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'What does Crustimoney Proseedcake mean?' said Pooh. 'For I am a Bear of Very Little Brain, and long words Bother me.'

Archive for the ‘History’ Category

The origin of Kung Fu Panda

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Last week we watched Kung Fu Panda (capsule review: it’s mostly like Advil), which is a fun and funny DreamWorks Animation film about anthropomorphic animals in mythological China.

As expected, it manages to pull most of the ‘right’ levers. The Chinese references are mostly good, in a non-patronising way, although they do pull a Katzenberg (e.g. where all the characters are ‘in-character’ but the main character is Robin Williams) with the Panda, US accent and all. The actual animals are either Chinese, or from the Chinese culture, with some interesting choices (a mantis and viper as Kong-Fu fighters, a turtle as the ancient master). Also, no dumb pack animals are shown pulling crates or working, a usual miss in anthropomorphic works. The Red Panda Shifu (a Chinese word for martial arts master) is probably the best character in the whole film, artfully played by Dustin Hoffman.

The morals of the movie are also hit-and-miss, they do base on a lot of Zen/Chinese ideas, but it is the Big-Mac version. On one hand, the Panda remains an obese slob throughout the film (good), on the other, that is his “inner strength” (wot?). There’s a huge gap between saying “the power is within you” and showing you a mirror. The art is mostly good, although its Computer-Generated nature sometimes gets a bit overdone. I’m a fan of hand-drawn animation, so I’m biased, but I prefer my CGI “obvious” as in the Shrek, or Toy-Story way, rather than in a “drawn 2d” way. But I digress.

The whole reason for this review is that I kept wondering about where does the whole “Panda as a martial arts master” idea comes from? It’s obviously not original, DreamWorks are not known for inventing wheels. After all, we are talking about the studio that released “Antz” two weeks before “A Bug’s Life“, both starting production about the time Katzenberg left Disney (Pixar’s former publishers and current owners). But it’s more than just that. Pandas are not connected with martial arts the way other animals are. The film’s Furious Five (a tigress, a crane, a monkey, a mantis, and a viper), represent familiar Kung-Fu styles. The Panda, while is a Chinese animal, does not have any connection with Kung-Fu, or anything seemly resembling martial arts.

That is, if you stop looking at history and culture and start looking in pop-culture.

In April 1st, 1999, Blizzard, deep in the production of Warcraft III, “announced” that a new race was in the works for the game: Pandaren Empire.

The page included a fleshed history of the race to make it look an integral part of WarCraft’s world, complete with some units details, art and mockup screenshots.
Reaction was immediately favourable. The race, basically Panda Samurai, appealed to a lot of WarCraft fans and gamers in general (regardless of the Pandas being Chinese animal and the Samurai being Japanese), and managed to create a buzz around the concept, soon leading to some interesting results.

In the WarCraft III expansion pack, one of the playable characters was a Pandaren Brewmaster, sort of a Drunken Master warrior, but a panda. Here, once moving from the mock to the official, the character moved from the oriental mashup of panda samurai to a more Chinese oriented ideas.

Once this became “official” it just kept rolling. In World of Warcraft, there was an idea to capitalise on the Warcraft/Panda connection, with Pandaren Xpress, a delivery company for Chinese food. Later, a Panda cub was added as a pet.

With World of Warcraft being the no. 1 online RPG for several years now, its no wonder that Dreamworks Animation decided to roll their own version with a Kung-Fu Panda. With the last Warcraft-panda hulabaloo taking place circa 2005, it should coincide with the film’s production start, and nail this conspiracy on the head.

Written by Erez

Saturday, August 30, 2008 at 18:13

Code and back again

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A recent discussion over at the Open-Cobol mailing list have brought up some nice gems.

My generation learned COBOL not from textbooks but from vendor manuals
and also a set of tutorials in the form of programmed texts called the “IBM green books”
(they had green covers). Programming was an apprenticeship business back then.
We learned from each other.

Comparing the world of today’s corporate programming, of which I am a part, to the world of yesterday’s, from my memories of visiting my mother’s workplace, I can really relate to this description. I would compare this to any person studying a profession and practice, but not being actually familiar with any of the tools and application they’ll actually use. These days, of course, basic to advanced courses are required in any computer-based tool, from OS and Office suites, to the tools-of-trade and assisting applications.

> > I would state that a simple Hello World Program in COBOL has become MUCH simpler
> > than his example. We no long are required to have all those sections or even the
> > preceding line numbers.
> Yeah, on the opencobol.org forum (and in the soon to be unveiled FAQ), hello world is as
> short as:
> program-id.hello.procedure division.display "Hello World!".

There was a language in my youth called APL whose fan base revelled in creating one line
programs. I hope COBOL and its fan base has not been reduced to that level.
An important and unique feature of COBOL is that it was designed to be read as well as written.
It is intended to be a self-documenting language. While recent versions have strayed far from that
original concept the thought of reducing a sample program to one line is a violation of one of the key
features that makes COBOL different from other languages. Just because you can do it doesn’t mean
you should do it.

COBOL was conceived as a language that will have a syntax that will allow non-programmers to be able to read it, and for the programmers to easily translate the non-programmers pseudo-code’s logic to a program. This resulted with PERFORM READ-FROM-FILE UNTIL END-OF-FILE and EVALUATE USER-INPUT
WHEN NEXT-RECORD ADD 1 TO RECORD-NUMBER GIVING TOTAL-RECORDS

But it also caused the language to become encumbered with the actual semantics, where any action requires a long description, maintained in several parts of the code simultaneously. Over the years, attempts were made to include more advanced features, while, on the other hand, reduce the amount of text needed to be used. It would seem that Open-COBOL have dropped everything but the actual commands, giving a slim version of COBOL, which might do it the justice it needs (if only it was compiled to byte-code rather than to C).

Another interesting element here, is the writer’s reference to one-liners and APL. This is a well known argument against Perl’s supposed unreadability, based on its one-liners, obfuscation and “programming golf” challenges. I, however believe that these, and other traits of the language are a virtue. A programming language with an English-like verbosity, that has an ability to use the shortest programming form, the “one-liner” as an expression method. Apart from the constrains of style and practice, this, is the true strength of Perl, the ultimate freedom of expression in computer programming form.

Written by Erez

Tuesday, August 12, 2008 at 16:12

Posted in History, Programming

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