Our KidsFirst project includes a great deal of what we’ve learned about Croquet. We’re making all the code available through the CroquetSource code repository, as part of the Contributions collection of code that will be distributed in the forthcoming Croquet release. (This repository is available to developers ahead of release, as part of what David Reed calls “Invention in public.” For info on updating, see this movie and this discussion thread. There will also be a new image distribution shortly.)

We call this code the KAT – KidsFirst Application Toolkit. It fits over all the other Croquet SDK code without changing it. All the KAT-specific classes begin with K – partly for the KidsFirst project that informs its development, and partly as homage to Alan. As the code matures, you may or may not see some of the KAT code migrate down to the base classes from which it inherits. (For historical reasons, the name of the Monticello package is “Wisconsin.” This may change.)

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I’ve admitted that I didn’t immediately get the point of the One Laptop Per Child project, but now I’m now very excited about the ideas behind this non-profit effort to build a $100 mesh-network computer to be owned by children in the developing world. This essay captures a lot of what I feel and wonder about it, including some fears of dystopian unexpected consequences.

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I Can't Quit You Brie, So I'm Gonna Put You Down For a While

(Sorry, Willie Dixon.)

I haven’t been working on our Brie user-interface framework for a while now. We took it to a certain early level in Jasmine Croquet, in which we pretty solidly worked out user interface conventions, internal infrastructure, and the basic direct-manipulation philosophy.

Although not terribly novel (we stole liberally from David Smith, David Unger/Randall Smith, David Place/Pat O’Keefe, and, running out of Davids, Stallman/Sussman), Brie was still fairly advanced and abstract research, and we had more immediate work to do: Dormouse and the Croquet SDK release, and several projects using them. Brie had been sustained with financial support from NICT which has come to a pause. A great friend and entire world’s best salesman and demo-jock for Croquet went to Duke. So nothing got done on Brie following C5 ’06.

Brie has not yet been integrated with the current Croquet SDK. It still needs a lot of work in both the graphics and the API between private and replicated Croquet. It might be most efficient to let some dust settle here: Josh is working on new Croquet graphics, Andreas is working on 2D interfaces, and David Smith is working on the task/interactor model.

But the main thing is that I’m starting another project that I’m very excited about (more about this later), so I know that I won’t have time to work on Brie for a while. Fortunately, I do think that, say, phase III or so of the new project will be a driver for pulling Brie out of the closet again.

Cultural Awareness

A little while ago we had a workshop discussing the use of Croquet by a group here at the University of Wisconsin. One participant raised the issue of cultural awareness. For example, the icons, avatars, metaphors and symbols used in Croquet might have different meanings for different people. After all, this is a world-wide communications tool.

I gave two answers. On a technical level, Brie would allow the users themselves to define different views of objects for different users, as suited to their needs and desires. But on a social level, I had no idea how such different views would be developed.

My four-year-old son just emphasized the importance of this. He was riding in the back seat as I took him home from pre-school. “Can I open this envelope we got in class?” he said. “It’s about poison stuff. Is that OK?”

“Yes,” I said, knowing that it was about poison, not that it was poison.

He opened it and I couldn’t see what he was doing in the back seat.

“Stickers!” he exclaimed. “Oh, and these are for putting on pirate medicine!”

Spore video

There’s a nice video of Sims creator Will Wright explaining the new game he’s developing, called Spore. (An edited-down version of the video, concentrating on the game play, is here. (Thanks for the lead, John!)

Very cool stuff, and I think a nice addition to the set of collateral material that gets at some of the aspects of either Croquet or Brie. A very nicely done thing to compare against

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Brie Demos

I gave a demo of Brie at the OOPSLA Croquet workshop in October, and Julian gave one a couple weeks ago at C5. Alas, no video, but the Brie papers are here and here.

This terrific video of the Alternate Reality Kit was made at Xerox PARC in 1987. So, of course, it’s not actually Brie, but it does give a lot of the feel of what we’re going for. There are a few UI differences and the ARK is only 2D, but the main thing is that Brie is synchronously collaborative, and therefore eminently shareable.

Another related thing (without a cool video) was PARC’s Thing Lab.

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Of UI and Narratives

There were some comments to a previous entry that I thought were worth calling attention to all by themselves. The general theme of these was that of user interface and how the role of media in storytelling can inform the design of new UI paradigms. Highly appropriate for Brie.

So I’m moving those comments here. I want to keep the original page for the my attempt to define the heart of Croquet independently of UI, applications, and software distributions.

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Back to the Future

In working on Brie, I had been vaguely aware that the ‘Self’ language was similarly based on copying prototypes rather than instantiating classes. So I kind of went ‘yeah, whatever’ when Rick McGeer and others told me to check up on this ’80’s Xerox PARC project.

Wow. I hadn’t realized that Self was so close in both the domain and the solution spaces. If there’s interest I’ll try to produce a comparison later, but for now, check out the Self site and, in particular, this paper.

Intellectual Property Is Not An Enforceable “Right”

Internal problems in Brie. Some nasty, some trivial, all annoying. We’ll work ’em out, but time to think of something else for a while. How about huge cultural paradigm shifts?

Clearly, something’s going on in the area of intellectual property. The old models are not serving. Everybody’s got something to say. (Here and there are some current MIT community examples.) On the one hand, Apple tries to sue companies for using a Windows-Icons-Menus-Pointer (WIMP) look-and-feel that they themselves didn’t invent, and they won’t let me rip the songs I legally bought from them. On the other hand, they want to use the name “Apple” despite clearly being in competition with Apple Records in the music business, and they produce a variety of devices in the new-cultural rip-mix-and-burn chain. Are they schizo, or is it just opportunistic business? I think it’s another data point towards the conclusion that we’re waiting for Thomas Kuhn (in a broad sense) to point the new way.

How can we understand intellectual property rights in a digital age? I propose that we try to get at what we really mean in terms of some established axioms.

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