Category Archives: Networking

Circle of Life

The Art of Animation

When creating and testing new graphics rendering engines or learning to create three dimensional models one of the first things usually produced is what is called a Utah teapot invented at the University of Utah. Several Alumni of the University of Utah include Ed Catmull who is widely cited as having created the first computer animation while a student. Ed Catmull cofounded Pixar with Steve Jobs and John Lasseter.

Computer graphics and computer generated imagery are two fields that have been deeply intertwined with the history and development of modern computers. Computer graphics have played an important role in technology and turned human achievements such as the Apollo Moon landings that would otherwise not be possible into a reality. The graphical user interface turned ordinary people’s perception of computers and what they were capable of on its head. CGI completely revolutionized the film industry with hit movies by Pixar like Toy Story and A Bug’s Life changing the entire way Walt Disney did animation. When we turn on our computers or cellphones or tablets we expect to watch multimedia and play games with a rich and high performance end user experience. But the technology that makes this possible did not just happen over night and is the product of years of research.

The crux of animation and the highest grossing animated film of all time, Walt Disney’s The Lion King has many important lessons for our journey on the endless round. One of the most important you will ever learn is that every person you will ever meet is no more than your 15th cousin. Known as the pedigree collapse the origin of life lies in the number 2 to the power of 32. Each and every one of us has 4,294,967,296 ancestors which is larger than the world population 32 generations ago, and so we are all connected in the great circle of life (Dawkins, 1995).

Jobs computer software company NeXT developed the NeXT Workstation used by Tim Berners-Lee to write the HTML programming language which later formed the backbone of the internet.

The development of computer graphics and computer generated imagery is intricately linked to the history of traditional animation. We begin with the development of The Lion King adapted video game for computers and Windows 3.1 in time for Christmas of 1994 (Disney Lion King Disaster, 2013). In those days Windows was a largely underdeveloped operating system with very poor driver level abstraction. Game development for the platform was abysmal as a result of inefficient and buggy graphics drivers. The result was Microsoft’s backing of the DirectX API which would turn into an industry standard for Windows OS based game development and graphics being the inspiration of the name for the Xbox console and surpassing the market share of OpenGL for years to come.

Steve Jobs co-founded Apple with colleague Steve Wozniak in 1976 in Cupertino California at the advent of the personal computer revolution. It is lesser known that shortly before founding Apple Computer, Jobs was an employee at Atari designing video games. Jobs often found it difficult to work with other people and conflicts often arose leading his boss to set up a night shift for him to work. While at Atari Jobs and colleague Steve Wozniak designed the game Breakout (Hanson, 2013). Though it is believed that Jobs purposefully mislead Wozniak about the payment received for completing the project in order to buy into a farm in Oregon. Jobs was later ousted from Apple Computer in 1985 after disagreements with CEO John Sculley who would himself later be ousted from Apple. During that time he founded a computer software company, NeXT Software Inc, who worked to pioneer networking, inter-connectivity, and whose computers were used by Tim Berners-Lee to create the HTML programming language later forming the backbone of the internet (A Short History of NeXT, 2015). The NEXTcube workstation was also used by John Carmack when designing and coding the classic Doom and Wolfenstein 3D computer games (Antoniades, 2009). That same year Jobs left Apple the animator behind The Brave Little Toaster, John Lasseter, left Disney for Lucasfilm’s Industrial Light and Magic. Lucasfilm was created by George Lucas to render special effects in Star Wars. Later that year Lucasfilm sold Graphics Group to Steve Jobs who would later rename the company Pixar Animation Studios giving Lasseter the freedom to direct and produce content specifically for television commercials (John Lasseter Biograpy, The New York Times).

Steve jobs purchased Graphics Group in 1986 for $5 million and incorporated Pixar Animation Studios.

Walt Disney Storyboard

A few other innovations made computer animated films cheaper to produce including Walt Disney’s pioneering use of the storyboard in the earlier days of animation.

Pixar and the growing field of computer generated imagery initially faced many difficulties and technical limitations. Traditional animators were largely afraid of computer animation fearing it would replace them entirely. Those at Disney feared that animation was soon to be a thing of the past and that animation was a dying art form. Computer animation was also extremely expensive requiring very advanced computers for the time, but eventually Moore’s Law, which states the exponential growth of transistor density on integrated circuits, made it cheap enough for Jobs and Pixar to finally pull off a feature length computer animated film. However a couple of other prior innovations including Walt Disney’s pioneering of the storyboard made it cheaper to produce computer animated films. In contrast live action movies are filmed first and later correlated into movies. Animation was extremely expensive for even short clips because of the time and prowess needed to render and produce the scenes. Storyboarding helped eliminate this inefficiency by only rendering the scenes that will make it into the final movie.

