Monthly Archives: April 2017

The Computer has Reached a Verdict

When I talk about automation with people, I often like to point out how the scope of automation now appears to encompass what knowledge workers do.

Indeed, from what I’ve read, various implementations of automation, algorithms, and artificial intelligence are already coming into play in both the legal and healthcare sectors of the economy. In other words, well beyond traditional notions of automation, which usually involve manufacturing and factory work.

While I had heard of algorithms being used to help do legal and medical “triage” of cases, I hadn’t heard of algorithms used in sentencing… but apparently they are, as Jason Tashea details in his recent article in Wired.

As hinted with my gerrymandering post earlier this week, I think it’s a good idea to figure out how our government is reaching certain decisions and what said decisions are based on. I’d really rather read about dystopian futures than live in them.

The “Efficiency Gap” and Gerrymandering

As mentioned in a post last month, I’m very interested in addressing gerrymandering, the political practice of dividing up voting districts in a way that would befuddle the designers of Tetris.

Last month, I highlighted Brian Olson’s algorithm to make voting districts more compact. However, in this article by Erica Klarreich, she suggests that a district’s compactness is not the sole criterion for gerrymandering and talks more about ways to address the problem. Hopefully, this means there’s more examples of quantitative methods that can be used. Yes, this won’t convince people who are already convinced they’ll do whatever it takes to maintain the status quo (which, in gerrymandered terms, is spelled “uqat us sto”), However, it aids in making their efforts look more ridiculous, which always helps.

Update on Virginia efforts:
In both another example of the straightforward language used by Richmond Sunlight and yet another object lesson in reading information even more closely, SJ231, the transmogrified bill to try and be sort of bipartisan in how Virginia does redistricting, has failed. In fact, it had failed when I wrote the original post, but I didn’t realize it. When I looked up the information on the official government system, it looked like it had passed, but it really had been “passed by indefinitely” which is legalese for “successfully killed.”

Time to focus on the 2017 Virginia elections…

Going Faster than the Speed of Light with Imaginary Numbers

For many of us writing science fiction, a common decision point is how hard or soft we should make the world(s) we’re building. A perennial area is whether we allow faster-than-light travel or not (i.e., warping, folding space, entering stargates, traveling through hyperspace, etc.).

Scientist and science fiction author Catherine Asaro explains her own journey in coming up with a way to have interstellar ships that can move at the speed of narrative without  willfully ignoring Einstein’s Theory of Relativity.

Harsh Truths about that Collective Hunch that is Reality

Although I’ll frequently list articles worth reading on the blog –such as the changing dynamics of film financing or the automation of work— I rarely do “listicles” not only because they’re usually slick, quick pieces designed as clickbait, but also because they don’t give me too much upon which to reflect.

Perhaps it’s the timing, but this Forbes(!) listicle by Jessica Hagy made me reflect about what I know now that I don’t think I understood just 10 years ago. I read it a couple weeks ago and put it away in my backlog of “blog posts to do sometime”… and given the saga that unfolded in the comments section of this past weekend’s post, I figured now was the right time.

Even so, I hesitate to share these type of articles because they tend to share all their list items like Commandments and really, they don’t have any added weight of any aphorism. I have long been convinced that reality is one collective hunch — and while aphorisms can help as shorthand in making sense of it all, aphorisms are just as often deployed dishonestly in order to avoid addressing the real issues.

For example, one of my brothers and I both dislike the phrase “shit happens.” This isn’t to say that you have to deal with unexpected crap in your life from time to time (or during some periods in your life, a lot of crap), it’s rather that the people who most often use the phrase “shit happens” seem to want you to “just deal” with the lemons life may be handing you with a certainty that makes you suspect they may be a lemon salesman.

No, both in reality and idiomatically, shit happens because someone takes a shit. That’s how digestive systems work. Now, I admit that if that someone is a gibbon or baboon, there’s very little you can do about where and how they take a dump. In fact, you better watch out, ’cause that crap is about to get flung. However, for us Homo sapiens sapiens, we are able to control when and where we take a dump for most of our lives… and we certainly don’t need to take a dump on another person.

Guess which people most fervently uses the phrase “shit happens?” That’s right: people who want a free pass to shit on other people.

I mention this in order to make sure you feel comfortable taking the whole Forbes list with grains of salt to your personal taste. The list worked for me as I’ll detail below, but perhaps it won’t all work for you.

