Friday, December 22, 2006

XML or JSON? Experience or Enthusiasm

Tim thinks it is over. XML wins by virtue of wider applicability over JSON's ease of application. There is something ironic in that but let it be.

It is never over. Generation follows generation and the hardest thing to pass on is experience. Each generation thinks it is smarter than the one that precedes it and the enthusiasm that comes of believing in a simpler solution winning over a complex one leads to adoption, fielding and a certain witlessness with respect to the complexity of the real requirements. That tension is the source of the wobbliness in truly open systems.

It's never over until the system dies. I stopped worrying about that one a decade ago when the much smaller and much simpler specification hit the floor when The Brave Eleven believed they were making the web safe from the legions of much more complex standards without acknowledging a ream of many more and much larger specifications would follow to close the gaps.

One generation follows another. The real victory is not that this or that technology triumphs, but that in the wobbliness one hears the sound of people all over the world speaking to one another across the gaps.

Merry Christmas! Where there is a Santa Claus, we believe in simpler answers. Where there is only a Christmas spirit, we find the hope that belief is enough to get us to next year and that it perhaps will be easier than this one, or richer, or more filled with love. One year follows another. As long as that is so and we are here talking about, it is.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Clay Shirky: On SL and VRML History

Clay isn't much of a fan of 3D and that's legendary. On the other hand, I can't quarrel with his skepticism regards SL. SL seems to be to real-time 3D on the Web what Netscape was to HTML browsers and may be headed for the same fate as the fad wears.

IBM's entry into the market is more serious. They see the same markets that some of the 3D veterans have known were there. The value of the interface is precisely that it engenders the sensation of presence, what the old simulation experts referred to as the power of onset cues to the human brain. So as a collaboration medium for work at a distance, it is better and possibly cheaper, maybe even more reliable than video conferencing.

Then you have to consider the 'off the web' markets. For example, the music industry can't seem to figure out how to keep CD sales from sagging although their immediate demise is exaggerated. The Wal-Mart economy can be bootstrapped by packaging music wrapped in 3D which any gamer can tell you is the cheapest 3D surround sound engine there is. This takes advantage of the phenomenon that once a luxury becomes a feature, it becomes a necessity. The technical aspects of this are easy and the production costs are the dilemma (3D content isn't cheap to build no matter who says it is). Products such as VCommunicator from VCom3D indicate what the military or Berlitz can do with the technology given good authoring tools. If you’ve ever sent any of your employees to India or China or brought them here, you know that the faster you can get past the cultural and language barriers, the faster you can get down to business and the better the results.

What SL and IBM indicate is that 3D is here to stay in various forms. It never went away. Clay was dead wrong about that and probably did give bad advice, but skepticism about the imminent second coming of the web in 3D is healthy. As yet another entertainment offering, it will have a season. As technical innovation in that market, consider it Technicolor or Panavision which had their day and passed into history as digital production overtook 35mm film, but people seldom go back to black and white except for art flicks.

Now it is a matter of smart money, branding and IP. Of those, the third is where the real trouble will start. Despite what Clay said about VRML being dead, there is only one real world-accepted standard for real time 3D. It is the ISO standard for X3D, son of VRML.

What remains to be seen is what the smart money will do about the existence of royalty-free unencumbered international standards for a technology they wish to burgle. If history is a judge, some analog of the W3C which burgled SGML from ISO to create XML will be tried. OTOH, Rome having been savaged once has had the time to get ready for the return of the Celts.

The Cost of Ultra

The ever rising costs of Ultra are not being managed.

Ultra: I’m using this term to denote sophisticated and densely populated hypermedia content such as a 3D world with sound, textures, texts. Today Joe Web Page mashes slices of other content from open libraries and from sampling fixed media such as CDs, scans of photos, Google-selected images and so on. Tastes for sophisticated content lead to burglary just as the protagonist of Anthony Burgess’s novel, "A Clockwork Orange" committed. When finally faced with the content owners as with Alex’s determined old woman, mashup artists are faced with the same kinds of suits that loop-sampling rap artists have contended with. Tastes for Beethoven have to reckon with the costs of orchestra production eventually.

For Ultra, virtual reality is a bell weather. Free user-generated content simply can’t sustain the market emergence. Between the time and skills required and the licensing costs of the wrapped high quality content (e.g., music, photos, animations), either Creative Commons has to become the rule or the user-generated content approach can’t sustain these sites without the kinds of deals CBS made with YouTube. This only works where the money to produce the originals is managed and provided as CBS does or as Linden Labs was doing before the CopyBot scandal. Without it, Joe Web page content lives in the content ghetto. If he releases the work to the web, he gets a short burst of attention but it will be quickly de-assembled and recompiled into the works of others in the ghetto. Worse, if the samples are linked to and mashed into other works, Joe assumes all of the risks while the link pirates have no legal obligations at all and can still profit.

The tensions between technologists receiving a disproportionate amount of the income generated by the user content on the web and the authors are rising. The ‘information wants to be free’ camps won’t admit that they are the shills for the rape of the content economy. Mark Cuban, Tim O’Reilly, Joi Ito and the rest of the “share your content but we keep our Porsche’s” face a 1950s redux of the revolutions that destroyed third world economies and turned the Soviet Union into a group of smaller nations unable to maintain their technologies or lifestyles just as the main body, Russia, became a gangster state. To be fair: O’Reilly did pay for articles published on his sites in stark contrast to others who go so far as to take technical list emails and republish them as branded articles in their web magazines. Yet the ravenous appetite of the web for content is orders of magnitude larger than TV, radio or cable.

When I look at what is required to build even a moderately sophisticated 3D immersive album as I’ve been doing, I remember what we said after IrishSpace: no one will do this for free for long. On the other hand, this is precisely what the major record labels need to sustain CD sales. 3D is not just for the web. What the web did was make the technology cheap to obtain but if the content is to be high-quality, production costs are already at rock bottom and distribution control in the form of fixed media remains stable. That is the dilemma facing the technologists who up to now have been taking the majority of the profits. They need the licenses for the content, Joe Web Page can’t manage it, and the Middle Guys can.

It sucks but there it is. Ultra content does not want to be free. It wants to be managed.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Why X3D is Looking Better and Better

Nick Carr writes:

That’s a heckuva good argument to move away from the server farm concept and back to the peer-to-peer concept using open technology for metaverses. It will take the press a while to catch up to this. But this means there is a negative pressure on the Electric Sheeps of the industry that they may not feel yet.

and he's right again but doesn't see the pragma of the conclusions:

That’s a heckuva good argument for the immersive album concept. Music in and of itself (the mp3) is simply too easy to duplicate, so as the complexity barrier lowered, so did the cost per duplication unit (the cost of production dropped as well but has hit the bottom as hours to produce and record are now squeezed into their labor cost minimums).

If the labels want to sell more CD units, they need to package more content on the CD to make the package more attractive and slightly harder to duplicate for distribution over the web. CD copying itself will still thrive but that’s ok. This one is easy to sell to the labels given access. This means the Electric Sheeps of the world will try to beat the rest of their competitors to this market. If history is an example, their initial public reactions will be to pooh pooh it while quietly moving on it, then putting out a lot of ‘we really invented it’ press.

There is an opportunity here. Speed is of the essence for the first movers.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

On Making Money On The Web

Someone writes to me complaining that a site that 'gives away the music of bands to make money for bands' is not promoting the art, just trying to make money. Well, so far giving away music hasn't made me as much money in ten years as playing in a local nightclub for one night. Maybe I just don't know where to leave the virtual tip jar or what the web's versions of "FREEBIRD" and "SWEET HOME ALABUMMER" are.

If it makes you feel any better, I’ve seen some posts on other lists where that same question is asked. It seems your generation is just waking up to the fact that you are not communists, just poor capitalists. The web was founded by pirates (not the Internet; it is a technical accomplishment of DoD, DARPA, and universities), but the web and it’s culture is founded on piracy and piracy makes it go. Some are just waking up to the fact that this is a race to the cultural bottom but it has made some who think programming made them smarter richer. They can’t create content so they steal it and they are applauded by the generation before them that created the web by stealing technology and standards from others and were applauded for it by a generation of big company software and solutions vendors who stole their designs from the universities, DoD and other companies. From TimBL forward, it’s been burglary and shameless self-promotion and now that is the shape of the WWW as inspired by its founders. It was a witless fielding and we will live the cultural effects of their witlessness for many years to come.

Those who can make content do. Those who can only program steal content. Those who can neither program nor make content buy it from the makers, the pirates, or steal it from both. The allure that is the web in your generation was rock ‘n roll in mine. A lot of us gave it a whirl only to discover there is only one Beatles, one Elvis, and one Rolling Stones. That was our race to the bottom as we tried to duplicate their success. The founder of the Beatles was killed by an insane fan, the founder of the Rolling Stones was killed by his carpenter, and Elvis killed himself. Everyone around them are doing very well and living comfortably on their reputations, not their current work. Money won’t make you talented or a genius. It will buy you comfort. Full stop. See Clockwork Orange.

All the gold in California is in a house in the middle of Beverly Hills in somebody else’s name…. The Gatlin Brothers

You can still make money honestly but you have to have a lot of patience, perseverance and willingness to sweat and risk. You have to control production, guard products, sue the living hell out of anyone that screws you, be faster than your competitors, cut profit to the bone if that is what it takes to get the deal, never ever buy the business, but in some cases, wipe out competitors by any means legal that you can live with. That’s capitalism: only money matters.

