Monday, December 11, 2006


The short excerpt below from Technology Review’s July/August 2006 issue presents some challenging realities. We have the picture of people playing world builders on the Internet and spending hard cash in the practice of it, while in the real world people die of starvation every day and live in real poverty. Not that I want to castigate people who like to role play on the Internet. Everyone has to have some outlet for their imaginations. Everyone needs some release from reality from time to time. But I just want to place the two phenomena side by side in your imagination for a moment so that you can contemplate the vast disparities that exist in the reality which we all pretend to share.

Now, also, I do want to tell you I’m aware that, perhaps, all this roll playing in virtual land might pay off in new ways to think about the real world in the long run. After all, anything the human brain participates in is likely to affect the arrangement of its synaptical patterns, and, since the reality we imagine outside our consciousnesses is partly the construct of those synaptical firings, who knows how it’ll all come out in the end. Each metaphor that human language has invented has come from constructions in the real world and our interactions with it. We conceptualize the world differently every time new metaphors take hold and newly created or better understood words give us new ways to divide up the visions we imagine out there in the real world. Till then, let me say with Dylan, It’s alright, Ma, I’m only dyin’.

[OPEN QUOTE] Virtual Contractors

Fully navigable online worlds are flourishing, and all that virtual real estate needs to be furnished. Fantasy worlds such as Linden Labs' Second Life and even reality-based environments such as Google Earth are built to accommodate user-generated houses and other objects, which anyone can design using in-game tools or Google's SketchUp 3-D modeling software. But if you want a modernist masterpiece on your plot of virtual land, you don't have to build it yourself. Several companies and hundreds of individuals have gone into business as virtual contractors, designing items and structures that they can sell for real-world cash.

The group most fully integrated into Second Life is Electric Sheep of Washington, DC, whose 11 designers and developers can build anything from a stately pleasure dome to an entire interactive island. For the New Media Consortium, a not-far-profit group of more than 200 teaching organizations with a focus on new media technologies, the company designed and built such an island, where the consortium held virtual classes and events attended by the digital "avatars” of people around the world.

Electric Sheep declined to discuss the fees it charges for original designs. But the company also runs, where citizens of Second Life spend about $20,000 a month buying other members' digital creations, from skyscrapers to body parts, according to the company's CEO, T. Sibley Verbek.

The 3-D environment of Google Earth isn't shared or interactive like Second life, but users can still customize their virtual experiences. Google's 3D Warehouse lists user-submitted models of real-world structures such as the Taj Mahal, which users can download into their copies of Google Earth. Enthusiasts can create new models using the free version of SketchUp or a $495 "pro" edition that offers animations and walkthroughs.

Though Google Earth models aren't bought and sold, Brad Schell, product director for Sketch Up and the 3D Warehouse, suggests that corporations could one day create virtual versions of their stores-which could then be placed into Google Earth, perhaps allowing users to roam virtual aisles for products they could order online. [CLOSE QUOTE] —DANIEL TURNER


Little piece of news in the Spokesman Review today, December 7, 2006, says “Yahoo leads tech stocks lower”. Or something to that effect. It’s time, I think, if tech companies and software makers want to continue to expand their markets, that they realize they’ve saturated the market for tekkies and now need to reach out to people like myself who don’t need a lot more hard to learn upgrades, who expect free and responsible phone contact with tech companies whose software isn’t performing properly, who don’t want to spend hours learning how to operate, customize or repair software functions or hardware, who expect interchangeability and standardization of merchandise, who might even want to see regulation of the product to assure we’ll be free of the planned obsolescence that software and computer companies are blithely getting away with. The simplest example of a patently criminal highway robbery of their customers that hardware companies are getting away with is the outrageous cost of ink cartridges to go into fairly cheaply built machines. Just how expensive is ink? I suppose I ought to look that up and find out. I believe we’re probably paying twenty bucks for a nickel’s worth of ink in most cases. What surprises me is how the economic hard wiring in the brains of our children has been so badly distorted that they would allow themselves to be ripped off so easily and without complaint.

A day in a life without clouds is a day without art.

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