Thursday, October 2, 2008

My computers and poisoned baby milk

So on Friday my two new PCs arrived – fresh from (and I’m assuming here) a factory in China. Ordered, built, packed, transported and delivered in around 48 hours. They’ve already clocked up a good few thousand airmiles and are filled with rare and unpronounceable metals. Their mining “rucksack” is huge and as they’re purchased as render machines they’ll be running pretty much continuously day and night consuming electricity.

They and the components they contain have been assembled in Chinese factories by young women from rural villages. Apparently, the companies prefer to use young women because their fingers are faster on the production lines.

I’ve come across this idea myself. I once, when Britain still had manufacturing industries, worked as a temp in a factory putting bottles of peach schnaps into gift boxes. Crates of the stuff moved through a production line on which about 10 girls packed the boxes. Girls were said to be much faster. When there weren’t enough girls, they reluctantly bought boys in, and I was one.

It was indeed true that the girls small hands packed the boxes faster and more nimbly and I struggled to keep up.

However, as they days wore on, it became clear that I had an advantage in terms of body mass… The girls, being smaller got drunk faster, so in the afternoon, the boys caught up.

Anyway, back to China.

Because all the young women from the rural villages are working in factories in the towns, their babies are left with their grandparents. The grandparents obviously can’t provide breast milk, and that’s why so many Chinese babies are fed bottled milk. And that’s why, when a scandal blew up last week about chemicals being put into baby milk to artificially increase protean levels, it affected not just a few but tens of thousands.

Apparently, the chemicals affected milk from 20 or so companies – which I found odd, because why would they all start using this chemical at the same time. However, I’m told by Mary who works as a journalist out there, that stories don’t tend to break until they’re ready to – in other words, this has probably been going on for a long time – but the communication in China is such that the media hasn’t got hold of it. It’s not a sudden outbreak but a long term problem.

Sam – a friend of Lisa’s visited with her two children on Friday, and we spent the weekend at Sarah and Chris’ with their two, so George has had a good chance to play with other kids. There’s an age group, a few years older than himself, but still playing with similar toys – that he seems suddenly absolutely fascinated by. He can pretty much be left to his own devices with them, playing and laughing with them.

There really seems to be a level of communication between very young children that us adults just can’t key into.

Both Sarah and Chris have pretty high pressure jobs in management and the credit crisis isn’t doing them any favours. Constant reorganisation of management structures and changes of direction over the past few months are making everyone feel as though the ground is shifting.

They’re both under pressure, but when it comes to the weekend, children help to bring them both back to Earth. When we went for a walk in a local park on Sunday, they seemed as relaxed as ever.

Maintaining that division between work and home life is tough sometimes, and it doesn’t mean pretending there’s no crossover – sometimes I end up thinking about work stuff at weekends and sometimes I actually need to do work. Equally, sometimes, I have to stop work in the day to deal with home stuff. However, those boundaries need constant attention.

As usual, we returned with a boot full of Sarah and Chris’ old baby stuff for George’s age group. A set of new toys including a baby walker which he took to immediately. In fact, I think he’ll be walking any time now.

George has been feeling out of sorts over the weekend. He’s had gungy eyes, and today, his temperature suddenly shot up.

We called the Doctor, but because they’ve got a new system to allow them to meet government targets, it’s a lot harder to book appointments (because, if yo don’t have an appointment booked, the doctor can’t have a long waiting list). The nurse who saw us sent as to accident and emergency - which he didn't need to, but he obviously didn't have the confidence to treat George as normal because of his heart problems.

We've always been told that after the operation he wouldn't need any special consideration, and it seems to be true. However, everyone still uses a "better safe than sorry" approach so it looks like we can look forward to going to A&E for a couple of hours every time he has a cough only to be told to go home... still. Better safe than sorry.

By the time we got home, the world had colapsed.

George bush's plan to save us from the end of all banking failled to get through congress because althugh everyone agreed with it (not for any particularly good reason), their voters were a bit pissed off about having to bail out people who earned far more money than them.

Nobody was expecting the vote - which seems a bit odd in itself because noowadays we don't tend to have surprise votes.

The plan isn't dead yet, and will be voted on again, and again they expect it to pass. However the main reason for this expectation is the same as the reason for the confidence in the plan itself - it's that "this just has to work!".

That's never a particularly good arguement as it's based on the idea that people generally can't comprehend change on a huge revolutionary scale. Everyone's got so much invested in the status quo they can't imagine it falling.

However, history doesn't back up this belief. Empires do crumble and systems do fall. "because it just can't happen!" didn't stop the Roman Empire falling and it didn't prevent world war II (which was one of the results of the 1929 crash).

Everyone's talking about catastrophe but nobody has really explained what that means. What if the American plan doesn't work (and frankly why should it work?)? what happens if nobody can trust banks again? what happens if the suspention of monopolies law means that the world comes out of this undr the control of one or two massive organisations - or if states come out of it owning so many private companies that there's no difference between publicc and private companies?

The trouble is that the only people who know about the system are the people who are up to their necks in it. So when they say the world is ending they mean that their world is ending. Quite how their world is connected to ours we'll find out in the next months and years. Once the US plan has been passed and has failed.

having set up my new PCs, the render farm is having a few teething troubles. One or more computers in the network seem to be dropping off randomly so rendering isn't going as fast as it should.

I've also come to the conclusion that my schedule is impossibly tight for the trilobite animation. I've stripped it down a little. listing only those shots which are absolutely essential and concentrating on getting them rendering rather than working through the project scene by scene as I was doing.

hopefully there will be the chance to go back and finish off with some of my more interesting shots later, but I'm cutting it fine. I've just been contacted by the yacht people asking when the other project will be ready and I've proomised them something by early next week. in addition it's time to do the newsletter again and I've been given a small writing job by Computer Arts. This is something I can't turn down just now as I want to keep my hand in with the magazines.

All in all, I'm going to be doing overtime for the next couple of weeks. I'm not happy about that. but doing a couple of nights should make things more doable. Once my current projects are done I can relax the schedule a little, finish my documentary and look into developing the children's tv show I've just had an idea for....

Today I had to take most of the day out to go to the Avid offices in Pinewood studios for a meeting about the newsletter I'm writing. Most of it was stuff I already knew well, but it's always good to go to these things because it's the only chance you get to meet the people you're working for.

Pinewood seems to be about the only place in the UK you can still see people building things. There are carpenters, metalworkers, plaster of paris moulders, all busy building sets and props. In fact the site isn’t just a studio, it’s everything you need to make a movie – including the post production which is why I was there.

Our part of the complex was named Broccoli road – and went right past the Bond soundstage. You couldn’t see in though…

On the way back, my taxi driver gave out some free tips on the benefits of declaring yourself bankrupt… how to have £100,000 on credit cards and have them all wiped clean. He spoke from experience apparently.

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