If you don’t want the money, live as a Hotei. Make sure your wife and kids are Buddhist monks as well. Otherwise, quit trying to sell ideals about how much better you can make the lives of others when in fact what you need to sell are services so they can make their own lives better by smartly applying the services they pay for. Do recognize a scam when you see it if even in the mirror. In this life, God helps those who help themselves. Helping others is what you do for the next life wherever that may be but you do it in this one so you pay for it by different currencies at different times. It may be free labor, it may be cash, but it is always something of value and the values are yours, not the person or person’s to whom you give. If you give, give without thought of reward. Otherwise, it is a scam.

Or take up an art form and practice it. It is all practice. You are never done. That’s why it is the fun thing and the long-lived thing if you are self-preserving enough to keep the world from killing you. You don’t ever have to quit. You may have to accept that at some point, you are no longer notable. That’s ok. You will find that if you last that long, you no longer care to be noticed because your eyes have turned outward and you have the same relevance to a culture full of pirates as a mirror on a wall has to a room full of debutantes.

Not Notable?

I had just finished replying to someone who was complaining that the voting systems for DIGG are too easily gamed when I read the Washington Post article linked in the title of this post. The hilarious bit is gaming DIGG is yet another way to game Google. It didn't take the Internet very long to catch up to Hollywood ad agencies in their techniques for shameless promotion, but heck, the one thing that is true about the web is that feedback systems speed up the race up the learning curve even if they also accelerate the race to the bottom of the cultural pool.

But take comfort those of you who feel you have labored all of your lives in obscurity. J.S. Bach was not popular in his day, never had a better than a third-rate gig, and the works of his son were more popular. In fact, a man whose music today puts him in the great three (Bach, Beethoven, Brahms) would have been forgotten altogether had Beethoven not taken up his cause some centuries after the death of J.S. Bach.

So if like Kirk, you are passed over for the top job even with all of your honors because of the blemishes on your reputation, take heart. In 100 years you too may be the 'best starship commander in the history of the Federation' that is WikiPedia. Or maybe in a 100 years, they'll say "wiki what???". In a voting system where there is no identity management and all decisions are short cycle decisions, that's simply life among the mammals.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

In Defense of Complexity: The End of Joe Web Page, the Desperate Hacker

The modern combustion engine is a marvel of engineering in terms of the power to weight ratio for the efficient use of fuel. The principles are as simple as they have been since the end of the era in which it was invented now two centuries past: air, fuel, fire. If the internal combustion engine has these in the right mixture, it works.

As little as three decades ago, the average backyard mechanic could take one down to spare parts and put it back together if he or she had the time, the tools and the nerve, although to do it easily, one has to go back almost seven decades and then the principles which made it work weren’t that well understood in their implementation. Understanding and implementation have to scale out together but at some critical juncture, optimization of one of the applied principles will cause the complexity of the implementation to exceed the reach of the understanding.

So it is with the modern combustion engine: it works, it is efficient with respect to the power delivered for the fuel and the weight of the overall vehicle, thus adding more efficiency, but it is not something that the average backyard mechanic can rebuild. The tools required, the parts required and the knowledge of how they work in combination exceed his or her resources, understanding and nerve.

Complexity is just as much in the nature of the evolution of systems as simplicity is desirable. At some point, the demands of an environment or a market require complex solutions. While simplicity is a goal, it can also become a religion just as harmful as fundamentalism when pursued with a sword. Complex systems can do what simple systems cannot do. The goal that all systems be accessible can be met with open standards, but the goal that they be powerful, workable and light might not even as the principles over which they are built remain the same.

As I look at XAML, I know this design because it is the same markup design that the US Navy MID committee proposed for a notional browser twelve years ago. The winner was HTML. History has shown that HTML is to the MID what Henry Ford’s A-model and T-models were to a modern combustion engine: durable, affordable and fixable by the average web hacker, but ultimately also dirty, harsh on the environment, and not evolvable past some set of requirement for complex presentation and interaction. It is possible that with Vista and XAML, we are witnessing the end of the HTML-basic browser systems and staring at the fundamental weakness of the argument that Jean Paoli made to me in the hallway in Vancouver so many years ago and Tim Bray has been the champion of ever since: “It must be easy!”

Why must it? Perhaps that is true at the emergence of a technology, but then professionals take up the task because the job itself has changed. As with the fire, fuel air mixture that makes an internal combustion engine run, the fundamentals of URI, markup and objects are still the basics for web hypermedia, but the balance is shifting away from the primacy of fixed markup or the “Any color you want as long as it’s black.” browser to the primacy of variant markup by variant objects instead of a “faster horse”.

It is obvious that a sea change is upon us. It is obvious that this same change happens in all technologies in response to environmental and market demands. What is not obvious is how long it will take the once pioneering spirits grown stodgy in their success to realize that their principles where once the fuel for their personal and professional success are now the dirt in the modern engine of progress in need of cleaning. What we are seeing is the dawn of the modern professional web and the end of the backyard Joe Web Page. It's about time.

Friday, December 01, 2006

UFOs: The New Judas Goat for the Web

Peter Morville, author of Ambient Findability, extols a world some of us have been pondering for awhile. In my case, first as a means to make a virtual reality world more fun and real, then as a tool for real time monitoring and simulation for public safety systems.

Morville wants a world more dreadful than I thought I could imagine because a world I could imagine and did, he actually wants.

That means we are at the tipping point of unwisdom.

If IA and ambient findability are his goals, he has found a perfect Judas Goat. A prediction is quite easy. Collision detection, real time asset tracking, GPS to the map, querying from inside the application by through use of proximity emergent situations, these are all the favorite topics of the real-time 3D community, aka, Virtual Reality. This is now the faovrite topic of the security service companies and the public safety companies. IBM will push hard for standards for the 3D Internet, and these technologies will merge in the new Internet made possible by higher bandwidth technologies.

At the same time, technologies will be developed to shield some from the views afforded by others (it's easy to do using the fact of the update protocols for MU views), and some will have full access for the right price or the right political position. The Chinese will be unhappy if their people can see what the Americans are doing, same for some Muslim emirates, and so on. Laws will be discussed and past about the requirements of full fidelity or merely representational models at the coordinates of meatspace (can a VR map of New York still have the Twin Towers?) and so on.

Life will become a game in an ever more real and simultaneously virtual sense. Just as the filtering and bias of other media today enables warping of decisions made, this will drive it even more incredibly to believe the unbelievable and accept the unacceptable. So perhaps this new ambient findable world is the ultimate tool for the Overton flush.

Knowing a bit about how the machine grinds, Morville will soon be a favorite speaker at conferences that the TLA organizations fund and attend (say XML 2007, Semantic Web, etc.). Meanwhile, others will claim to have thought of all of this first (see Intergraph's new CTO, Peter Batty) and some will be implementing the prototypes as products slowly and others will be hooking up the ground-up technologies that emerge from the open technical lists. For example, searching out of an X3D world through the SAI is not a difficult problem. The problem is sorting the query return into something representable in a 3D world (not just text) and how complex that representation can be (Eg, does a screw have screw behaviors) and who's semantic definitions are applied (it's expensive to keep a world of very local behaviors instead of standard ones).

But that is future. For now, it is just real time tracking of tagged assets. As a small company wrote in their literature at the beginning of the 3D web, circa 1993-94, "Our products are used by the security agencies to track criminals and fight crime. Criminals use our products to manage warehouses and track assets."

Welcome to a civilization of pirates.

Nightmares and Analysis

I was sitting in our then CEO of Intergraph Public Safety's office before he was ousted by the current gal holding his job and explaining why I was so livid about Bush's speech at the UN which made it very clear that Bush was going to take us to war in Iraq. I was frustrated by the bloggers I was reading some of whom I knew personally who supported this, and I was angry in a way I am uncomfortable with given my right wing colleagues and boss who kept insisting this would be a short profitable war, that we would get their oil, they would welcome us, Saddam was evil and we are the good guys and what about the Kurds, and on and on. They saw the war in the same mythology and terminology as they see the Iron Bowl contest between Alabama and Auburn every year. With the exception of my boss and CEO, none had a memory old enough to include the debacle known as VietNam. Even if they did, they were of the ilk that 'Hippies and the liberal media lost the war'.

I said, "Doc, these people don't live in a historically real country, they have hundreds if not thousands of years of grudges to settle, and our only reason for being there is oil. This is a booty raid. You know that but you don't have a child old enough to fight it but he may be by the time this turns into the civil war because that's what's going to happen. We'll bust Saddam's chops, have to set up shop there, then all of the dozens of sides, sorry there are more than two, are going to start shooting with us in the middle. We'll have to pull out and then they'll have a proper civil war. At the end, whoever is left standing will sell their oil to the Chinese."

He looked at me incredulously as only the Brits can when their conversation is with a redneck primitive and asked, "Do you REALLY believe that, Leeeeen?"

"Yeah, Doc, I do. I've seen this movie before. It ends badly for us."

