Archive for October, 2006

The Secret War Between Sci-Fi Writers

October 27, 2006

Snow Crash author Neal Stephenson reveals the dark truth about his on-again/off-again rivalries with the other members of sci-fi’s holy triumverate, William Gibson and Bruce Sterling, in a 2004 interview with Slashdot. Who knew that Gibson and Stephenson were so schooled in martial arts and psychokinesis? And is it really a surprise that Sterling’s Viridian Design movement is little more than a cover for the development of superweapons?

Let me tell you how it came out on the three occasions when we did fight.

The first time was a year or two after SNOW CRASH came out. I was doing a reading/signing at White Dwarf Books in Vancouver. Gibson stopped by to say hello and extended his hand as if to shake. But I remembered something Bruce Sterling had told me. For, at the time, Sterling and I had formed a pact to fight Gibson. Gibson had been regrown in a vat from scraps of DNA after Sterling had crashed an LNG tanker into Gibson’s Stealth pleasure barge in the Straits of Juan de Fuca. During the regeneration process, telescoping Carbonite stilettos had been incorporated into Gibson’s arms. Remembering this in the nick of time, I grabbed the signing table and flipped it up between us. Of course the Carbonite stilettos pierced it as if it were cork board, but this spoiled his aim long enough for me to whip my wakizashi out from between my shoulder blades and swing at his head. He deflected the blow with a force blast that sprained my wrist. The falling table knocked over a space heater and set fire to the store. Everyone else fled. Gibson and I dueled among blazing stacks of books for a while. Slowly I gained the upper hand, for, on defense, his Praying Mantis style was no match for my Flying Cloud technique. But I lost him behind a cloud of smoke. Then I had to get out of the place. The streets were crowded with his black-suited minions and I had to turn into a swarm of locusts and fly back to Seattle. (Slashdot)


NB: The rest of the interview, while considerably less violent, is full of insights into writing and technology and well worth a read.


Six-Word Short Stories

October 25, 2006

In the spirit of Hemingway’s famous short-short (“For sale: baby shoes, never worn.”), Wired Magazine has commissioned six-word “stories” from some of today’s best science fiction authors. Read the whole collection here. Not all of the submissions exhibit the same kind of completeness and narrative economy as the Hemingway example, but here are a couple that come close:

Machine. Unexpectedly, I’d invented a time
Alan Moore

Longed for him. Got him. Shit.
Margaret Atwood (Wired)

The Next Big Thing

October 23, 2006

With all the recent excitement about Second Life’s 1,000,000th “resident,” the buzz over the emergence of the 3D web is getting louder by the minute. Economist and columnist Patrick Cox compares the current state of the art to the early days of the World Wide Web, drawing parallels between the catalyzing effects of Netscape and new 3D virtual world technologies such as the Multiverse Network — a startup founded, perhaps not coincidentally, by Bill Turpin, one of the minds behind Netscape itself:

Like AOL and CompuServe a decade ago, virtual worlds exist as a relatively small number of isolated, walled-off realms, each requiring the user to download separate software. Just as the Internet did not become the social force it is today until Netscape tore down the walls separating Internet fiefdoms, virtual world technology is currently limited.

There is, however, something going on that has the potential to change that, and quickly. Not coincidentally, a team of core developers from Netscape’s early days is now developing the equivalent of a virtual world browser for MMOs. Called Multiverse, the company includes the same portentous entrepreneur noted above: Bill Turpin. His team includes Netscape veterans known throughout Silicon Valley, if not the world at large: Rafhael Cedeno and Robin McCollum, who built critical Netscape server technology still in use today, and co-creators of RSS; Jeff Weinstein, who coded the world-changing SSL; and Corey Bridges, Navigator product manager who then went on to launch companies like Netflix and Zone Labs. On the entertainment side, ex-physics major and film director/producer James Cameron, of Terminator and Titanic fame, has thrown his lot in with Multiverse, joining its board of advisors.

Their plan is to provide virtual world creators the client, server, and development tools to create an MMO world. The entire technology platform is free for non-commercial use, so academics are paying nothing to create economic, architectural, sociological and other simulations. For-profit enterprises would pay royalties, but only when their games or other applications collect money from consumers, not before.

