Sufficiently Advanced

Well, now, how do I follow that introduction from John, here in his arena with the spotlight on? Best stick with the original plan.


What do I mean by “Incantations”?

Well, it’s about this: I believe in magic. I believe magic is happening right now, and that you are a part of it. See, I’m typing these words and, at some future point in time from where I’m sitting now, you are reading them. And two amazing things are happening. I am sending the thoughts that are currently passing through my brain into the future and, even more miraculously, into your brain.

We do this every day, but it doesn’t make it any less fantastic. Sure, it’s not always perfect. In fact, it hardly ever is. We misspeak. We misunderstand. Information and nuance gets lost or mangled in the transmission, and the worst part of the whole transaction is that it’s so hard to tell the ways in which we’ve fallen short. We may never really know the full extent of our failure, or how to repair it. I’ve spent most of my conscious life fascinated by how we use language and most of my working life in search of ways to wield that tool to best effect.

I started the quest in trade publishing — an industry that takes the words of millions of hopeful scribes, winnows them down, polishes them up, and in the end, produces these magnificent artifacts called books. Whether you think publishers are any good at any part of this process of selecting, editing, designing, printing, and distributing books; whether you think they have their priorities straight; whether you think they are likely to survive the next decade, year, or season — and I have my own opinions — I still believe the overall endeavor is a worthy one. I learned so very much in that milieu, including the fact that, in the end, Big Trade Publishing isn’t my game.

Instead my journey has taken me into the field of technical documentation for computer software (with a push in that direction from one John Sundman, we should note). Sure, it’s a different world. We have source code repositories instead of bookshelves. Web sites backed by hard drives instead of shopfronts supplied by warehouses. But all this — intelligently arranging ones and zeros to a particular purpose — is its own realm of magic, just like artfully arranging words in sequence. And at the core, my part in this new world is the same as it always was. I may be documenting APIs, but really I’m working on brain-to-brain interfaces, implanting information into people’s heads in the most effective way possible.

So what I plan to write about here is technology and publishing, language and code. I want to practice a little magic and telepathy. I aim to put thoughts into your head for your consideration. Whether you’re ultimately convinced by them or not, I hope to at least reshape or augment existing thoughts that you’re already carrying around with you. I also hope you’ll do the same, and use this complex system that enables communication between you and me to put thoughts in my head that weren’t there before, or to turn the kaleidoscope in my brain a notch. Truthfully … I want this all to be a little mystical.

My posts probably won’t be terribly timely. They may not always be deep. But I hope that, from time to time, you will find them interesting. I have so much in my head that I want to pour through the ether into yours. And so:

Hello, Wetmachine world. How do you do?

What's New?

People are often pretty good at walking into a room they are familiar with, and instantly knowing what has changed. That’s pretty useful for 3D operations team rooms. But what if things have been “redecorated” — moved around for better functionality without changes to the important content? What if the user has been away for a long time? If the user isn’t visually oriented? What if the “user” is an external computer system? <%image(20090629-rss-forums.jpg|363|472|Firefox RSS feed of some of my forums.)%>

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Sounds Good

One of the general internal themes of Croquet is that everything ought to just work, and work well. Most practicing software developers aren’t fortunate enough to be able to create artifacts like this because the software is aimed at addressing a very specific problem. That tends to lead to tools of limited scope and interaction.

Consider sound. If you only want to make voice chat work, you can use a low fidelity encoding on a lossy transport. It will do what it does well, but only that. Now suppose you and someone else are watching a movie and discussing it, using separate programs for the movie and VoIP. Either program might work well, but use them together and everything is likely to go to hell.

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Context is King

Musing: While Google’s business model is based on advertising, it seems to me that the essence of their business is that they are all about meta-data. They don’t own or deliver data, but rather they keep subject, ranking, tagging, and other data about the data. In an information world, if you can’t own the info, owning or at least organizing the metadata about it is pretty good.

In this way, I think my professional activity is all about context. I don’t create or control collaborators nor the artifacts they collaborate on, but I do try to provide a means for people to organize and recognize the contexts in which these act. When we can access everything that anyone in history has ever done, plagiary becomes meaningless, and content is no longer king.

Five for Talking

Travel for meetings is so last year. This management article in describes five alternatives technologies to meetings: instant messaging, virtual worlds, telepresence, Wikis, and social networking. But do these really have to be separate? Let’s take a look at what each of these offers, and what it means for 3D virtual worlds to incorporate the other alternative meeting technologies.

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