I was never a popular guy at Intergraph and wasn't bothered by that. An analyst makes the case, watches the decision makers do what they do, then analyses the results. He lost his job to someone more ambitious than he is, and she may lose hers when the risky behaviors of her direct reports come to the surface as the new owners evaluate their internal management problems, and so it will go. As an analyst, that will be studied and factored into the next study. Ad nauseam. It won't change anything until the culture of having one set of rules for one group and nothing but 'positive relationships' for the others changes into a company where the employees respect their managers for their fairness and even handed approach, as well as their insistence that the policies HR publishes are something they are bound by themselves. It could happen.

As for Iraq: this is not precisely VietNam. When we finally withdrew, we left a country where the outcome of the civil war was not in doubt, where there really were essentially two sides and ours was losing because it had no legitimate mandate from the population, where democracy was as it is in Iraq, something the people don't care that much about, but with the major difference that other than its people, it has little of value that the rest of the world cares about. The Middle East has a very different history with respect to its conquerors and with how it tolerates that. They don't tend to want to do business with them three decades hence.

Iraq has a different basis in religion. Most of all, it sits on a sea of oil that the rest of the world covets. In VietNam, we could withdraw reasonably confident that no other major power was going to screw around in there because there wasn't that much to gain.

In Iraq, that simply isn't true.

I'll pray for the Iraqis, but my analytical instincts are pessimistic. One thing the cops teach: a domestic violence call is the most dangerous of all. We can call for backup and work our way out, but the conditions that make it violent will not change as long as there is power to be had or money to be made from the sea beneath the desert. If we want to win the war on terrorism, we need to work as hard as we can as fast as we can to take out its engine. They will still kill each other over their history, but we can remove the reasons for the rest of the world to care past decent compassion for the suffering of the innocents there.

If we have the time... and that is where my worst nightmares come from. In America, we need to think about the rules we say we live by. Prior to Iraq and after the Mexican War, we have not been a modern country that practiced first strike warfare. In Iraq we allowed ourselves to be led to break a rule that keeps us out of the small wars that lead to the big wars. When we broke that rule, effectively our leadership made the case that for their party, there are no rules by which we will conduct business legitimately. This is a problem for any culture because it is the road to indecency, to infidelity, to loss of life, talent, skill, and the will to succeed. It turns a nation or a company into a collection of "show up when expected and do the minimum necessary to take home the booty", and as both of the subjects here should know by experience if not analysis, that is how companies and countries fail often led by precisely the same kinds of people with exactly the same goals.

Qui bono? No one. Nada. It's a wasteland.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Trust The Rules

Someone was discussing confusion with the stories in the Old Testament of the Bible tonight. I wrote a reply. If you don't care for religious statements of faith, you should skip this entry.

If one is a literalist, the Bible offers plenty of contradictions to confuse one. The old testament God is a vengeful wrathful God who destroyed whole cities, brought down plagues, and distributed misery in plenty to all. The covenant in the old testament is an exclusive covenant with the Jewish people, not a covenant with all of man.

On the other hand, if one is a biblical historian well acquainted with the means, times and people by which the modern canon came to be, one knows the Bible is not the literal word of God in printed form, but multiple texts from multiple times created by multiple personages named and unnamed with different purposes and intentions for their works.

That these are two irreconcilable points of view is uncontested and what contests there are have resulted in even more misery and suffering on the people of the world. Of all wars, religious wars are the most violent and useless for one takes away no lesson but death and no reward but suffering. Jesus wept. That is why.

If one is a person of both faith and science, there is a third view. If God is omnipotent, omniscient and omnipresent, then being in all times and places with all knowledge and power, nothing of God is beyond God. If all that is so, all that there is, is God and God is in all of that. When God made this world, he set down rules that we must live by. Gravity, weather, the limits to our lives, their endings in death, the colors of our skins, our gifts and our shortcoming, all are of God and all are in God. If the rules for us are God’s rules and God is in those rules, God does not violate those rules for to violate those rules is to violate God.

It is as if one had a boss who sets one set of rules for the employees but lived by another set for himself. A boss like that may have power but would get no respect, only fear.

Do you think God is like that boss? If all is God, does he fear himself? Does that make any reasonable sense?

At one time, some did think that and they wrote down stories and these stories became the old testament that is one part folk legend, one part history of the Jewish people, and one part holy truth, but you have to know what you believe and trust your belief to know which is which. That is the challenge God sets for us in the Bible because by giving us free will, he gave us the responsibility to choose which is which. God can break these rules for his creation just as you and I can put wholly discordant and bad sounds in our compositions, but we do not because that would violate their beauty and because that beauty is of us, it violates us. For God to do so is to do so is to violate our trust in him and to do that is violate his covenant with us.

Why did Jesus come as a baby and not a man or an all powerful king as some who studied the old testament believed he would? Because he was promised as a savior not a conqueror, a teacher, not a master. His covenant with us is to love us, not to use us or abuse us. To make a new covenant, a covenant of love for mankind thus to be loved by all of mankind, God proved that he would live as man, know what a man knows, feel what a man feels, taste what he tastes, and die as a man. Because of this sacrifice, no man can say to God, “you are almighty, why do you torment me, you have no understanding of me, just wrath”.

The God of the new testament says, “I gave my only begotten Son, and he is now your intercessor for he knows what you know and so do I. He is the proof of my promise, the gift of my love, and the way to your own salvation, not because I make it so, but because you choose to let me make it so. That is how a covenant of love in God, in marriage, or in life is realized: by living under one set of rules for all which none violate without violating themselves.”

Such a love is not hard to understand. We are God’s creation. God exults in creation. Give voice to this. When we sing, when we compose, when we come together, that is all we need to understand. We feel our love for each other and thus God knows we exult in his creation, and through this, is made glad.

Polyanna wasn’t wrong. Be glad for God loves us and that makes loving each other very simple. Trust the rules.

An HTML for Web 3D

This must be hot news. Bad Irving was touting it, and now the Australian press.


We've had one since the mid 90s. It was VRML then and it's X3D now. Of course, Linden Lab's Phillip Rosedale knows that. Rosey calls VRML "The academic 3D on the web" blithely bypassing his own failures are Real and promoting his raging success with SecondLife. IBM knows it but IBM watched Intel and Microsoft lose to a small determined group of 3D whiz kids with their mits on the ISO standard committee.

Now it is time for them to rewrite history, or at least publish enough articles to force PageRank to return their articles whenever anyone searches for 3D Web Standard. This is piracy of course, but that is what companies out to take the intellectual property out of the open market into their own portfolios do.

IBM is about to spend $100 million to chase this down. In the Web3D Consortium, we’ve had companies come after us before including Microsoft and Intel. If they played on our turf, they had to play fair and they did not like that. We survived it. This is different. This is the press and Linden Labs plus IBM coming to take the whole enchilada with false history being spit out at a high frequency. Pirates know how to take a community apart. They are pushing these articles for a reason: PageRank locking (the use of frequency and timeliness to pull the search engine toward them without buying the search terms).

I do hope people are ready for this. The best thing you can do from your desk is every time you see one of these articles, correct the author immediately before it disappears. Be sure to include two items: X3D is royalty free and is the ISO standard for web 3D.

Two things happen: 1) People read the rebuttal and those that don’t want to do business with IBM and LL or want to compete with them may come our way. 2) The search engines won’t go into a PageRank lock condition where all of those articles create a pull toward the propaganda.

It’s wrong to fool Mother Nature, but it is dammed easy to fool Google and once done, not difficult to fool everyone else. All you have to do is keep lieing until it becomes the accepted truth. See Clockwork Orange.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Irving: the 143 Fastest Gun in the East

Irving is yet another pundit enthralled with the new innovation called 3D On The Web. He seems to think standards will help and IBM is ready and working to create them.


Without the IP restrictions, of course. IBM doesn’t work on anything where they don’t own at least three critical patents. Working with standards organizations that already have and have had for the last decade open standards and running code is not what the IBM strategists want. They need bloggers to help them create a new history in which the old one didn't happen. Everyone learned the game from the web pioneers and now they are going to play it.

You better be ready to fight for it. With Linden Labs as the proxy, another wave of companies are about to claim the right to dictate the future of real-time 3D and VR. And just as Nicole said about O.J, they “will get away with it”. Why? The masses followed the press to get the facts. The press follows the money, not the facts. The web claims to have a higher moral majesty but the reality is, it is loose as a goose and ready to fleece anyone who buys into its mythology. Legends of wealth ‘just beyond the horizon’ are what the bandits who live out there use to get you into that wagon westward ho. And so it goes.

History is one subject in the humanities curriculum that technologists benefit from by mastering it. Unfortunately, the classes are filled with future lawyers in love with themselves and what they are about to obtain by legal means. That is why a lawyer is usually worse than a criminal. A criminal knows what he is doing is crooked; a lawyer knows it is merely unethical and immoral and he can afford to pay a blogger to get him out of that one just as Al Capone used to pay the Chicago press to write flattering stories about his soup kitchens that he closed as soon as the articles were published.

Yes, 3D on The Web is real alright. And it is the same old reality we've been facing On The Web that we've faced off of it; just faster. Sad, but so.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

What Do You Do With A Drunken Sailor?

An issue is emerging in several blogs and technical lists on the topic of expectations for backward compatibility of document formats on the web. At XML.COM, David Peterson rebuts a Popular Science article about a digital ice age when future archaeologists cannot decipher our current times because of our choices to publish documents in digital formats on digital media.