10. If you’re not being taken advantage of, you’re not making anyone any money.
Boy howdy could this notion be abused — and I’m sure it is by people who fancy themselves “masters of the universe.” However, this idea was the one that really made me stop and think about the whole list more deeply.

The clickbait portion is certainly the phrasing of “if you’re not being taken advantage of” which hits people right in the binary win/lose meter. But stepping back, I’m thinking of the statement in terms of value propositions. If you’re not offering clear and unambiguous value to someone, then they’re not benefiting from dealing with you. And as I’ve mentioned in some of the project management training I do, the real trick in project management is often dealing with us pesky humans (and all of us are pesky to someone else… see #5 later in the list).

Another way to think about it –something one boss of mine was and is fond of saying– is that you have to answer the other person’s omnipresent question, “What’s in it for me?”

Too many times in the indie/aspirational film realm, I’ve dealt with people who don’t work at answering that question. Now, granted, some people evidently want the value proposition to be insanely skewed to their advantage. And they’re not ashamed of the disparity at all. I imagine they’re training to be “masters of the universe,” but the main thing is you need to be giving someone else value for what you’re doing. Almost always, that’s going to mean they get more value than you get. As Hagy notes, “All services cost less to deliver than they do to undertake.” — at least if the services are to be sustainable.

What really drives this point home for me is how it can apply to someone who’s self-employed or a freelancer. When I was a freelance stage technician, the commercial gigs setting up lighting, etc. in hotels for conferences paid waaay better than the gigs at small non-profit theaters even though the hotel gigs were, by and large, way more boring (i.e., had less value to me personally).

Not only that, when you’re a freelancer, it’s tempting to take all the time you need for personal projects, but You the Creative needs to be “taken advantage of” by You the Small Businessperson if you want to pay bills. (As much as I’d like, playing Civilization all day pays no bills, no matter how much you build up your cities).

Finding that balance of getting personal value versus delivering value to someone else appears to be one of those lifelong pursuits. It took a long time for me to be at peace with that (and having a sucky job with one of those would-be masters of the universe will not help in that regard).

9. Your brain is constantly lying to you.
The really smart people I know are ones who know how much they don’t know — and I imagine a lot of them work to fight the cognitive biases inherent in the notion above.

I suppose you could be really depressed by this state of neurological affairs, but I’ve come to view as a reason to keep on learning… including learning how you can trick yourself. Two podcasts, Freakanomics and Hidden Brain, have been a fun way for me to explore this.

8. Your problems are not on most people’s radar.
Here’s something that hit me hard in my 20s (and then again when I became a parent, but that’s another story) — and I think it relates to #10 above. What you value may not be what others value. Likewise, your headaches may not be others’ headaches.

As with a lot of items on this list, this presents a choice: you can be depressed by the reality or you can figure out how this knowledge can inform your actions.

As a project manager, I’ve found it’s useful to try and understand other people’s headaches. An account executive I used to work with called this “finding out what keeps them up at night.” As a human being, it’s good for me to try and better empathize with people. In a way, it continues my stage management training of “mouth shut. eyes and ears open.” Better listening always helps.

7. If you quit your job, someone else will take it. If you quit your life’s work, nobody will swoop in to finish it for you.
Firmly rooted in the notion above –and something I need to remind myself to prevent my creative passion withering away– is the fact that no one will fight harder for your dreams than you will. Not your family, not your spouse: no one (hopefully those people will fight for you in general, but they, naturally, have dreams of their own, however similar they may sometimes be to yours).

So to be clear: many people can support you in pursuing your dreams… but in the end, they’re your dreams.

6. You’ll never get a day off from your responsibilities.
I still remember when I decided to get to the next level of adulting and bought a condo. The first time something broke, I paused for a second to try to remember the landlord’s number. Then I realized it was me.

Then there was becoming a parent, and responsibility went to a whole new exponential level.

In cases of both homeownership and parenting responsibilities, you have to laugh. In the case of the latter, there’s Fowl Language.

5. Somebody thinks you’re what’s wrong with the world today.
Yes, thinking of the aforementioned comments extravaganza and the nastygrams around Axanar made me think blogging about this listicle was pertinent today.

Before I became a doubleplusungood anonymous blogger in the estimation of certain fan film fanatics, I was a nemesis to a disturbingly large number of office dwellers. This is because a significant chunk of my professional career has been devoted to documenting and, where possible, improving business processes. Mind you, this almost never leads to people needing to be laid off, but it does entirely puncture some people’s M.O. of being indispensable because they are The Keeper of the Secret Knowledge.

