Imagine a search engine that, instead of just doing text matching, attempts to parse your statement into questions it can answer, then provides you with as many of those answers as it can. Imagine a search engine that can deal with numerical relationships and analysis. Imagine a search engine that’s tailored towards returning facts and knowledge instead of websites.

Now, go watch the Wolfram Alpha demo video.

Next, imagine if you had analytical tools of this nature at your fingertips at all times, and were able to project and share them on surfaces using some form of augmented reality. Finally, imagine what this could do to intelligent argument, discussion, design, and political discourse.

Quite a step, huh?


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In Second Life, everything is made from primitives – cubes, cylinders, prisms and so forth that you can place together to create pretty much anything. There’s a size limit of 10x10x10 metres that’s sometimes a real pain in the arse.

I’d heard of something called megaprims that allow you to make much larger blocks (for walls and the like) and, wondering how they worked, I found out why they’re banned.

Kuula buried under Megaprim – in which, on Jan 11, 2007, Kuula and nine other regions (about 50 hectares in total) were struck by disaster – a massive sheet of 5m thick virtual plywood plummeting from the sky. Those underneath were not crushed, but caught inside the prim, causing bizarre and erratic behaviour

It’s not quite the alien attacks of Sim City, but as far as virtual disasters go, pretty awesome


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For the last two weeks I’ve been working on a research survey and report on virtual worlds – things such as Second Life, OpenSim, OpenCroquet and the like. I’ve just now finished tidying it up, and sent it off, with much relief; it’s 50 pages long, and the longest writing project I’ve engaged in since completing my Masters thesis two years ago.

It marks a bit of a milestone for me – it’s the first fully independent, paid research contract I’ve done. Though stressful, it was actually quite a lot of fun and taught me a lot about rapidly gathering together notes from lots of sources and cobbling them together in a report. I learned quite a bit more about virtual worlds, in the process, too.

It was also the first time I’ve had to hire and manage my own subcontractors – in this case, I hired Morbid Curiousity to help out by writing research notes and helping a little with reviewing. This also was quite illuminating – in hindsight, the small amount of extra work was certainly worthwhile; getting someone else involved me with a second perspective on the topic and helped me formulate my own ideas for the document’s structure and content.

I’m going to keep the report embargoed for a week or two; I’ve been assured that despite the contract, I maintain copyright over the work, but I want to wait until my client has had a chance to review it first. After that, I’ll be making the whole thing available as well as posting and expanding on certain parts of it that I think people might find interesting..


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One thing that’s really fascinating about virtual worlds and MMOGs is the avatars that people choose and the relationship between their choice and their physical selves. It’s pretty easy to find statistics showing that gender bending is a pretty common practice (for example), but there’s not been a lot of research looking at people choices of character race and shape.

A while back, Nick Yee, a research at PARC, published some statistics he’d gathered during his PhD on the relationships between age and gender on player choices of race, alignment, and type of character class. Graphs and notes on those results are available here.

More recently, he’s published another set of results concerning player choices of character shape; that is, whether their character is relatively taller or shorter, how attractive they are, and so forth. These are pretty interesting results, though there’s nothing really surprising. What’s really interesting, though, is the graphs he’s produced looking at the relationship between preferences for different avatar archetypes and for different styles of play.

Anyway, if you’re at all interested in self representation or online games, go take a look. He publishes these results via a blog he keeps called ‘The Daedalus Project’ – it’s not particularly high traffic, but what he does post is well worth reading..


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