This November will mark 10 years since Steve Jobs debuted Toy Story at SIGGRAPH in 1995 which would go on to become a box office success. With it’s plastic doll-like anthropomorphic rendering Toy Story brought the first computer animated characters to life on the big screen and set a new precedent for animation. Pixar’s internal RenderMan engine, used to render the actual scenes, has a number of similarities with OpenGL and the two API’s can be used interchangeably as both take the form of a stack-based state machine.

Pixar’s success coalesced with the decade from 1989 to 1999 known as the Disney Renaissance when Walt Disney Animation experienced a creative resurgence including the release of films such as Beauty and the Beast (1991), Aladdin (1992), The Lion King (1994), Hercules (1997), and Tarzan (1999).

Despite the ambivalent feelings at the time Pixar would not become a one hit success and would go on to work on their next hit A Bug’s Life which would also be the highest grossing animated film for its year of release, 1998, raking in an initial $33 million dollars on its opening weekend. The movie broke new technical barriers including the number of animated characters possible on screen at any given time. Pixar would go on to release hit after hit including Monsters Inc, Cars, Up, and Brave.

Steve Jobs Pixar Tribute

Steve Jobs helped turn Pixar into a billion dollar success and was later diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, he passed away in 2011. At the time of his death Jobs was the largest shareholder in Disney.

Pixar has been such an immaculate success spawning a following of millions of movie goers worldwide. One product of this success places Pixar at the center of a prominent conspiracy known as The Pixar Theory which postulates all Pixar movies are related and can be used as the basis to predict future events in the Pixar timeline. John Lasseter is currently on board to direct Toy Story 4 and a century of animation and film will likely not be coming to a halt any time soon.

The End!

Antoniades, Alexander. “The Game Developer Archives: ‘Monsters From the Id: The Making of Doom'” Gamasutra. UBM Tech, 15 Jan. 2009. Web. 12 Jan. 2015. <http://www.gamasutra.com/view/news/112355/The_Game_Developer_Archives_Monsters_From_the_Id_The_Making_of_Doom.php>.

“A Short History of NeXT.” A Short History of NeXT. Web. 10 Mar. 2015. <http://simson.net/ref/NeXT/aboutnext.htm>.

Dawkins, Richard. “All Africa and Her Progenies.” River out of Eden: A Darwinian View of Life. New York, NY: Basic, 1995. Print.

“Disney Lion King Disaster.” The Saint. 4 Jan. 2013. Web. 10 Mar. 2015. <http://www.alexstjohn.com/WP/2013/01/04/the-disnesy-disaster/>.

Hanson, Ben. “How Steve Wozniak’s Breakout Defined Apple’s Future.” www.gameinformer.com. 27 June 2013. Web. 7 June 2015. <http://www.gameinformer.com/b/features/archive/2013/06/27/how-steve-wozniak-s-breakout-defined-apple-s-future.aspx>.

“John Lasseter Biography.” Movies & TV. The New York Times. Web. 10 Mar. 2015. <http://www.nytimes.com/movies/person/202358/John-Lasseter/biography>.

Security of Electronic Communications

One of the biggest problems facing software and technology companies as well as all major financial institutions today is the security and authenticity of electronically transmitted communications and data. When evidence of phone hacking surmounted around Piers Morgan back in Q1 2014 it was revealed that access was easily gained to victim’s voicemail recordings because they simply never changed the password (Spark, 2014). Why then do people often neglect and undermine the importance of securing their communications and what are some ways to address this? These are important cognitive, biometric, and psychological questions which must be answered in order to improve security of databases, emails, networks, and data transmission. This requires not only innovating and improving the encryption methods and techniques utilized in these systems by engineers but also changing the perception and appraisal by people, including the ordinary layman, of the problem.

During World War II the Germans used the Enigma machine to encrypt nearly all communications, which was of course until Alan Turing created the world’s first computer in the interest of automating much of the decryption process at Bletchley Park. In the process he laid the foundation of Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence positing the noteworthy Turing test as a measure of a machines intelligence. Every time you make a purchase at Amazon or Walmart.com, send a message on Facebook or Twitter your information is bounced between several servers, stored in databases on remote computers, and sometimes intercepted by even the National Security Agency, in offices and buildings occasionally not even in the same country as you. Merely opening an email attachment can compromise all of the data on your computer as attachments can be easily infected with Trojans and other viruses that can take over your computer, control system processes, or scan for files containing credit card numbers and upload them back to the intruder. Even if you consider yourself a modern Luddite of sorts, there is very little hope in escaping the arbitrarily encompassing technology of the digital age, unless of course you don’t mind not having a driver’s license and never taking out a loan for a house, car, or student loan.

