My Thoughts Exactly

Guest Post: Chris Kelly on Putting the “punk” into Steampunk

Recently Chris Kelly (@indiechris on twitter) interviewed me on his site Dun Scaith about so-called “biopunk” fiction. Today I’ve invited Chris to tell us a bit about one of the genres he writes in–Steampunk.  This is a genre that, it seems to me, erupted after the publication of The Difference Engine, by William Gibson and Bruce Sterling. It’s a kind of alternate history generally set in Victorian times, when steam engines were a dominant technology –before the widespread adoption of, for example, internal combustion engines, telephones, or electricity. It imagines what might have happened if technologies had evolved differently — say, if computers had developed without electricity. I don’t have too much familiarity with this genre, myself, but I do usually attend the Arisia SF convention each year, and I can tell you that as a subject area for discussion, and as an influence on fashion and so forth, Steampunk has a greater influence in some parts of SF fandom than does futurism or “outer space”. It really does get you to wondering, “what if?”.

Below the fold, Chris talks about a particular aspect of the steampunk aesthetic: what makes it “punk”. So without further ado, take it away, Chris!

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Inventing the Future

Oh. Canada.

Our weekly engineering meeting has a conference table and a huge projection screen. On this Monday, the Vancouver Olympics had just closed, and our three Canadian engineers were celebrating their climactic hockey victory. Being virtual, it was ridiculously easy(*) to find a flag image on Google, drag it in-world, and throw it up on the projector. No mess, no fuss, and no disturbance of the meeting. It might have been an afterthought, but it was appreciated.

In public social virtual worlds, a lot of attention gets paid to avatars — that’s your primary dimension of expression. But in private business worlds, the whole environment is yours to personalize, and it’s easy to change frequently. The discussion referenced in my previous post spoke of spontaneously creating a whole meeting room reserved and named in honor of a visitor.


* Much easier than the mechanics of adding a picture to this blog. See this video, and especially the last minute.

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Inventing the Future

Taking the Red Pill

Under a banner that says “make a difference in the world”, there’s a wonderful piece at active rain about using collaborative virtual worlds for Web 3.0 activity in the real estate industry.

I think we made a difference.

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Inventing the Future

Asset Risk

Julian Lombardi makes some terrific points about asset risk for virtual worlds on his blog. I think the issue is a pretty fertile area for exploration as we all continue to invent new ways of working together, but Blogspot simply doesn’t allow that much content in discussion, so I’ll have to fork it here.

I see the asset risk issue-space as breaking out into at least two dimensions:
* Bit storage vs bit usage
* Point assets vs context

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Inventing the Future

Virtual Events

We’ve discussed here how collaborative virtual worlds and other technology can be used to facilitate better business meetings while reducing business travel. (See here and its links.) What about when the Read More »

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Inventing the Future

How to Think

During the post-9/11 dot com bubble-bursting, I worked at a dying company that had an “offsite” guided brainstorming session on how to save the business. I think it was on a disused floor of our rapidly emptying Tech Square office building. I had heard of various bits of brainstorming methodology before, e.g., no criticism of ideas; quantity over quality of ideas, and so forth. But I had never gone through such a complete formal process like the one the facilitator took us through.

Well, just as I had heard about early adopters and s-curves long before I had read Crossing the Chasm, there are now lots of software and general business methodologies built around Brainstorming concepts. The idea is to have a somewhat reproducible process to identify and explore everything that matters in the task at hand. Agile programming, including eXtreme Programming and Scrum, have the same general purpose. The key is diversity of viewpoints about specific questions.

Now we’re seeing a sort of slow motion explosion in the use of virtual worlds for this.

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Inventing the Future

Does this mean we can win the Nobel Prize?

Almost two years ago, I claimed that virtual worlds could help the physical environment, and it seems that there are now some measurable effects (if arguable as to how to attribute the causes).

Since then, techies of various stripes have been clamoring for technology innovation to also save the economy and the lack of world peace. Now it’s official: we are one of 100 companies slated to do so.

(References, so we can understand two years from now what this title has to do with anything.)

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Inventing the Future

Project Collaboration at Intel

Yesterday I posted an example of a Virtual Operations Center, which is turning out to be one of the classic enterprise use cases for virtual worlds today. Above is a tiny blurb representing another, more common case: Project Collaboration. Not a great video, but in its short 1.5 minutes it touches on how other uses cases such Operations or Training tend to merge into or be utilized within Project Collaboration.

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Inventing the Future

Discrimination Fades? Who Do You Want to Be Today?

The virtual world is fertile ground for exploration of social and identity issues. Like the crucible of competitive sports controversies, synthetic worlds let us burn away irrelevancies to reach abstract truths about, e.g., gender and sexuality. The computer-as-laboratory lets you control the environment and change one variable at a time, and every possible interaction and gesture can be recorded for examination.

Social worlds are the most numerous and have the most users, and so provide the most opportunity for study. Although the examples are still from social worlds, this article is the first I’ve seen that addresses avatar gender in the workplace. My take-away is, “On the internet, no one knows you’re a dog of the wrong gender.” Men can be women if it helps a sale. Women can be men if it helps a negotiation. Otherwise, it’s just not a big deal.

I suspect, though, that we can do even better. I think we’ll see a Village People effect in which we will become both more aware and more comfortable with differences that are now still scary to many people.
< %image(20090829-Gray-Lego.png|202|384|Abstract avatar, with optional badge photo and without face photo.)%>< %image(20090829-avatar-choices.png|311|432|Choice of animated avatar from dropdown list.)%>< %image(20090829-Casual-John.png|159|403|Informally popular pre-designed avatar choice.)%>

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Inventing the Future

VW on the Web

One of the great mashups going on now is not just mixing content, but media. WebTV. NPR on an iPod. MTV on YouTube. TV on the Radio. Some social virtual worlds are lightweight enough that they can run within the frame of a Web browser when you visit the associated site. While we have always had documents, applications, sounds, movies, and Web browsers running within our Croquet and Qwaq virtual worlds, we’re now doing a bit more ping-pong between the Web and Qwaq Forums.
< %image(20090816-ForumPage.gif|522|437|Web page corresponding to a room in a virtual world. Click for full size.)%>

Pages like this one make it easy to get information (e.g., documents) into or out of a forum without using the 3D collaborative client. Maybe you’re not at your usual laptop or desktop computer and only have Web access. Maybe you are an executive or assistant to someone working in the forum such that you can’t suit up and be seen.

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