The long lifecycle argument has been occurring for at least three decades in computer systems circles and was one of the reasons for the success of markup systems. It only has so much mileage because static data is not enough to ensure behavioral fidelity on recovery unless behavioral semantics are stored as well. In the long lifecycle, we know that knowledge does get lost and the medium may not make a difference. Some of it can be recovered if smart people put their minds to it. The recovery of Egyptian hieroglyphics is an example. On the other hand, the library of Alexandria is gone forever.

Shorter lifecycles are immediate problems. The seas for successful products are both smoothed AND made rough by the intersection of competition for improvements and standards for interoperable information. Expectations for backward and upward compatibility vary by product and worse, are violent in the expectations for products that are distinct but familial. Success can be the worst thing that happens to a young band and the worst thing that can happen to a young application. As it was for Egyptian scholars, the history of media and medium can be cruel indeed. It pays to keep a sober head.

A thread is going on the X3D/VRML lists regards VRML 1.0. It was a successful format but not a very capable one. It was 'the simplest thing that could possibly work' and because it was a static model without behaviors, the vendors and the community moved on to VRML97. Then the bubble burst, history has been rewriten since (SecondLife Invents the Metaverse! yeah, whatever...) for the purpose of marketing new applications.

So history, format and application do force some formats out of mainstream use but in the case of the web, NOT OFF THE SERVERS. The dilemma in VRML/X3D is that even with the new X3D format as the third generation of the language, there are a significant number of VRML 1.0 files on the servers. There are no usage statistics but they are still there. The question is, should an author/owner of these files expect the new players to support them?

In the database community, data conversion costs are accepted as a fact of business when a new system replaces an old one. It is priced into the contract. On the other hand, HTML, VRML, SVG, etc are documents. We expect those to keep working in a backwards compatible mode of operation particularly if they were wildly successful in their initial fielding. As a result, HTML design hyteresis is legendary in its impact on the evolution of the language. Design camps have bifurcated into different languages with familial relationships and the (X)HTML browsers have to support them all XML's draconian parse not withstanding. The result: an HTML browser is the exemplar of bloat and script drudgery.

There are no conclusions because the decisions vary by situation. Some observations:

1) Initial fielding of the 'simplest thing that can possibly work' coupled with 'wild success' has consequences. Like an early young marriage, you may outgrow it and face an expensive divorce or an uncomfortable life later.

2) Expectations of databases and document systems are different, but the Internet and WWW system create a hot zone where these requirements overlap. Language by language, we are facing different decisions made by different vendors at different times that will make interoperation in mashups and aggregate documents problematic at best and highly failure prone at worst. What is thinkable and unthinkable varies by situation. Forget the Overton; look at the budgets.

The outcomes for languages and requirements for vendors are left to the reader to work out. Let me put it this way: Microsoft has no reason to fear that it won't have a secure future.

Monday, November 20, 2006

The Overton Flush

Mark Pilgrim and Tim Bray have latched onto yet another concept that they say comes from the ThinkTanks (the same guys who put games into the same market as weapons). The concept is that of the so-called, Overton Window, where diametrically opposing concepts are graphed by the linkage between intervening positions that would make the unthinkable thinkable. They claim such planning goes on in these Tanks to get the nitwits of the world to rally around causes as diverse as letting fly with nukes on Tehran to letting fly with farts in the general direction of the W3C and it's standards.

Of course, what is unthinkable is a position itself outside the dichotomy. And if you want to get really dimensional, what is thinkable today might be unthinkable tomorrow. And if you want to lose your pea-picking brain altogether, what is unthinkable for my kids might be thinkable for your kids, and so it goes across the whole manifold mystery of real time events and causes.

Having seen some Tank thinking, it usually isn't that simple an analysis. Dumb as we can be this side of the Northern Border, we did manage to pick up how to do multivariate analyis of real time events. It's a heckuva complicated graph but heck, we have computers and real time 3D to help us sort out the players. If that fails, we flip a coin and attack or take time out for Miller and Budweiser.

Behind the Overton Flush is yet another set of analysts trying to tell us they have it all figured out in advance. In the case of Pilgrim, "W3C Good! All Others BAD!" and usually in dear Tim Bray's case, "Microsoft and the US BAD! Sun and Canada GOOD!" It gets a bit noisier if you go back a few years and both wanted consulting work, or were supporting yet another war that the Americans would go on to fight stupidly, but the Canadians would stay safely at home.

I read these guys for technical advice and that is always excellent. Politics and world events analysis, no, we have our own to Tank for that.

As to the W3C: they won't go away because they are as they've been from the beginning, useful to them that funds'em. They fund their competitors too. That way if one group gets uppity, they can use the other groups to put 'em back in their place. The politics of economics are never as simple as the politics of technologists. That is why geeks get to play with the world but they never ever ever run it; just the conferences.

Who sez? Just another kook, but one that knew Iraq was bad juju and that we were likely to have a Democratic Congress right about now. The big bad question haunting the right today is whether or not in two years time the two most powerful positions in the public hierarchy will be held by two women. I'd say, 60/40. Not likely but way more likely than it's been in some time. Two boobs are better than one.

And they might decide to give control of the Internet to the UN. They are bored with it so its time as the big topic of conversation is about over. The new topic is clean water.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

So You Want To Be A Professional?

We're having another 'naval gazing' round of snippy emails on the VRML/X3D lists. The artists who were making money selling goods in Second Life discovered CopyBot this week, an application that is the audio equivalent of using the speaker wires on your stereo to heist DRM-protected songs. They are upset about that and they assert that Linden Labs contributed to the development of CopyBot. It doesn't make sense to me that LL would piss in their own economy, but who knows? I've seen lots of weird business moves on the World Wide Weird. I've worked for nightclub owners that burned down their clubs with the band's equipment in it to collect the insurance. They don't do it themselves. Too risky. They hire professionals.

It's just business, or so they tell me. You want to protect your content, you build your own server farm and then you get to make the rules even if it means burning it down to collect the insurance. There are professionals for that too, no doubt.

What I don't understand is that any group of professional artists can have plied their trade on the Internet would be shocked that they can be ripped off this easily. Ask the musicians. When they cried foul, the web responded with 'how dare they withhold their content from us?' When the police showed up, they didn't protect the musicians. They protected the music labels.

So if you make it digital and put it on a server farm, expect that someone somewhere will rip it off if it has value. By the way, the very fact of the closed nature of SecondLife and the exchange rate for Linden Dollars give it value. Thieves don't steal free stuff. Welcome to the real world.

What an artist professional or otherwise should care about is that their works last, that they will still work over a long long time. The best option you get for that is true unencumbered open standards.

Make it simple.

If you spent weeks, months or ever years creating a symphony and then came back to it ten years later, you would want it to still be playable by competent musicians. Right? So over some centuries, they created a common notation they all learn. There are others such as guitar tablature for specific instruments, but professionals learn the common piano tablature that is modern music notation.

Some 3D artists want the same thing and today, the best deal they have for that is VRML/X3D. I still have the Irishspace CDs. My son pulled them out to test his new computer. He downloaded a Blaxxun Contact VRML/X3D client for free. He put the CD on. Guess what? It all still works. The difference is, it looks better and runs faster.

Ten years ago I started work on the River of Life world. This week after a long hiatus, I'm working on it again. I haven't changed any of the geometry. I've retextured, I've added new features. It all works. I put a proto in it for a sky simulation that Braden McDaniel wrote so long ago that he'd forgotten he wrote it until I showed it to him. I plopped it in the middle of ROL. It works. It just looks better and runs faster.

I don't want to rely on a closed system like a Mac or SecondLife. I don't care what professionals doing work for hire tell me about how much money they made this week only to have all of that work disappear behind a firewall with knockoff technology contributed by the server farm owner. I don't want to have to pay middlemen to place the songs I've written or recorded on iTunes because Steve Jobs decided I have to do that to play in his world.

I want to play in mine. And if I put it down for ten years and then decide to come back to it, I want it to still work. Faster. And look better.

I get that with VRML/X3D. Show me where anyone gets that with the other 3D technologies vieing to be its replacement. If you can make good money reliably in these closed systems, I say do it. If you don't care that your customers may not be able to keep that content alive by their own initiative, sell it to them. Otherwise, use your money and your influence to see to it that the customer and the content are protected.

Today, 3D artists on the web have pretty much one option for that in virtual reality applications: VRML/X3D.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

The Gods of K.I.S.S.

We all know the rap. Simple is to be preferred. We also know the real Einstein quote is
Make things as simple as possible, but no simpler.

As I've been polishing and adding features to The River of Life this week (now registered at VRMLWorlds), I've also been part of a thread on the www-vrml list discussing if VRML is Too Hard, are the abstraction levels right, and why is SecondLife getting all the press. My conclusions:

  • Yes, it is too hard for Joe Web Page. All graphics are too hard for Joe Web Page. That's why most professional web pages are built by professionals.

  • Yes the abstraction levels are about right. It is difficult to do easy things because there are no easy things when building virtual reality with real time behaviors. They call this programming. VRML/X3D makes it possible for professionals to build prototypes (protos) that a less skilled builder (say me) can then drag and drop into a scene for spectacular effects. If you visit The River of Life, all of the best behaviors (the sky, the doves, the star fields, the meteors, the sun) were created by other artists who let the world use them as long as their names are left in them. I continue to be awed by their generosity.

