Info tech

Nexperience brings VR to Warwick Mall

Nexperience pod at Warwick Mall.

Nexperience, a Rhode Island-based startup, has opened a demo booth at the Warwick Mall to showcase their software development chops for the Oculus Rift, a cutting-edge virtual reality headset. For $5, you can don the headset and headphones and spend about two minutes in an immersive VR world.

This reporter (and his excited 14-year-old assistant) stopped by on Saturday to try out their software, and both came away impressed. The demo on offer, called "Volcano Rush," features an intense virtual roller coaster whose corkscrews and inversions may leave you queasy if you have problems with the kind of discordant vestibular inputs that VR can trigger. Set in a craggy, mountainous prehistoric terrain with volcanic activity, it provides quite an interesting backdrop for the coaster.

The ride is extremely smooth, and this reporter was able to freely move his head in all directions with no noticeable latency. There are good levels of detail on most of the visible surfaces, nice textures throughout, and some really nice spark effects. The one dinosaur that makes an appearance could use a few more polygons, but that's a minor quibble.

The company has already gotten some ink in the ProJo and deserves some support. If you're in the Warwick area, why not stop by and check it out.

Nexperience web site

Localblogging, 02871, Info tech, Tech & culture

Portsmouth school district tech planning committee reviews updates

Recently upgraded PSD Web site.

The Technology Planning Committee of the Portsmouth School District (PSD) met last night to hear updates on current initiatives and discuss a proposed social media policy to be forwarded to the School Committee.

The committee, chaired by PSD Tech Director Rose Muller, comprises teachers, staff, and community representation, and meets several times during the school year to review progress and goals. Items on last night's agenda included the new School Information System (SIS), Upgrades and initiatives, and a proposed social media policy.

Muller updated the group on the migration to the new SIS, Aspen, which required significant data cleanup (the previous system suffered from significant denormalization). One important new feature is the attendance automation which integrates with an automatic call feature — parents are now automatically called if no absence is reported, and in a much more timely fashion.

The district has also finished upgrading all switches to gigabit speed to be ready to take advantage of the BTOP fiber ring currently being run through the state to connect educational institutions.

And if you haven't yet had the chance to check out the new look of the PSD Web site, you may want to go take a peek. The new design, rolled out over the holiday break, aimed to simplify the navigation and and refresh the look and feel.

The group also discussed the proposed social media policy, which will be forwarded to the school committee for review and action. The goal was to provide educators and students with a framework for the responsible use of these new communication tools within and related to school.

Full disclosure: I've been a parent volunteer on this committee for about four years now, and I think this is the first meeting I've reported on, since the content is typically pretty mundane. You may not think it accidental that tonight, the school committee will be voting on who to appoint to their "official" technology subcommittee; my letter of application is among those being considered.

Localblogging, 02871, Schools, Info tech

Electronic Literature comes to Brown next weekend

Visit the ELO/AI conference

This weekend, digital artists and theorists will descend on Brown University for the 4th international conference of the Electronic Literature Organization. With nearly 100 program participants, this will be an opportunity to see and hear some of the amazing work that's pushing the boundaries of electronic text, and some of the readings, workshops, and performances will be open to the public. Check out the schedule online.

The weekend will also feature a celebration of the work of Rhode Island's own hypertext pioneer and living treasure of American fiction, Robert Coover.

It's an amazing program, and I'm looking forward to seeing what these wizards are up to. (And just hanging out with all the e-lit folks — we had a great day yesterday showing Deena Larsen and her partner around Aquidneck Island. Woot!)

Localblogging, 02871, media ecology, Info tech

Why I didn't buy an iPad and went Ubuntu

Ubuntu on the HP-210 netbook

For the past week, I've been writing and updating this site with completely open-source software on a $300 netbook, and I couldn't be happier. For a drooling Apple fanboy like me, call this a grudging epiphany.

My three-year-old MacBookPro was beginning to lose battery life, and wasn't making it through (admittedly Tailgunner-length) Town Council meetings. Like everyone else, I'd heard about the iPad, and wondered if the Apple tablet would meet my reporting needs. Now don't get me wrong, the iPad is one sweet device, but when I stood in the Providence Place Apple Store for half-an-hour entering the opening pages of Gravity's Rainbow (my from-memory touch-typing test) the totally virtual flat-glass keyboard cut my speed in half, and my accuracy by at least 20%. I went back again, a few days later, and tried again. No joy. Touch typing on glass is like putting Wittgenstein on film, as Wendy Wasserstein might have it. In the abstract, a fascinating thing. And someday, we may be surprised to find it works (after all, one of my sf stories features a virtual keyboard overlaid on a digital piano). But today? Not practical.

And the other factor was the increasing maturity and sophistication of the open source operating system Ubuntu flavor of linux. I'd been running dual-boot on my MacBook for a couple of years, and finding fewer and fewer sticking points. The most recent release — version 10.04 "Lucid Lynx" came out last month, and for me, closed the gap completely. Ubuntu is now a totally mature, rock-solid, consumer-ready OS. The free Open Office suite is file-compatible with MS Office, simple everyday applications have been added (F-Spot photo manager, Rhythmbox music player), a new cloud-syching option perfected (UbuntuOne), and with the enormous linux community, there are tools available for any advanced task you might need (image editing, web development, programming) which can now be downloaded with a click from a software center app. Especially important for folks like me who live in social media, chat and broadcast (Facebook, Twitter, and Flickr) are built right into the operating system, with a slick new small-footprint client, Gwibber, that lets you track and post everywhere from a unified interface.