This is significant because, until now, creating a complex virtual world required tens of millions of dollars in initial development costs alone. The Multiverse technology, currently in beta-testing, claims to lower the cost of virtual world production to a fraction of its current stratospheric level. For many purposes, such as personal online spaces, there would be no cost at all.

Most importantly, however, all these Multiverse-based worlds, and many are already in development, would be compatible. With the Multiverse client software, users will be able to access any virtual world built using the company’s technology. Virtual worlds will become, in effect, ubiquitous. The Metaverse. (TCSDaily)

Firefox 2.0 is out

October 23, 2006

Get it here.

Commercial Gold Rush in Second Life

October 19, 2006

A critical mass seems to have been reached over the past six months with regards to the popular online 3D social networking platform, Second Life. Having passed through the initial word of mouth/blogosphere zone, the SL meme now makes regular appearances in mainstream magazines and newspapers from Wired to The Guardian. All this attention has solidified the virtual world’s place at the forefront of what SL “residents” sometimes refer to as “the 3D web.” In what might be the most impressive stamp of approval to date, the Reuters news agency has gone so far as to set up a bureau inside the game. As Richard Siklos notes in today’s New York Times, a mini gold rush is on amongst large media companies to establish themselves within Linden’s virtual economy:

…now, the budding fake world is not only attracting a lot more people, it is taking on a real world twist: big business interests are intruding on digital utopia. The Second Life online service is fast becoming a three-dimensional test bed for corporate marketers, including Sony BMG Music Entertainment, Sun Microsystems, Nissan, Adidas/Reebok, Toyota and Starwood Hotels.

The sudden rush of real companies into so-called virtual worlds mirrors the evolution of the Internet itself, which moved beyond an educational and research network in the 1990’s to become a commercial proposition — but not without complaints from some quarters that the medium’s purity would be lost. (New York Times)

See also my earlier posts, Realtime Performance in Second Life, and Second Life: First Impressions.

Confessions of a recovered MMO addict

October 18, 2006

The compulsive and open-ended treasure-hunting gameplay of World of Warcraft can destroy lives as efficiently as heroin. This account by an anonymous survivor is particularly harrowing:

First off, let’s go back to the time it takes to accomplish anything in the game. To really be successful, you need to at least invest 12 hours a week, and that is bare minimum. From a leadership perspective, that 12 hours would be laughed at. That’s the guy who comes unprepared to raid and has to leave half way through because he has work in the morning or is going out or some other thing that shows “lack of commitment”. To the extreme there is the guildie who is always on and ready to help. The “good guildie” who plays about 10 hours a day and seven days a week. Yes, that’s almost two full-time jobs. (The View From The Top)

Minesweeper World Records

October 17, 2006

Minesweeper is a game of extraordinary longevity. For most of us, it’s an old friend that we call up from time to time when we have a minute or so to kill between tasks. But for some, Minesweeper is an obsession, less an old friend than a needy co-dependent lover. The focus and determination of “serious” Minesweeper players is on exhibit at Planet Minesweeper, where you can view YouTube videos of world-record performances, such as Dion Tiu’s masterful 38-second solution of an expert-level minefield. Watching Tiu’s mouse pointer as it floats across the board revealing tiles is like observing a factory worker assembling a circuit board for the ten thousandth time — except, of course, in this case, nothing is really being made, either for Tiu or the factory. And it begs the question: is this kind of obsessive skillz-oriented game mastery the omega point of all gaming experiences, or is Minesweeper truly as outmoded a design as we would like to think it is?

links for 2006-10-04

October 4, 2006
  • Prompted in part by Adam Cadre’s second article on Tron, and in part because I wanted to illutrate where Rez comes from, I recently saw Tron again.
    (tags: movies)
  • Common sense tells us that influencing the past is impossible – what’s done is done, right?
    (tags: time science)
  • I would like then to start by stating the obvious. There is currently a tremendous hype about serious games. There has been a lot of media interest on the subject, fueled by the interest that it has gathered among the industry, the government and scholars
    (tags: games)
  • Twenty of the most respected leaders in cyber security developed this list. First each proposed the three developments that they each felt were most important. Then they compiled the list of more than 40 trends and voted on which were most likely to happe
    (tags: futurism)
  • boyd, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of California, Berkeley’s School of Information, explores how young people negotiate the presentation of self in online mediated contexts [in a self-admittedly ‘spazzy’ talk]….