  • Linden Labs owns the servers and the IP for everything going on in SecondLife. This succeeds for the same reasons that Microsoft succeeds and with the same results. In a market, only money matters when it comes to fast growth. Any closed system with an internal money machine moves faster than one that has to openly share sources to sell resources. Time and the river determine if it monopolizes a market, but as Eric Maranne rightly points out, virtual reality is an emerging market even twelve years after it was given web presence by the work on VRML, and VR is only ONE market for real-time 3D which is it's medium, not its market. There are more challenges in front of that market than behind it. It is an exciting time in to be a VR hacker.

  • In the end, it isn't simplicity or technology but chops that count. Every script that I've written in the last few weeks was replaced by one that was simpler than the first one, or altogether with a better understanding of the methods of the objects in the standard VRML browser framework and smarter routing of events. On the other hand, a lot of these have been replaced by even more complex scripts written by stellar programmers like Braden McDaniel, Eric Maranne, Cecile Muller, Miriam English and Russ Kinter and the results are spectacular. There is no substitute for a more powerful understanding of math, physics and abstraction.

    Every day I get up and wash the feet of the Gods of K.I.S.S. and watch them wag their tongues at me. I am grateful for the blessings they bestow. I also know that if the Demons of Complexity cast a better spell, I can manage it even if I can't speak it... yet.

    Monday, November 13, 2006


    At church last week, the hard right wingers are mourning the results of the midterm Congressional elections. In their view, this is a disaster where their way of life is threatened but worse, their livelihoods as military contractor employees. That industry dominates the area where I live and in every election I can remember, the rumor would go round that if the Democrats won we would all lose our jobs. We didn't but fear mongering about losing our stuff seems to be pretty effective. That we might lose our souls isn't but it makes for good press to say we are worried about that. That phrase muttered to me in the minutes before I resigned from my former employer rings in my ear:

    We don't care if it's immoral or unethical. It isn't illegal.

    You know, slavery was legal. The Holocaust was legal. Legal is what a lawyer or group of politicians say is law at some given time in some given administration. Maybe we ought to worry more about what is right than we do about our stuff.

    The Bishop of our church was visiting on Sunday. He relates the story that when talking to a young boy, he asked the boy if he knew what Bishop's do. The boy replied promptly, "They move diagonally."

    And so they do. Who can quarrel with that understanding of the importance of political careers to our daily lives?

    At the gigs I played, the discussions were about what they always are: football and sex. I avoid political discussions with people who are lit up like an off-Broadway musical. Here the uniting force of the party is they want to get laid or paid and I'm paid to keep them in that mood until they leave the room. I've never thought this to be unethical or immoral while they are handing me $20 bills to sing songs that my Father taught me when I was eight years old. As the fellow whom were sure went home in a taxi leaned over my left ear and sang into it badly while attempting to impress that woman with the cleavage all the way to her navel, I saw my Father's mischievous grin in my mind's eye and I missed him all the more.

    And when you're somewhere out that door, though you started mighty poor, there'll be a little something of mine to get you through. My daddy taught his son to play the guitar....

    I think he knows that he did equip me to get by when other means don't. I wasn't too proud to tell him that while he was alive, but I should have been happier about it because those old songs do.

    At the party I attended by invitation, the wine and the sweets flowed freely among people most of whom are strangers to me with the exception of a now divorced friend and her children and my ex-GM and her wife. I was glad to see Janet because I adore her and her sons, and it is not unpleasant to say hello to Alice and Betsy because my relationship with them is business and any falling out there is not a topic for that party nor should it be. No, the uniting force at that party is a common political adversary, the current administration in the White House. ALL of the conversation there is political and rightly so, I guess, but I wonder if the politics of common enemies are strong enough to make positive changes once that enemy is out of power.

    One comment made to me by an elderly gentleman was poignant:
    I fear they voted against the Republicans and not for the Democrats.
    I thought, "D'oh!" because all I was hearing in the room was admonitions about the moronic state of the Presidency and not a lot about the changes the new ruling majority would make. It doesn't bode well. These people need to find a more positive binding force or in two years, they will get another dose of their opposition in power after the Mean Machine that is cranking up even as I type this gets through pouncing on them again.

    At a Veterans Day celebration earlier in the week, I watched the little old man who opens the door at church for us on Sunday mornings step forward to take honors from the assembled veterans and children at my daughter's school. Who knew that this kindly old grandfather, about five feet tall, frail with his cane and soft voice had carried an M1 Garand through the gates of Buchenwald and seen things that one prays neither oneself or one's children, in fact, no one ever sees again. His attitude at the door on Sunday mornings makes a lot more sense to me now. He is very happy to see us. My daughter tells us that is humility. When my wife told her that he is simply happy for every small beautiful moment he has, she replied,

    But that is what humility is.

    As I think about these parties here at 5AM on Monday morning, and I consider the different forces that bind us, I think my daughter is wiser than I am. We should be mindful and careful to consider when those forces make us humble or proud, and prefer humility for through it our happiness shines.

    And I'd rather be happy.

    Sunday, November 12, 2006

    Web 3.0: When A Cigar is Just A Cigar

    There is a marvelously funny article at CNet, apparently from the New York Times on the topic of Web 3.0. It seems we are on the cusp of yet another version release of the Internet. Damm. I just threw out the boxes and shrinkwrap for 2.0 and here I have to install a whole new web.

    Some great bits of wisdom from the NYT:

    Separately, IBM researchers say they are now routinely using a digital snapshot of the 6 billion documents that make up the nonpornographic World Wide Web to do survey research and answer questions for corporate customers on diverse topics, such as market research and corporate branding.

    I guess at IBM, a cigar is just a cigar. Too bad. If the web has proven anything, it proved that some people just don't want a cigar. They want the real thing. At least if IBM isn't mining those sites, we won't all get a case of Big Blue Balls.

    There is debate over whether systems like Cyc will be the driving force behind Web 3.0 or whether intelligence will emerge in a more organic fashion, from technologies that systematically extract meaning from the existing Web.

    As if meaning were going to be extracted from one that doesn't exist? I guess Doug Lenat will keep getting money from DARPA and the NSA for a pipedream. Ok by me. He seemed like a good guy but maybe someone who spends their whole life trying to make a machine that is as smart as he is should get out more. Pipes aren't nearly as sexy as cigars.

    Told ya, Doug: if you want to understand intelligence, study farming. The mammals have no problems becoming smarter. They chase smarter mammals until they marry one, then they wise up fast.

    Thursday, November 09, 2006

    The River of Life

    I have released my new virtual reality world, The River of Life.

    This is a Hindu influenced world of temples made of design information I found on the web and in some cases, textured from photos. I have tried as best as I can within my limited understanding to honor the Hindu religion of which I am a sincere admirer. Not having been born Hindu, I cannot be Hindu but I can love the light I see in the faces of the devotees. Ekam sat. It centers around the goddess Saraswati because she is the goddess of learning and of music, both the central themes of my life. I am always her student and doubt I shall ever become more, but that is quite enough.

    This world was created because of a woman I met many years ago who practiced her faith with deep devotion giving me a painful but very necessary mirror when my world view and my faith were being stripped away and reborn in her luminous eyes.

    To Mrs. Singh: This is to repay your kindness to me and and to honor your unfathomable beauty born of your love of God. The light within you both enlightens me and gives me joy to this day and those that follow. Namaste, Alka ji. Shukriya.

    I’ve applied several animation and sensor techniques to make this more fun to move around in. There are also poems attached but you’ll have to find them. The rule of thumb is to click on things that move. Over time, I will hide more cookies.

    Turn on your speakers or put on your headphones. The world is an experiment in animation and sound to progress toward what I call an “immersive album”. Real-time 3D spatialized sound combined with real time 3D visuals provides unique ways to combine motion and sound sources such that the music mixes depending on settings and one’s location in the world, or the objects one is near. I am just scratching the surface of this new unique art form. For this world, I used samples of Hindu musicians for reasons of theme and because raga-based music is very suitable for this application given its basis in scalar constructions (ragas are scales) over Western-influenced harmonic construction. Think loops if you must, but really, it is a matter of how distance and motion combine to create ambient sound in virtual space just as it does in meatspace. For download bandwidth reasons, these are 22khz mono samples and not very long. Because 3D sound is spatialized, stereo is redundant.

    If you want to visit The River of Life, you need a VRML97 conformant browser. I use BS Contact. You can download a Contact browser at I suggest version 6.1 or higher. Since I will later convert this world from VRML97 to X3D format, the new version of the VRML language, you may want the Bit Management beta version of Contact (7.n). Note that it displays an irritating floating logo that will try to take you to their site if you click on it, and is otherwise a nuisance. But free is free.

    Once you have the browser, I highly suggest you go to the VRMLWorld site and download River of Life into the lobby function of that chat server. It is great fun to tour one of these worlds with friends in multi-user mode as can be provided by Rick Kimball’s ABNet software. This link will take you there.

    I will register this world there soon and I encourage other VRML builders to do the same so that we can create a true metaverse that is open to both authors and the public without paying rent. I never liked rental property. It builds no equity for the tenant. Besides, the VRMLers invented virtual reality on the web and ought to get a bit more boo for it. The press only notices big investments so Linden Labs gets a lot of press these days, but VRML looks better and it is free to develop. I suggest we pick up the prize.