So last weekend, we headed over to Staples and picked up an HP-Mini 210; after trying a bunch of netbooks, I really liked the feel of the HP's lightly rubberized island-style keys. Installing Lucid Lynx from a USB stick was straightforward: It took a little google-fu to figure out how to set up dual boot with the existing install of Windows 7, and one command-line tweak to get the buttons on the touchpad working right, but that was it. Everything else I threw at it Just Worked, including connecting my iPhone to get photos, hooking up an external monitor and keyboard, plugging in SD cards, even sticking in a USB Bluetooth dongle. I can run my MacBook in a Remote Desktop Window, mount my two terabytes of hard disks, and open and save to my web server right from the text editor. The HP's 6-cell battery is giving me about 8 hours of runtime with browsing, tweeting, and text and photo editing.

Now my MacBook isn't going anywhere — it's still a clear winner for video (getting h.264 to work on Ubuntu is still proving tricky) and the recent release of Steam for OSX means I can play Portal (and Windows games to come!) in my copious free time. It's got the HDMI port that lets me hook it up to the big TV, and it's got hella compute power for compressing and burning DVDs and such.

And I may still buy an iPad, eventually, because it is so beautifully crafted for its sweet spot of digital media consumption. But for all the daily stuff, for creating content, I'm now pure open source, and not looking back.

Tips o' the hat: Doing all my writing and coding in Gedit, with awesome tweaks from Micah Carrick, TuxRadar, and Eckhard M. Jäger. Thanks!

Full disclosure: Our family owns Apple stock. And, no, we won't be selling it any time soon.

Localblogging, 02871, media ecology, Info tech

Happy Birthday, Mac

NYU Macintosh classroom
NYU's Mac classroom, 1987, waiting to be unpacked.

I had seen the "1984" SuperBowl commercial, of course, and had laid hands on that boxy ecru first-generation mouse at Macy's in Herald Square, and I knew, from the very first, that the Macintosh was a game-changer. I had been programming since 1973, when our amazing, crazy high-school math teacher had convinced the school to put in two punched-paper-tape teletypes hooked up to a timeshared PDP-8 somewhere off in the Big City. So I knew computers. Or I thought I did. Until I saw the Mac.

It was love at first sight, and it is hard to remember, now that graphical user interfaces are all around us, what an innovation the bitmapped screen was. How natural it felt to move files around by dragging and dropping. And to paint, with a mouse? Anyone who remembers paint programs from the Apple II (and I have a Polaroid somewhere that I will try to dig up and post to Flickr) was agape with wonder at MacPaint.

And now, it is 25 years later. Last week marked the anniversary of the introduction of the modern computer age. Like the Gutenberg printing press or the Sumerian invention of writing, this was one of the flex points of communication technology. Just as it took 50 years after the invention of printing for someone to come up with the idea of page numbers, it took about the same length of time to evolve a human interface into the power of computing. And from that interface came everything we know today about the Web.

In a very literal sense. The Web came directly out of hypertext research that was being done here in Rhode Island at Brown University, where one of the pioneers of the medium, Prof. George Landow, latched onto the Mac early and with the team at Brown built Intermedia, one of the first hypertext systems. Exclusively for the Mac. At the University of North Carolina, John Smith, Jay David Bolter, and Michael Joyce were doing the same thing with a desktop hypertext tool called Storyspace. For the Mac. And at Apple, Bill Atkinson, who had been one of the key programmers on MacPaint, unloaded HyperCard on the world in 1987. Which was, BTW, the year of the first hypertext conference, and the year I was privileged to be part of a very special group at New York University that started teaching freshman composition using that room full of computers from the top graphic. And we started teaching them how to do hypertext essays. In 1987. On Macintoshes.

It was this yeasty, bubbling environment of graphical goodness, that put the face on the World Wide Web. Which was developed on a NeXT machine, Steve Jobs' summer gig between stints as Apple CEO.

We live in an amazing time. Take a few minutes to look back. Check out MacWorld magazine's coverage of "25 Years of the Mac."

Localblogging, media ecology, IT stuff, Info tech

The Virtue of Modelessness

ArtCom Digest on The Well, December, 1992

The author would like to thank Abbe Don for her comments & support.

Down among the dancing quanta,
Everything exists at once.
Up above in Transverse City,
Every weekend lasts for months...

—Warren Zevon, Transverse City

Jay David Bolter, in a talk at the MLA two years ago [1990], spoke about Richard Lanham's duality of hypertext: the dialectic of node and link, or as he put it, "looking at" vs. "looking through." The reader experiencing the text, Bolter said, is "aware of oscillation; [and this is an] explicit measure of interaction." Ultimately, he was arguing, hypertext wants to be both at the same time. Text which can present itself as surface, and yet effortlessly yield through to other levels. Hearing this, I immediately began to suspect this hypermedia duality was the mirror and analogue of the duality of particle and wave, of energy and matter, in physics. What we are seeing in hypermedia is the appearance on the macrolevel (of 2-meter humans and similar Objects) of quantum reality.


Halting, Sphexishness, and Analysis, Terminable and Interminable

ACM SigWeb Newsletter, 2000


Cognate problems in computation, animal behavior, and psychotherapy are employed as lenses into issues confronting hypertext narrative. The suggestion is that a similar need for jumping out of the system drives self-transcendence in these areas — with potential significance for the construction of hypertext narratives.

Hypertext fiction, hypertext narrative, hypertext literature, artifactual hypertext