Heartbleed was a major security vulnerability in OpenSSL, a popular open source socket security library, which could be used to bypass authenticity and security measures by the software and was in isolated instances. A Pew research poll indicated that only about 60% of adult internet users had heard of Heartbleed, and that even worse only 39% took additional steps to secure their online accounts (Rainie, 2014). Warnings of Heartbleed going largely unheeded Shellshock, a vulnerability in Bash a command prompt used in Mac and Linux, was just discovered with early estimates of 500 million affected computers (Lee, 2014). So it is evident the implications of data security on our jobs, lives, and basically our very way of life. But what can be done to address these issues? Well examples such as OpenSSL may actually be the solution and not just the problem. Open source software grants users special privileges including being able to read the source code easily without extensive reverse engineering, and sometimes even the rights to redistribute that code with certain caveats. For this reason not only were the hackers aware of the bug, so were other users of the software allowing the issue to be much more quickly addressed. With proprietary software this may not be the case, by the time the developers become informed it could be too late. We can also see companies like Oracle which are making a point of improving security in Java based applications. Their approach lately has been to promote wide spread adoption of new Java versions, which as a result of new features has been largely embraced by the community with Java 8 adoption up nearly 20% from previous releases (Oracle, 2014). Not only are they correcting the issues, they are giving users incentives to install and adopt these more secure versions. The now obsolete Windows XP operating system is the epitome of where this methodology could be applied as it is still used in many ATM machines today (Pagliery, 2014). They have been proven to be extremely susceptible to fraudulent attacks, even vulnerable enough to hacking from a cellphone!

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New advances in physics are also creating promising solutions to encryption as well as classical computing problems. A lot of recent research has shown that lasers can be used to encrypt messages that cannot be deciphered without the original manifest, much like traditional asymmetric cryptography (Berridge, 2010). Optimizations in parallel processing that quantum mechanics is postulated to allow can also mean near instantaneous decryption of encrypted keys. This means that anybody or organization or corporation that can develop the first real quantum computer could decrypt every message using todays encryption standards instantly any time they want. It is no surprise then why the National Security Agency, NASA, Google, Microsoft and many other tech titans are clamoring to build these machines.

Another important aspect of this problem is the psychological importance of security and privacy that individuals feel. The most obvious issue here is that in order for passwords to be secure they also have to be somewhat hard to remember, and consider that usually people have more than 1 even 10 networked accounts on the internet for email, their student account, online bank account, social accounts and much more. Acronyms and anagrams can be conventionally applied as mnemonic devices for remembering passwords, but users generally prefer convenience. The most commonly used password for 2013 was, consistent with popular belief, you guessed it, “password” (Ngak, 2014). Many companies have begun to address this part of the problem in new ways, such as Apple which provides facial recognition locking for most iOS devices (Whitney, 2013). Besides facial recognition research is bringing new solutions such as fingerprint scanning, retina scanning, DNA tests, and other forms of biometric identification and authentication some of which are old and some of which are new. One of the most often utilized methods of preventing bots and spam on websites has been the contemporary use of optical character recognition or CAPTCHAS for example.

The problems of privacy and security have been perennial and persistent in many contexts and not just technology alone. Technology and science is not only expanding the issues but actively providing new and innovative solutions. The development of quantum computers seems to draw many parallels to Alan Turing’s creation of the first computer with grave implications. Millions of people are left vulnerable by security flaws and subject to attack, fraud, and other harm every single day. The problems of privacy and security are thus important matters that are frequently undermined and that must be taken more seriously and researched more thoroughly.

References

Berridge, E. (2010, September 1). Quantum encryption defeated by lasers. Retrieved October 17, 2014, from http://www.theinquirer.net/inquirer/blog-post/1730688/quantum-encryption-defeated-lasers

Lee, D. (2014, September 25). Shellshock: ‘Deadly serious’ new vulnerability found. Retrieved October 17, 2014, from http://www.bbc.com/news/technology-29361794

Ngak, C. (2014, January 21). The 25 most common passwords of 2013. Retrieved October 19, 2014, from http://www.cbsnews.com/news/the-25-most-common-passwords-of-2013/

Oracle Highlights Continued Java SE Momentum and Innovation at JavaOne 2014. (2014, September 29). Retrieved October 17, 2014, from http://www.marketwatch.com/story/oracle-highlights-continued-java-se-momentum-and-innovation-at-javaone-2014-2014-09-29

Pagliery, J. (2014, March 4). 95% of bank ATMs face end of security support. Retrieved October 17, 2014, from http://money.cnn.com/2014/03/04/technology/security/atm-windows-xp/

Rainie, L., & Duggan, M. (2014, April 30). Heartbleed’s Impact. Retrieved October 17, 2014, from http://www.pewinternet.org/2014/04/30/heartbleeds-impact/2/#main-findings

Spark, L. (2014, February 14). CNN host Piers Morgan questioned in UK hacking investigation. Retrieved October 10, 2014, from http://www.cnn.com/2014/02/14/world/europe/uk-piers-morgan-hacking-probe/

Whitney, L. (2013, December 20). How to use facial recognition on your iPhone. Retrieved October 19, 2014, from http://www.cnet.com/news/how-to-use-facial-recognition-on-your-iphone/