    Some notes for the newbie to VRML:

  • In Internet Explorer, VRML plug-ins are usually Active-X controls. Because of the EOLAS lawsuit, you will get the annoying security warnings about scripted content. Select the option in the yellow bar to accept the content. It is scripted but it is safe.

  • This is not a small download when it first starts up due to the heavy texturing and the sound files. So it is good to have broadband but if you are still on dial-up, expect about 10 minutes of downloading. I have not compressed the files yet (I will) so that those who like to poke around the code quickly can. If you take things and use them, please give propers where due. That is the only way any of the VRML artists can afford to share their code to ensure the growth of the art. Otherwise, it’s all going to be binaries.

  • Because scripts start to run as they download, you may open up in a foggy world or not. The fog will go away when the skies change. The skies are not synced to the time of day. They just change. I am having fun with these and may make them more natural over time, but why bother with virtual reality just to make it more real?

  • If you are not familiar with VRML, you can get a menu by a right click in the window. This allows you to select viewpoints and to select your navigation mode. In WALK mode (the default for the world) with gravity enabled, you move following the ground. In FLY mode (more fun ) whatever height you are at remains the height until you collide with something; then you will climb to its height and remain there. This mode is good for jumping off tall buildings or hills with a single bound. More people like to fly than don’t. It’s the brachiating monkey blood in our genes.

  • Viewpoints in VRML worlds can be jumped to using the right click menu or by using the PAGE UP/PAGE DOWN keys on the keyboard. Some viewpoints are animated and you travel with the object to which they are bound. Try clicking on these but if you move away from them while bound to them, you will fall to the ground unless you have set your browser to FLY mode. You will begin to hallucinate that you are being pushed through the Earth where the view is very strange. 

  • This has been a long haul project. I’ve been working on it on and off for ten years. I’ve received an enormous amount of help in the last few weeks from the VRML community that always pulls together and helps out when a new world is being released. Many many thanks! You are still the best online bunch of crazies and artists on the web. Inside the world, there is a WorldInfo node that gives propers as due. Other artists have been leaving samples up for people to use for a decade now and I’ve incorporated and adapted some of these. That beautiful sun is Paul Hoffman’s work from our IrishSpace project. Chakor and Chakori are Robert St. John’s Dove from his Temple of Love project that was released as a sample with the V-realm Builder editor (sadly no longer available).

    To build this world, I used the V-Realm Builder, Professional File Editor and the demo of Internet Space Builder from ParallelGraphics. These are old tools but they do a good job when one knows the language.

    I hope you enjoy The River of Life. It is purely art for art’s sake which is fun for fun’s sake. As my mentor in VRML, Paul Hoffman used to tell us, “keep on wrl’ing”.



    Monday, November 06, 2006

    The Elves and the Shoemaker

    God exults in creation. Give voice to this.

    I read that religion is a pernicious practice that is ultimately bad for the mammals. I dispute that. It seems to me that anything that brings them together in hope and joy as fellows is ultimately good where it is not a means to suborn their spirit to some other cause. The small country church is often the center of a community, the place where they come to raise their families, try to set good examples and find in fellowship relief from the torrid political climate of work and economy. I’ve never worked at a job that gave as much cheer or wonder as I find at the church and I am not exactly a devoutly formal worshipper of any faith. I like the company and I like the way they handle themselves in that setting. That’s all I need to know about it.

    Last weekend the children performed “The Elves and The Shoemaker” at church. Even small country churches build community halls with stages any civic center would be proud of these days. Where city facilities would be too expensive and sometimes too dangerous given their locations in city centers for keeping and corralling 30+ small ones in full dudgeon, these church centers are better secured, adjacent to the sanctuary and kitchens, so safe. When working with children, safe is a major consideration.

    I was asked to write and record the music for the show. Most of the time my music is composed for myself or my band of the moment to perform, so when it is performed, I am inside that performance. It is a different experience to sit anonymously at the back of a theatre and watch others perform my composition or act their roles while it provides the emotional space within which they perform. I quite like it. Children don’t know when something is hard. They only know if it makes them feel good. When the tiny 14 year old soprano was given a piece written in 5/4 time that my professional trained soprano friends gasp at, she just stepped out and did it beautifully. When the ballerinas spun on stage to the short ragtime, they were amazingly funny and precise. As all the smaller children who were the elves tittered through the shoemaker song, “shoes made by elves are REAL NEAT”, I realized this experience is an infinitesimal glimpse of what it must be to be the creator of a universe, to create an emotional space within which others can feel and share their feelings. That joy is inexpressible.

    God exults in creation. Give voice to this.

    Tuesday, October 31, 2006

    Flipping Out Over YouTube and MySpace?

    Considerable press is being devoted to the YouTube purchase. Some press is being devoted to the falling numbers for the last flip-up darling, MySpace. The web developers and their investors are beginning to see that the web did not change the dynamics of the entertainment industry any more than it made business frictionless. Entropy has a way of shaking its finger in the faces of those who accept the proseletyzing pundits pronouncements of the next new thing being somehow bigger better and newer than the last new thing. The dynamics of business are determined not by the distribution channel but by the reasons for the transactions themselves.

    1. YouTube provides content of a different quality than MySpace. As long as it can provide that, it can grow. The dynamics of user-generated video and the long tail of talent determine its limits. The long tail will cause stars to emerge and their longevity and productivity will determine the stickiness of YouTube.

    2. Teens want to be alone as much as they want to be in company. They are the most fickle audience of all as any musician or actor can tell you. Sites like MySpace may evolve into business sites just as high school get togethers evolve into business oriented cocktail parties. Corporations have more reasons to create and keep conversations going with the same people than teen-agers do.

    3. The objective of a site builder is to drive enough traffic to a site to make it worth purchasing for several orders of magnitude of its development value. This is precisely the model of pop music and for exactly the same reasons. Some sites are one-hit wonders that are worth visiting for a summer, and others last for several decades.

    What happens? The big dollar buyouts are the blips not the recurring peaks of the purchasing cycle.

    The flip costs will be reduced proportionally and will evolve toward the same kind of deals made with bands for points where the initial investments don't go straight to the pockets of the band but to the producers, in this case, the VCs. To make the big dollars site developers will need the kind of legal help that enables them to renegotiate their contracts after they prove the sustainability of the traffic to the site just as music lawyers renegotiate with music labels after the third platinum album. Until then, the developers live on subsistence wages just as the bands do with million selling hit songs and just enough money to get to the next gig.

    Saturday, October 28, 2006

    Reinventing HTML 2.0

    It will be interesting to see if many care about this and who they are if they do. In some ways, this flurry coming from the W3C stalwarts is the reality test of the continuing or discontinuous relevance of the W3C to the evolution of standardized web systems on the Internet.

    It is possible that without much fanfare and little notice, the control of web evolution has passed back to the industrialists who quietly sponsored it and insisted on its primacy in major acquisitions. At least in the USA, those institutions passed into the control of MBAs from B-schools whose dominant computer literacy is with spreadsheets.

    So the question is, can spreadsheet-augmented intelligence fix the mess made by Tim Berners-Lee et al with the launch of HTML and the Mosaic web browser if Sir Tim and the W3C can't?

    This will be fascinating to watch. The mammals are relentlessly innovative in their messmaking and the means they deploy to clean it up or to avoid cleaning it up. In the latter, the well-financed announcement is usually something to the effect that the mess is actually a clever, simple solution and simple is always preferred.

    In technology and politics, the best approach is always slow and steady with diplomacy preferred and guns kept unlocked but loaded.

    Friday, October 27, 2006

    A Faster Horse

    In an article on mastering complexity while innovating, Henry Ford is quoted as saying, "If I had asked my customers what they wanted, they would have asked for a faster horse."

    In the quote is the dilemma of innovation for companies that use surveys, product planning, consultants hired away from their customer base and like strategies. It is expensive and it doesn't work reliably. Over the years, the best results I've seen come from those who talk to the customers casually. This accomplishes what the article recommends: you get to understand the heart of the customer.

    The devil in the stone is getting developers to trust those who do talk to customers and getting those who talk to customers to translate that faithfully. In commission-driven sales environments, that is tough to achieve. In any management suite where numbers and the promise of numbers drive the day to day operations, it is almost impossible.

    A colleague who was a field representative to a major American city related that sales efforts for an account with that customer were doomed because over lunch she had heard the decision maker relating to another co-worker that our company wasn't even being considered. We took that information to management who promptly discarded it as gossip because a consultant had assured them that our company was indeed the front runner. With that positive relationship spinning, we went on to spend a very large sum of money and company resources on a bid that we did lose just as our field rep told us we would. Why? No one believes bad news when hope marries propaganda. Numbers are often just that: propaganda from the management suite. See Iraq.

    Another problem is incrementalism. After our new General Manager made her reputation for being 'customer-focused', development became saturated with requests for product changes. In the past, development could decline these as non-strategic, meaning they added no value for the majority of the customers. Under the new GM, technology didn't matter. Keeping customers happy so they wouldn't generate bad press did. Once the customers understood that, bad press and liquidated damages became the topic of every conversation and of course, we slipped further behind the broad market requirements and deeper into the technology chasm because we did not have the resources to rapidly educate ourselves and develop new products.

