System Mimicry

WebSE – System 7.0 – Test Drive a Macintosh… is a site that has a Flash (?) simulation of the Apple Macintosh System 7.0 on an SE. I think we will see more of these as ways of preserving the culture of computing. This project should be expanded to a MAME type project for old operating systems. We build on SWF a simulation engine with which to create interactive simulations of old environments.

(Added on May 27, 2004) Thanks to St?©fan Sinclair, here is another simulation of an old Mac. P.dro Classic emulates not just the screen, but has a mouse that moves on a pad and post-it notes. An interesting idea that isn’t executed completely. I could be wrong, but some parts of the emulation are wrong. It is also marred by an unnecessary folder of low-rez porn. This appears to be more of an exercise in nostalgia than a serious attempt to capture the experience of an early Mac.
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Empire by Ferguson

“Yet imperialism did not have to pay to be popular. For many people it was sufficient that it was exciting.” (p. 211)

Empire: the rise and demise of the British world order and the lessons for global power is by Niall Ferguson who teaches at NYU and Oxford. I read the book right after Confusion by Stephenson, and it makes a good companion since Empire provides a well written tour of the birth and evolution of the British Empire that maps to the themes of Confusion. The Empire was born in piracy, benefited from slavery (which made possible the exploding taste for sugar), survived by evolving sophisticated economic (monetary) and bureaucratic systems, and staid popular at home by developing global communication systems. The Empire didn’t benefit the brits (except for those who emigrated), it entertained them. I should reread Innis Empire and Communications which is one of the first of the works to develop ideas about information technology determinism – the so called Toronto School. (McLuhan was Innis’ student.)
Stephenson is weaving (con-fusing) entertainment out of the birth of the British Empire. What he leaves out is the taste for sugar.
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The Globe and Mail has a more nuanced review of The Confusion by Neal Stephenson than my earlier rumble. “Money makes Stephenson’s world go ’round” (May 1, 2004, D8), as the review is titled, points out how Stephenson is weaving a history of currency and science. He is setting up a battle between Whig and Tory, Science and Alchemy, England and France, or the Royal Society and the Inquisition. It also draws a comparison to The Lord of the Rings – The Confusion is “slow and lyrical” like The Two Towers – alternating between two plot lines that will be brought together (I hope) in the last movement. John Burns is too kind when it comes to the slow lecturing tour of the world we get in the middle of The Confusions. Burns isn’t really reviewing the book – that will have to wait for the last of the trilogy – he is summarizing the ideas for those, like myself, who lose sight of them in the wandering plot.

So what are some of the ideas?
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Academical Village

In City of Bits William Mitchell writes about different types of virtual spaces and how they draw on real spaces. But what models do we have for hybrid spaces – institutions that are designed to have both physical and virtual extension? How do we think through what we can make if we were to design a new research learning space both for information technology and through it?

In chapter 4.6. Schoolhouses / Virtual Campuses Mitchell draws on Jefferson’s design for the University of Virginia. Jefferson’s “academical village” was designed to bring students and faculty together in a place of residence and learning. What do we want to bring together in a new media village?
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IBM 5100: First Portable Computer

The IBM 5100 computer from 1975 is apparently the first “portable” or personal computer. The 1981 PC from IBM was the 5150 model.

I learned from an improbably site – The Time Travel Tale of John Titor which provides posts from a purported time traveller from 2036 who came back looking for a 5100. (Thanks to Matt K for the link to this.)
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A history of computers

A History of Computers is a site that takes a broad view of the history of computers. It includes a page on Ramon Lull and his significance, for example. There aren’t as many entries for modern computing advances, but a good spread over time.

Update: Thanks to Jacinda, I was alerted to the fact that the link above is not longer working. You can still see the site using the Wayback Machine.

Plowing the Dark of Virtual Realities

Is there a difference between the halucinations of a confined imagination and virtual reality?

This is one thread in Richard Powers’ brilliant historical fiction about 80s VR and politics, Plowing the Dark. Two narrative threads are intertwined in this book: an artist recruited to develop compelling demos for a VR cave being developed at Seattle R&D lab in the mid-80s; and a Lebanese-American who is kidnapped after going to Beirut to teach ESL. The artist reaches back through the history of art (Rousseau, Lascaux cave paintings, and the Hagia Sophia of Byzantium) to create sites for the VR cave. The kidnapped man reaches back through memories until an ex-girlfriend becomes present. Powers reaches back to that moment in the 80s when VR technology was going to be the next paradigm shift.

The first Gulf war brings all this to an end. The war that may have been virtual in popular imagination.
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