I don’t have time for that. The entire trajectory of the modern workplace doesn’t have time for that. And most importantly: petty close-minded people who want to be Keepers of the Secret Knowledge tend to add to rather than reduce the number of overall Work-related Headaches.

It’s taken a while (see #2, below), but I’ve made peace with the fact that I may have enemies. But, more often than not, they’re insular, selfish enemies who feel other people deserve headaches. As long as I’m continuing to try and know a bit more about what I don’t know (see #9) and am not crapping on anyone, it’s okay. The Keepers of the Secret Knowledge can join the rest of us any time they want.

4. Things will change with or without your input.
As the writer notes, you might as well try and move the needle towards your desired future. I’d also note that scumbuckets will use this notion to try and dissuade you from trying to influence the needle at all, possibly because they think you’re what’s wrong with the world today. They can go play with the poo-flinging gibbons. You have stuff to do.

3. Nobody cares about that great work you did yesterday.
For the producer and project management jobs I do, I am gratified to know when I do a good job. But what does that get me? The chance to do a good job again. My satisfaction needs to come from doing the work, not resting on laurels.

It also tells me that trying to place all my life satisfaction in my work alone is a fool’s game.

2. You don’t fit in with every group, and you never will.
Who doesn’t want to be liked? How many situations to you want to “get along to go along?” But if you accept #5 above, you can more easily accept the fact that you don’t grok some people, some people don’t grok you… and some people are wondering what the heck the word “grok” is right about now.

The dangerous downside to this is to become too ensconced within your “tribe” that you cut yourself off from learning new things and generally listening.

1. You’re good, but not as good as you could be.
Happiness is equilibrium. Shift your weight” – Tom Stoppard

I view this very much like #9 above. I can choose to be depressed about the reality of the situation, or, as Tom Stoppard points out, I can shift my weight. This also connects to #3 and not resting on one’s laurels.

I’ve actually been pretty comfortable with this for a while, in part because I’ve been blessed with being around people who taught me excellence isn’t always being the best, it’s about always working to do better by your own standards.

So I suppose this is where having honest people support you and your dreams helps, huh?

Okay, that’s enough for philosophical posts for now. I promise to do a wonky project management post soon.

Crisis of Infinite Star Treks: The Naked Greed Time

This is the 29th entry in a surprisingly long series of posts about Star Trek’s future and its fandom called Crisis of Infinite Star Treks.

Frankly, I though we’d all be done with all things Axanar by now, but since certain Star Trek “fans” continue to try and fleece other fans, I needed to weigh in again.

I’ll cut the chase: Axanar Productions (Alec Peters, et al), the folks who crowdfunded about $1.4 million to make a feature film and spent it all while not making said film are back trying to raise more money via Indiegogo.

Again: they raised a ton of cash promising to do something. They spent the cash, not doing at all what they promised — and are back to ask for more money. In this case, they’re saying it’s not for Axanar per se, but for a non-profit studio, even as they are losing their studio space (more on that below).

Before you –or anyone you know– sends them any money, know that there are two outcomes of any of their crowdfunding efforts based on their previous words and deeds:

  1. They are grossly incompetent, will waste any crowdfunds, and will not deliver on what they promised.
  2. They are insidiously greedy, will not deliver, and will spend crowdfunds on something other than what they promised.

I’m thinking they’re going with the slime-covered door # 2 in this scenario.

It’s not that starting a studio with a focus to help aspiring filmmakers tell their stories isn’t a bad idea. It’s quite cool, in fact. But it’s a tremendous undertaking that takes a particular passion. And I haven’t seen that particular passion of helping other people make films come from the Axanar crew.

What I have seen from Alec Peters and the Axanar crew has been not delivering on their own project — and the reasons why they haven’t delivered require one to maintain a level of cognitive dissonance that exceeds warp 10. And we all know how bad that gets.

Arguably transformative, but don’t go there.

