Inventing the Future

Meeting DVR

We’ve been creating new technologies faster than I can blog about them. Of course, I can’t say anything until they’re out, and then I’m focused on the next challenge instead of describing the last. One thing we’ve had for a while now is a “virtual DVR”.

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Inventing the Future

What's in a name?: Application Collaboration

<%image(20090711-application-collaboration.png|433|347|Application Collaboration)%>
It has been hard to express the character of this new way of working through collaborative 3D virtual worlds. I’ve made lots of explorations of the many ideas, but two of the biggies have been that:

  1. Applications are shared by many people simultaneously. This does not mean just that one application program license can be used on many computers, or that copies of an application’s document can be passed around, although these are true. I think the unique thing is that the live combination of application/document can be used by many people simultaneously, as though looking over each other’s shoulder.
  2. Each person can use many applications simultaneously. This does not mean just that a user can switch between application windows on their own desktop, but rather that they can easily be arranged and used in a persistent context that is shared in real-time between users.

We call this “application collaboration” to distinguish it from other forms of collaboration that do not have this dual nature. I’m still wrestling with the term.

I think the above picture of today’s Forums gets at this very nicely. Below is a picture of Croquet from more than two years ago. It’s interesting to me that they are functionally equivalent, and yet today’s picture makes the point of application collaboration so much clearer in both picture and practice. (I showed the two pictures to my wife. She said it was my strength and my weakness that I could see that both were illustrating the same concept.)
<%image(20060507-multi.jpg|433|275|Croquet Application Collaboration)%>

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Inventing the Future

Materially Objective

Our David is cute. While testing today that the material editor was working, he captured the display material of the Python timer application running on the display stand, and then applied the material to the floor. The floor, the running application, and the material editor’s texture card and teapot sampler are all counting down.
< %image(20090106-material.jpg|713|476|Editing the material of the floor, using the material of the running Python timer application. All are counting down.)%>

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Inventing the Future

Boring

We had had our usual weekly Engineering Meeting yesterday. Some slides, a couple of charts, some spreadsheet pages, and a bunch of folks arguing. Nothing exciting, although it was pretty cool for random attendees to change the slides and spreadsheet in real time, and to put post-its on them.

As usual, our weekly meeting was in-world. No one commented about the technology. No one commented about the fact that the meeting was lead by a manager away at MIT, some engineers were in Maryland and Oregon, and some folks were at home saving gas rather than in the office. Boring.

Pretty cool, no?

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Inventing the Future

Testing 1, 2, 3. Check. Check. …. Waiter?!

I’ve been working with some test harnesses for our Croquet worlds. It’s been a real pain working outside of Croquet: getting things to happen across multiple platforms. Moving data around. It’s all so much easier in a virtual space that automatically replicates everything.

Anyway, we finally got it working enough that there are several machines in Qwaq’s Palo Alto office that are all running around as robots in a virtual world, doing various user activities to see what breaks. Being (still!) in Wisconsin, I have to peek on these machines via remote. I’m currently using Virtual Network Computing (VNC), but there’s also Windows Remote Desktop (RDP). These programs basically scrape the screen at some level, and send the pictures to me. So when these robots are buzzing around in-world, I get a screen repaint, and then another, and then another. And that’s just one machine. If I want to monitor what they’re all doing, I have to use have a VNC window open for each, scraping and repainting away. Yuck. If only there were a better way….

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Inventing the Future

The Collaborative For Croquet

We’ve got a bunch of Croquet stuff going on. We have the KidsFirst project in early education. There are a few folks who would like to work with the KidsFirst project as educators, academics, etc., but who need an entity to work with. We also have a fairly traditional open-source development project for the software used by KidsFirst, called the KAT: KidsFirst Application Toolkit.

And we REALY, REALLY, REALLY want a place that people can just connect to and try Croquet. To interact with others through Croquet. To come back another day and have some hope of finding the same 3d world, evolved though it may be, but still maybe having some of the same things that had been put there in the previous visit. A little open-source 3D-direction-manipulation real-time collaborative place on the Internet.

And so we have formed “The Collaborative For Croquet”.

Check it out at: CroquetCollaborative.org.

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My Thoughts Exactly

in re: Mars Rover — John channels Gary

This article about the discovery, debugging, and patch of a timing glitch on the Mars Pathfinder caught my fancy.

Its system architecture reminded me of the three-bus architecture of Masscomp “real time unix(TM)” machines, which I came to know intimately “back in the day” (84-86) as a side effect of writing the damn ‘theory of operations’ manuals for it. And anyway, as any of y’all as have read the first page of my Acts of the Apostles knows, I think the discovery-and-debugging of timing glitches is inherently interesting.

Outer space and spacecraft and actual hardware are Gary’s beat around Wetmachine, so here’s my respects, gov’nuh.

By the way, Google came up with an article on the Masscomp architecture but you need an ACM membership to read it so I’m not bothering with it, as my account has expired. If anybody has a Masscomp architecture diagram lying about, kindly post a link.

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Inventing the Future

Inventing the Future: Jasmine release

Croquet is still being designed. Personally, I’d like to see something useable this summer, but that remains to be seen.

There is a “developer’s version” available now, called Jasmine, but there’s some confusion as to what Jasmine is in relation to the real thing. I’m going to try to straighten that out here.

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Inventing the Future

Inventing the Future: What is Croquet?

Croquet is an ambitious project to develop an entirely new way to work with computers, including 3D user interfaces and real-time collaboration between separate people manipulating the same virtual objects. Although this could be used in many domains, the focus of the core developers is on educational uses.

See croquetproject.org

Imagine you could make computers work however you wanted. What would you have them do? That’s what we’re trying to figure out. Fast machines. Graphics coprocessors. Fast worldwide networks. And it’s only going to get better.

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