    Filtered views and closed doors are barriers to innovation. It is one thing to say we are listening; it is another to actually hear what is said. Understanding requires patience in conversation and that means time. Those who are ‘time-sensitive positive relationship managers’ can open their doors to their employees or their customers, but they will only hear what they think is important, and then they will demand a ‘faster horse’.

    To solve problems like these, more conversations need to be had with more of the players most of the time. Companies need new ways to talk to customers often and casually and at every level of the company. Blogging companies know this and they are wining in the market. They understand that there is no such thing as an inward facing and outward facing set of communications. That strategy is the buggy whip of today. In a network-savvy company, ALL communicators face in ALL directions ALL of the time. That they may not use them is apparent, but they have them when they need them.

    Blogs are one means but blogs tend to be ‘one guy on a soapbox talking loud and gathering a crowd’. That is fine for topics that require depth, but the hints the lead to understanding the heart of the customer are typically discovered in casual conversations. For that the web offers chatrooms.

    Chat rooms have a mixed reputation given the problems of Ally Oxen Come Free chat rooms that are the majority on the web. Corporate chat rooms are a different beastie. They are corporation sponsored and corporation hosted. They can have corporate policies just as corporate bloggers heed, and they produce server logs that can be mined. While this flies a bit in the general wisdom that less control is better, and it usually is, a corporate chat room is not a public web site. With the right technologies, it is also a corporate communications center, a branded face on the corporate conversations, and can be a means to show off products new, old, and emerging.

    An innovation for this is to move the corporate chat world into a virtual world using free and relatively simple real-time 3D technology such X3D and ABNet. The advantages are exactly as promised: presence and branded identities for customers, employees and press. As long as the conversations are casual, the encounters unhindered, and the style is entertaining, these corporate 3D rooms can serve as a place of fun, familiarity and business without the bar tab.

    It is a cheap experiment to conduct given the available technologies. Given these technologies can be applied to other customer needs, it is also a cheap means to move a company up the learning curve fast before the spreadsheet nazis can send out a memo or tell the customer that this technology is ‘just a toy’. When the Macintosh and the PC were introduced, they were also ‘just a toy’. Virtual worlds like other innovative technologies need time to find their markets, but the potential for them to be a means to understand and find markets is already there.

    Why Not X3D on Macintosh?

    A colleague says, "… until someone makes a decent player for the Mac, you'll never see all the amazing content created on a Mac in the VRML world. You must realize that most high end content is created on Mac. 90% of high end Hollywood 2D and 3D content is for sure. Besides, even if most of the world owns PCs, pretty much every "creative" I talk to about VRML is on a Mac for their real work and they all wish we had some decent players for Macs.”

    Snob. ;-) Let me be my curmudgeonly self...

    Really. X3D is not a high end format and VRML wasn’t one when it started. Lots of creatives are on PCs, but more importantly, the vast majority of web customers are, and that is what the web as a marketplace is about: customers. Savvy creatives adapt to the customer base. Hollywood is not that customer base. It is a high end production town with high end developers. If they want to put content on the web, they adapt to the web or they adapt the web. It won’t happen by promoting Macs unless the Mac becomes a TV the way iPods became transistor radios.

    I’ve never seen a decent Mac VRML client. That is the point. If Apple owners want them, they need to bug Steve Jobs. He built a closed system and is satisfied with his high-end developers and architecture. If he wants to put 3D on the web, he has to develop a client. If he wants that client to be standard on the web (something Apple isn’t famous for doing in the majority of cases), he steps up to the web standards for 3D or does what he always does: launches yet another closed system, in this case, Safari’s canvas tag. Who gets to see that? Safari users who own Macs. PC owners? Jobs doesn’t care about PC owners.

    That’s the problem of the Mac vs The Web. Job doesn’t have to care about Mac content or Mac customers; he owns them both. iTunes is a splendid example of how well that strategy works. It took him all of two years to slam the doors on indie musicians and production and open them up to the middlemen. He managed to reconstruct the BadOlMusicIndustry with lightning speed under his control.

    And that is what you want for X3D content and the 3D user community?

    Say anything you like. That is how the Apple market shakes out. PC owners just don’t care and never will. They can’t. It would mean giving up their chance at the Big Break to The Man from Cupertino.

    If Mac owners want X3D, they can demand it. They are the customers but they have to demand it from the boutique dealers where they buy the rest of their stuff because the guys selling commodity products know full well that Macs ain’t commodity products. And they never will be because that isn’t what Jobs wants to sell or else he would be Bill Gates. Talk to any Mercedes dealer about Fords. Who invented the car and made it the best it could be at the time: Mercedes. Who put the masses on the road? Ford. Who took the market away from them both? GM. Why? Smarter than both at both jobs. Who took it from them? Toyota. For the same reason. Who’ll take it next. Who knows.

    Would production quality X3D editors and viewers for the Mac result in high-quality X3D? Heck yes, but it will only happen when the boutique content makers decide they want to sell lower-cost knock-offs at Wal-Mart.

    That day may come sooner than some think. The web-based portals are becoming gazillion-channel broadcast networks. YouTube is a fluke the way that HTML was: a low end access point to lots and lots of content but that matters. Over time, people want more and better and new and different and eventually in any flat-market a talent longTail begins to rise up and dominate the landscape. It’s sad for the rest of the talent community when that happens, but competition is a reality of markets. As that point is reached, Hollywood and their evil zombie cousins in New York, Atlanta and Nashville will do as they’ve always done: dominate the management of the talent by paying them lots and lots of money. And then they will all buy Macs.

    Web business sustainability evolves toward controlling the sources for resources just as any commodity market differentiated by limited sources does. This is where Radar O’Reilly and Mark Cuban lose it with the ‘real sharing’ riffs. At the point of maximum uncertainty, forces are applied to hold an object in orbit. $$$ is the strong force. Egoboo is the weak force. Guess which one wins as the customer locale expands in reach and scope?

    So would it help X3D quality if the professional Mac talent began to work on X3D content at night when they aren’t working for the moguls? Sure. But meanwhile, the web is the land of opportunity for the hobbyist and the visionary and the deeply irrationally persistent junk yard dogs that just won’t lie down or roll over when told to.

    Unless given a bit of petting AND a treat. A pretty enough dog always gets both because dogs will be dogs.

    3D is today where the video tape market was when the owners of video stores discovered that storing more tapes on low-rent shelves sold more rentals. Who were the losers? Makers of boutique art films. Who were the winners? Pornographers and major releases. The difference is major releases stayed the same, but porn quickly became much better porn.

    That is how the long tail actually works: the best get the point and the rest get the tail.

    Thursday, October 26, 2006

    A War Lyric

    War is only understood by those who fight one. The rest of us are witnesses.

    My Son's Time To Go

    Two men stood on the platform
    Watching the train pull away
    In the diner car their only sons
    Waved goodbye that day.

    One was going to Canada
    One to Vietnam
    Two fathers sharing wordlessly
    Sorrows yet to come.

    Two men fought in another war
    And served there side by side
    Not for flag or apple pie
    But to keep each other alive.

    Their sons grew up together.
    They tried to raise them right.
    Now one would go to speak his truth,
    And one would go to fight.

    No one knew if they'd come back.
    Their Momma's cried and prayed.
    Goodbyes break the brave and few
    When a father has to say:

    "Son, just fight the good fight.
    Be true to who you are.
    Don't try to be a hero.
    Your faith can take you far.
    Though I've been there and I came back,
    I want you to know
    How proud I am to be your Dad.
    It's my son's time to go."

    A soldier returned to an angry world
    His cousin was standing in line
    Among some far-out people
    "Singing songs and carrying signs".

    The grunt Marine put out his hand.
    The hippie shook his head,
    "Man, I don't think I know you."
    The soldier wearily said,

    "Kiss my ass. I'm not proud
    Of all the things I've done,
    My country called. I had to go
    To a war that couldn't be won.

    I only want to see my Mom.
    If you'll kindly step aside
    I won't call you 'family'.
    Remember that I tried.

    I went to fight the good fight.
    I was true to the cause I served.
    I lost my friends in the Mekong,
    But I never lost my nerve.
    Peace and love and all good things
    Have a price, they tell me so.
    I paid that price, but I'll be sad
    When it's my son's time to go."

    Two men stand by the window
    Watching a plane pull away
    Ferrying their only sons
    To a place they wouldn't say.

    Thirty years without a word
    These men have lived apart,
    Now one holds out his palsied hand
    To the one with the broken heart.

    "Will you come to my house, please;
    So, we can kneel and pray?
    The Lord will keep our sons alive
    And bring them home one day.

    Peace and love and all good things
    Have a price, but I didn't know
    How sad I'd feel to be his Dad
    Now its my son's time to go.
    How sad it is to be the one.
    It's my son's time to go."

    len bullard

    Saturday, October 21, 2006

    Virtual Worlds with ABNet

    I've been looking at the products available for real-time 3D chat worlds. While Blaxxun continues to be the commercially licensed leader, other vendors are stepping up to provide communications servers and hosting. Today I am looking at ABNet from Kimball Software. The main man at this company is Rick Kimball. You can click on this blog title to go to the VRMLWorld site and play with some sample worlds in their chat windows. It requires an Active-X control and as usual, thanks to our dear friends at EOLAS (#@#@$), you have to accept the control using IE.