I’ve mentioned this in both the 27th and 28th entries,  but it bears repeating: if you are to take Alec Peters at his word, working on Axanar has been:

1) A full-time job which is just a hobby, for which he
2) required a completely reasonable salary which is not a salary because he paid it back
3) to produce a professional feature film that is simultaneously a fan film
4) to be shot in a studio which is a commercial studio except when it’s not and is just a warehouse
5) and they were all ready to begin shooting in the beginning of 2016 yet the studio/warehouse still isn’t ready for shooting (and which they’re vacating by the end of April 2017).
6) and they have been working meticulously to get every detail adhere exactly to Star Trek canon because they’re doing this for the true Star Trek fans,
7) but this is in no way a Star Trek film
8) which the Axanar team knew could not be made the moment the lawsuit was filed in December 2015
9) which is one of the reasons the Axanar team continually argued they wouldn’t settle the lawsuit unless they could make that film the Star Trek fans really wanted
10) and so Alec Peters and Axanar spent the $1.4 million as promised
11) to make the Star Trek fan film that’s a professional film that’s not a Star Trek film
12) except they didn’t make the film.

So let’s say for the sake of argument that, upon much reflections, the Axanar team has decided they will channel their energies into creating a non-profit studio. Well, they’ve just said that, at the end of this month, they don’t have a studio!

Screenshot from the announcement. Clear as mud, no?

Have they updated their Indiegogo campaign meant to raise funds for this studio? From their own announcement, it’s quite vague about who owns what, except that Axanar Productions is now no longer intertwined with Industry Studios… though it sounds like Axanar Productions might still get the crowdfunding for this Industry Studios campaign, which would be odd. For example, who fulfills the studio rental perks?

What does Danny think of this?

And then the Axanar sets will need to be moved… somewhere. In fact, anywhere in the United States seems to be an option per the announcement. Are funds from this current campaign going to moving and storing the sets? Is using crowdfunding for Axanar activities even kosher under the settlement with CBS/Paramount?

Yeah, some clarification on the campaign page might be in order.

And if the Axanar sets move outside of California, is it even logical to try and have Axanar Productions located in California? As mentioned in a previous entry, they’ve been saying for over a year that they’re pursuing non-profit status and while the process is detailed, it really doesn’t take that long and California spells out the steps. If they really are at “step # 7” as the announcement indicates, we should know about their board of directors, their bylaws, and they could also mention the most important step: getting tax-exempt status from the Feds. (Hint: if you want to know what that could look like, look at what the Star Trek Continues crew did and posted on their website for all to see).


Those of you who have read my previous posts in this series know I have long since exhausted my patience with Axanar.

But you don’t need to be exhausted nor be a “hater” to choose Door # 1 in this scenario: they’re incompetent.

Axanar Productions crowdfunded $1.4 million and failed to deliver what they promised. They’ve just announced they won’t have a studio — the central tenet of this campaign. And frankly, I have to believe other studio spaces in the Los Angeles area have sprung up in the past few decades to meet indie filmmakers’ needs (and some may even be soundproofed!). Axanar doesn’t have a track record and they now don’t have the facility. They don’t deserve your money.

However, I’m going to still go with Door # 2: greed. They advertised this latest campaign as the natural progression of  their work, as if the 8,500 supporters of their Kickstarter campaign or 7,600 supporters of their previous Indiegogo campaign were wanting a studio instead of the Star Trek film advertised.

In space, no one can smell what they’re shoveling

And now the studio itself is out of their hands.

We already know the $1.4 million did not result in completed sets or a properly soundproofed studio. We also know from court documents that Alec Peters used crowdfunds on personal expenses. He also seems to like having a web of shell corporations, which really does not inspire trust.

Whether you think it’s incompetence or greed, Star Trek fans don’t let fellow fans donate to Axanar (and yes, that means Industry Studios, Quark Enterprises, or whatever other names they come up with). Spread the word.

And hey, feel free to let Indiegogo know about this dubious campaign as well.

UPDATE, April 8th, 10:30 ET
Evidently, realizing that their Indiegogo campaign being for a studio space they no longer control looks a tad sketchy (presumably even into Indiegogo), Axanar is trying to update the campaign.

If I wanted things this sketchy, I’d watch Monty Python.

UPDATE #2: April 9th, 2:30pm ET
Besides the various conversations happening on Reddit and the various Facebook groups (e.g. the original CPvA group, CPvA Alumni Pie Club, Axamonitor) Carlos Pedraza has written an update on the Axanar/Industry studio shenanigans on Axamonitor proper. Between that article and many of the screenshots on the Facebook group, you get the impression that the vitriol directed at people questioning Alec and Axanar’s motives is not at all uncommon — and just as ridiculous and silly. Of course, I’m probably only saying that because I’m clearly doubleplusungood.

Oh, and I’m thinking of introducing myself as “Bjorn Munson, Anonymous Blogger” in the future.