July 3, 2007

Thursday, 3 July 2008

Donald Trump’s Hair Meets Moriarty

CBC news (the Canadian national television network too boring to watch) reports that researchers in Edmonton (a Canadian city too cold to live in) are working on a new application that will allow business people to attend meetings in lifelike fashion, even when separated by thousands of miles.

In short, they’re attempting to create a holodeck.

"As engineers and scientists, we look at these futuristic things and we say, 'Well, we can build that,'" said David Antoniuk, the director of business development for TRLabs. "So we're trying to develop this holodeck technology."

Admit it, Gentle Reader, you’re excited.

But if we’re going to learn from Star Trek technology, perhaps we should also take a moment to learn from some of the problems it caused. One crew member was shot and seriously injured due to a malfunction of the holodeck safety features; a race of aliens reprogrammed the ship’s computer while the senior officers were trapped in a holodeck jazz bar; and when Data’s Sherlock Holmes role-play went awry, Moriarty took control of the Enterprise. And that’s not including the many times crew members got into personal trouble through over-use or abuse of the technology.

Think about it. Do we really want a virtual Donald Trump getting loose and joining forces with other wealthy, but dimensionless celebrities such as Paris Hilton?

Although at least a virtual Trump would justify his hair.

The technology is being developed by Hewlett-Packard in California and TRLabs in Edmonton. They hope to make the experience so real that participants will be able to read body language. All that’s needed to accomplish this goal is the ability to project 3D images into empty space, and link these images to the people they represent in such a realistic fashion that, in the words of lead researcher, Pierre Boulanger, “users will be able to see an eye twitch or a bead of sweat.”

Since there is no word yet that anyone is even remotely close to accomplishing either of these goals, don’t expect it to replace Second Life anytime soon.

Star Trek Meets the Transformers

Speaking of Star Trek, a new Star Trek movie is scheduled to begin shooting in November with a script written by Robert Orci, writer of the recent Transformers film. He explained the reason for his involvement by saying, "In a way, it becomes interactive in that we all get to be on the lot, I guess, going off of that show that just came on. Everyone gets to sort of test their ideas against what they would do relative to what's actually going to be done in the movie.”

We can only hope the actual script will be more coherent.

The big question for Orci is the music. The TV theme was written by Alexander Courage and gave way to Jerry Goldsmith’s majestic orchestration for the movies and Next Generation series. But what theme will accompany the Enterprise on her new voyages? "I don't know what we're going to do,” he admits, adding that “Star Trek II switched."

Star Trek II? Most of us heard the new theme in Star Trek I, the movie Goldsmith wrote it for.

Perhaps we should take the music in a more modern, urban direction.

Yo, you got into my face
So I went into space,
Bustin’ loose
Triple beat.
Now there’s a heezy alien race
Blowin’ trees in my old place.
Pump the jam
Feel the heat, Ho.

No word yet on whether the Enterprise will acquire the ability to change into a giant pickup truck or battle robot.

Barbie Meets Second Life

Remember the talking Barbie doll that caused a widespread feminist protest because, along with various other phrases, she said, “Math is hard, let’s go shopping”? Well, in a recent Scifi.com article, S. E. Kramer has revealed his inner Barbie.

After first expressing his doubts that most reporters writing about SL have ever visited the place, he then relates his own in-world experiences and how they convinced him that the entire platform is doomed to failure.

In a section of the article subtitled “It’s Hard,” he explains that before getting access to the mainland, newcomers must first complete a training course. “Second Life is difficult from the beginning,” he says. “After downloading an application, users need to complete twelve (twelve!) tasks on a training island before they're allowed to teleport to another training island where they can learn more Second Life skills. The training was tedious and took me around an hour to complete.”

An hour! Well, hell yeah! What computer application needs that much time to learn? I’m sure you can step into Halo or Eve and master the game in a matter of minutes.

Following “It’s Hard,” Kramer discusses another objection in a section subtitled “And Not Very Fun.” After finally, finally making it to the mainland, he attempted to meet some friends. Although many people believe that making friends requires time and effort, apparently Second Life offers instant friendship (I admit to having missed that guarantee in the official literature). In his quest, he teleported to regions with the most people, which turned out to be casinos and strip clubs: venues he did not find conducive to forming deep and meaningful relationships.

Having now spent almost as much time trying to make friends as he had learning to navigate the land, the intrepid technology reporter then decided to indulge in his favourite past-time: swimming. “It wasn't very fun. Or relaxing. Or even good exercise.”

Who knew virtual swimming wouldn’t measure up to a dip in the lake?

With his in-depth research now complete, Kramer spends the rest of his article explaining why Second Life is without social significance and will never be popular. It’s hard, of course. And not much fun. And you probably can’t run it at work. Oh, and because much of the content is created by users, some of it is amateurish and doesn’t work right.

One area he missed was the fact that in Second Life, citizens tend to speak in full sentences using properly spelled words. This alone probably rules out many potential users.

Besides, according to Kramer, anything you need for socializing is already available at Facebook. Just ask the 30 trillion preteens LOLing and ROFLing there.