    I'm running on a 56k dial-up here (yes, Virginia, some of us still do), and had no problem running these worlds. However, I was the only one in there so this is not a very good test. For those who want a low-cost/no-cost approach to building 3D chat worlds, ABNet is a good place to start and may prove to be a commercial survivor. The site describes the software thusly:

    ABNet is a communication framework that happens to let you create 3D multi-user chat worlds. It isn't limited to this application but 3D chat shows its flexibility. The communication framework of ABNet provides an asynchronous low-latency publish and subscribe environment using XML messages.

    The communication server of ABNet is written in Java allowing for deployment on any platform running a Java VM. The client side of ABNet uses Javascript on an HTML page to turn a single-user VRML or X3D world into a Multi-user Virtual World environment. 3D Avatars can interact and use shared events to provide a virtual experience much like the old blaxxun community platform. ABNet is the software that powers

    ABNet can be used to build your own chat site that uses very little bandwidth. It is feasible to run a 3D chat site from your personal computer.

    The software supports both the Contact 6.1 and MediaMachines browsers.

    Some useful URLS:


    Setup the Software

    Download the current ABNet 2 ActiveX client from here:

    Download both the client and java server from here:

    Wednesday, October 18, 2006

    XML Knitting and Stitching

    At the XML conferences I attended that Lauren Wood organized, there were walls of XML cross-stitching and knitting. I wondered about that until I was sitting here for the first time in a while doing some XML data design work for a new project.

    Developing XML data systems is like knitting and stitching: it is only tedious if done for hire. When done for a topic that one has a passion for innately, it becomes a relaxed passion.

    I'm not an expert, but I suspect that this relaxed passion is one reason that many knit and stitch to relax and others can relax when they do data design work on documents with content they love. It is satisfying to work with the threads one loves for passionate content.

    The real-time memory that captures this for me is Lynne Price at SGML standards meetings knitting her dogs' hair. That was an ultimate expression of making structure from the threads of the universe productively and passionately.

    Tuesday, October 17, 2006

    Stuck On Standards?

    Stuck on standards?

    When it was ISO, it wasn't a standard because it wasn't the W3C. When it is ECMA, it isn't a standard because it came from Microsoft.

    The not so deep but ever abiding truth about standards is that either some group of self-selected companies and individuals are or are not making money applying technologies conforming to some standard or specification. The right or wrong of which organization produces the standard was forfeit with the rise of company-organized and pundit supported consortia such as the W3C. When these groups began to pillory existing organizations such as ISO and burgled the standards they had produced shifting both the center of standards activities by nations and the leadership in favor of the individuals so inclined by their own careers and goals, they derailed any chance that the Internet would evolve toward fairly constituted groups in favor of their own.

    That set the rules by example and everything that has followed has followed predictably and logically from those examples.

    So how does a company, agency or individual choose among the offerings of these more or less equal offerings? By doing what has been working successfully since HTML and its siblings were offered: select by the size of the following. If one is using Microsoft products and the majority of one's peers are using Microsoft, use the Microsoft specifications and standards. If one is using Sun products similarly, choose what Sun supports.

    It quit being about fair and balanced for all parties when the XML Working Group and ERB blew off ISO in favor of their own self-selected parties. As the twig is bent, so grows the tree. Any XML can be transformed into any other XML with some degree of loss. That was the promise; this is the outcome.

    Sad, but so. Quit whining about it.

    Friday, October 13, 2006

    How To Beat YouTube

    Here's a challenge: build a GUI for a sign event system (code list dispatcher in the scene and in each avatar) selectors that can route the code to any and all objects in the X3D scene.

    The problem of X3D in the current technical offerings is the very large gap between authoring intelligent geometry and scripting scenes in it.

    Character-building should be be simple variations on code lists of avatar-gestures that are reacted to differently given the avatar's interpreter (event behaviors).

    The authoring system tool should enable a high-level character builder that sets emotional ranges coupled to ranges.

    The avatar is not a passive reactor. All events/links aren't inbound; the avatar as an actor is seeking events and will navigate towards clusters containing the search terms in Topical Vector Space (the vectors among the terms in the XML metadata create clustered attractors). Where locations in geometric space contain these terms, the avatar navigates toward it or away from it.

    The DeepGeeks will note that these are both Hamiltonian coordinate systems subject to the same transformations. In energy terms, the search term clusters act as attractors. Create a search set that returns the demographic desired and it pulls the search engine to the location. The world metadata (searc terms) is pulling the search engine, therefore, the avatar toward it. While this is trivial in terms of search engine ad placement support, it is non-trivial in creating a real=time situation comedy.

    That is how you beat YouTube.

    Darkstar Works With X3D

    As it turns out, X3D can be applied with the DarkStar server kit. Aaron Bergstrom []answered on the X3D Public list:

    Yes, X3D can be deployed through Darkstar.

    Immediate Mode Interactive ( is developing an X3D-based game engine called Cosmic. I refer you to the Cosmic Blog page:

    I demo'd IMI's Cosmic Birdie video game based on the Cosmic game engine at the X3D Tech Talk - Siggraph 2006. All the content in Cosmic Birdie was created using RawKee, the X3D exporter for Maya.

    IMI demo'd Cosmic Birdie using the Darkstar server in the Sun booth this year's Game Developers Conference.

    If you look through the Darkstar documentation you'll notice that Darkstar supports HTTP requests for communication, so theoretically, it's probably possible to use the XMLHttpRequest/Ajax3D techniques outlined by Tony Parisi ( to do multi-user environments with Flux and Darkstar.

    Of course, licensing is another issue. And they last I heard from the IMI guys, Darkstar is still in the development phase, though supposedly, Sony has some sort of arrangement with Sun to deploy Darkstar as a game server for the PSP. I have no idea about the current status. You may want to check out the following URL:

    The Cosmic Birdie demo is available through the darkstar website.


    So free-to-develop server software and open source X3D clients using AJAX techniques can now be applied to serious games (think training and scenario generation). There is a nice startup opportunity here or several.

    A key thing to remember as Eric Maranne pointed out on the X3D list: don't sell syntax and languages. Sell applications. But the development costs are shifting away from licensing costs to server hardware and personnel. Figure out how to live within your means there, and as the DealNews guys proved, you can start and sustain a company long enough to become profitable even in the face of bad times (which BTW, times are good right now).

    Thursday, October 12, 2006

    Project Darkstar

    Wow! THIS is pretty dammed cool. Sun is building a shareable server and tool system for games with five 9s reliability. That is awesome.

    When I worked for public safety, we loathed to guarantee five nines for mission critical real time dispatch systems. Five nines is awesome for massive multiplayer games.

    Two of the reallyDumbMistakes made while I was in that field are worth relating. The first was having two Development VPs in a row stating that real time 3D was of absolutely no interest to the company or to the public safety market. (Actually, the dumbest was a former company president making the absolute statement that XML was only Microsoft FUD and in no way would affect the public safety market, but I digress). The second reallyDumbMistake was a decision made with the formation of an Innovation Team charged with getting new ideas into Development. One of our senior staffers boasted proudly that when the first batch was submitted, they quickly eliminated any that mentioned games.

    A few years later, a major and very significant RFP for public safety required the application of the XML 3D standard application language, X3D, in a game simulation environment for massive multiplayer training. Of course, the company had to license code from two developers in France just to get started because a "leader in spatial graphics technology for fusion of real time information" was caught flat footed.

    Now Sun (Notice, Sun, not Microsoft that is twaddling along with the public safety industry) can provide THE key component for these serious 'games'.

    And so it goes. It will be interesting to see if X3D clients can use the services of Project Darkstar. Given the open source Java implementations of X3D toolkits, I'd be surprised if the answer is no. If so, there is a very neat opportunity for some of the public safety vendors to get a fast leg up on their front running competitors.

    Wednesday, October 11, 2006

    Lead By Example

    Let's take this out of the comments.

    General Powell gives a good speech. I watched a video of this speech when he gave it to my last employer's conference in Orlando. Just a few points in response:

    1. If the corporation is making the claim and receiving the credit for philanthropy, the donation needs to come off the bottom line: corporate profits. Since stockholders tend to object to that and rebel against executives who are generous in this regard, this doesn't happen often or in quantity.

    2. That leaves employee contributions. We are all familiar with the scene where the office geishas send out memos asking us to contribute to some charity in a city where our company wishes to do future business. We've all heard the speech from the guy representing the PAC of a favored local politician and seen that after the employees contribute, that guy gets a very big promotion. We are familiar with the math of large bonuses for executives based on performance numbers built on employee-contributed hours of unpaid overtime while these same executives tell us that the company can only afford a 2% raise for those who shouldered the burden of the miraculous turn around.

    So it really comes down to picking someone's pocket in these corporate initiatives unless contributions are matched in kind by all and by percentage of income. Otherwise, the next time the call goes out for these contributions, tell them that you are happy to do your community work, but that you will donate where the branding of the effort does the most good: give at church. Advancing the career of your minister seldom increases his or her income, career potentials, or customer base. It just goes to where it will do the most good with the least claims.

    And if your employers subtly or overtly insinuate that contributions and company-brandable effort are required for consideration of leadership potential, do as the subject of the cited article, General Powell, did when faced with such: seek other employment. That is the hallmark of leadership: lead by example.

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