of movement or change, even if completely vague, just for the sake of producing that sensation.  We’re now several generations past the “MTV generation”, so perhaps it shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise.

In a motto: If you don’t control the conversation about “change” in your organization, the odds are much higher that someone else will.

With respect to the Academy Awards, I think the experimentation that they’d need to embark on to effect that general sense of change would have to go beyond who is the host.  The experimentation will have to affect the fundamental nature of the event.  For instance, award categories.  Perhaps add some new experimental categories, and try them out in the run-up to the actual show.  Perhaps include some in the time slot where they kind of just show actors walking into the building.  And perhaps others in the days and weeks preceding the actual event.

And to that end, I’ve had musings for some time that are somewhat obscure, but nevertheless interesting and perhaps worthy of some kind of experimentation one day.  They probably also cater more to cinephiles than the average consumer, and that, specifically, could be a great part of the experimentation.  In my opinion, they’re legitimate categories in their own right.

1. New Experimental Category: Highest Ratio of Trailer Quality to Motion Picture Quality

In other words, it was an incredible trailer for an awful movie.

Of course, it wasn’t necessarily an awful movie.  In fact, my current all-time pick for this category is Safe, which was not bad at all.

The bottom line is trailer composition is an art that’s currently not recognized in any way.  The producer for the trailer may have the lamest film of all time to work with, but his job is to take that, and from it create the most compelling 60-second preview possible.  That is an art!

To drive this home further, Hollywood is approaching $50 billion a year in revenue, and this is easily the most unheralded facet of that cash cow, even though it’s one of the absolute most critical trades.  Imagine a Hollywood where all the films were the same, but all the trailers were absolutely awful.  I would envision many billions of dollars in lost revenue.

2. New Experimental Category: Greatest Motion Picture Over-Performance

In other words, you saw the poster, you saw the trailer, you knew about the cast, you knew who the director was, and… you were completely shocked at how good the film was.

Similar to before, it doesn’t necessarily mean all those aforementioned ingredients were of low quality.  And of course it doesn’t necessarily mean the film is that great.

Picks from recent memory include Law Abiding Citizen, Broken City, and Prisoners.  Perhaps owing to the complexity of the measurement, it’s difficult for me to choose one as the clear winner.

To drive home the above points, the best film I’ve seen from the recent past is The Dark Knight.  However, it wouldn’t be a contender because, although it actually did over-perform, I expected a very high level of quality to begin with.

3. New Experimental Category: Best Scene From A Motion Picture

This is self explanatory, and there are too many possibilities to list right here.

I also think this is a non-cinephile category that could captivate the average consumer.

4. New Experimental Category: Moodiest Motion Picture Film

Wow, now this is a niche experimental category!

I have no idea how to quantify the moodiness of a film, or articulate what this category even really means, but you know it when you see it.

One thing I’m pretty sure of is music tends to play a critical role.  That said, this isn’t Best Motion Picture Score or Best Motion Picture Soundtrack.

For me, the film that really stands out is the mostly-unknown 1996 Spanish film by Carlos Saura, Taxi.

Fittingly, the soundtrack featured cult band Mano Negra, which was noteworthy for its very high level of experimentation.  Numerous multilingual tracks from the the band’s relevant album Casa Babylon have a very unconventional and original sound, and are worth a listen.

Equally worthy of consideration, with an equally moody score,  soundtrack, visuals, and writing, is Yimou Zhang’s 1995 film, Shanghai Triad.