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  ‘Nintendo DS Browser’ Coming to North America June 4  
Posted 2007-03-15 by Tony Walsh
Opera Software has announced the North American launch of its Nintendo DS Browser software: Americans and Canuckistans will be getting their paws on the product on June 4, 2007. No retail price yet, but I'm hoping for "cheaper than Brain Age." The European edition of the browser was released last October for EURO 39.99 (way too expensive in my opinion).

I'm buying the thing regardless of the price. Testing pint-sized content on the browser is too tempting a prospect to shy away from--besides which, there are a few lightweight web apps I use regularly that I'd rather not have to fire up an entire computer for. Google Calendar and Twitter come to mind....
  ‘Second Life’ Crumbles Under Own Weight, May Bar 2nd-Class Citizens  
Posted 2007-02-18 by Tony Walsh
It looks like a long-predicted tipping-point for Second Life is finally upon us: The virtual world platform, not being scalable in any useful way at present (despite earlier claims to the contrary), is beginning to crumble under its own weight. The population explosion of 2006 and early 2007 is crippling the system, resulting in frequent service interruptions.

Linden Lab, maker and maintainer of Second Life, has announced "Contingency Measures to Ensure Service as Second Life Grows." In short, Second Life may be the exclusive playground of its first-class residents during peak usage times. While the contingency plan is active, users who have not paid for services from Linden Lab will be locked out of the company's virtual world, and new users will be unable to sign up for accounts, whether they want to pay for services or not.

Continue reading: ‘Second Life’ Crumbles Under Own Weight, May Bar 2nd-Class Citizens
  Will Open Source ‘Second Life’ Servers Acknowledge Your Investment?  
Posted 2007-01-28 by Tony Walsh
2005 Avatar of the Year Prokofy Neva raised some good points yesterday in a long blog post I'll distill down to this: If Linden Lab moves away from renting proprietary servers and instead turns towards an open-source server model, what will happen to the holdings of users who have invested in virtual real estate?

Considering Second Life's client has gone open source earlier than expected, that Linden Lab has been mulling over doing the same for the server software, and that any true "metaverse" can't be under the thumb of a single company, it's worth considering how the transition between today's semi-open Second Life may transform into tomorrow's roll-your-own universe. Neva wonders what will happen to users who have already paid set up fees in the thousands of dollars to Linden Lab--if the company gets out of the hosting business, users may have to switch service-providers (or host their own worlds) at a substantial cost.

Continue reading: Will Open Source ‘Second Life’ Servers Acknowledge Your Investment?
  Double-Sided Gaming?  
Posted 2007-01-22 by Tony Walsh
Samsung Electronics revealed a double-sided LCD display screen earlier this month. The screen produces independent images on each side simultaneously, and requires only one backlight, although one side is less than half as bright as the other.

I see some gaming potential in a double-sided screen, after having played with the Nintendo DS for some time, and also recently with the Nintendo Wii. A double-sided handheld console with tilt-sensitivity could make for some pretty interesting games--imagine flipping over the game level from time to time for a new perspective, play-mode or aesthetic. Or, a head-to-head system where opposing players only see the rear display (think of a deck of cards). I doubt there's much mainstream appeal here, but considering game play options for unusual hardware configurations might make a good exercise for my game design students.
  ‘Second Life’ Tech Roadmap for Q1, Q2, 2007  
Posted 2006-12-20 by Tony Walsh
Cory Ondrejka, Chief Technnology Officer of Linden Lab appeared in Second Life today, dressed as the Flying Spaghetti Monster, in order to draw out a rough technical roadmap of his company's virtual world heading into 2007. Note that such roadmaps have historically been quite unreliable. Following are highlights taken from today's virtual Town Hall meeting, which I attended along with about 120 other avatars:

Q1, 2007:
  • Testing a new pipeline for texture downloads to the SL Viewer that just uses HTTP rather than the current messaging system.
  • Search system improvements to be announced.
  • Next major rollout of Firefox integration ("more functionality in the existing pages that use it plus a floater that is a browser")
  • Testing Mono on the main grid.
  • Possible announcement about a new version of Havok physics engine implementation.

Q2, 2007:
  • New search system to be rolled out.
  • Start of "HTML on a prim" programming and parcel URLs (Firefox integration).
  • Testing Mono on the main grid.
  • Possible announcement about a new version of Havok physics engine implementation.

Continue reading: ‘Second Life’ Tech Roadmap for Q1, Q2, 2007
  Wii Avatars Break Free [Updated]  
Posted 2006-12-14 by Tony Walsh
"Mii" avatars for the Wii console have been given a license to travel, thanks to a "How To" article published by LiquidIce's Nintendo Wii Hacks. Using the built-in Bluetooth capabilities of the Wiimote control device, a Bluetooth-capable PC, and a program called MiiTransfer, Mii avatar data can be scraped from the Wiimote to the PC, then shared through web sites such as the Mii Transfer Station (see the article for details).

Suddenly [update: actually, not so suddenly at all], Mii avatars become sociable creatures you can not only share with your friends over the internet, but potentially generate with web-based software. It's only a matter of time before the data structure of a Mii is reverse-engineered, allowing PC- or web-based software programs to output Mii code. I envision Mii avatars crafted by talented avatar-makers and put up for sale. Will Nintendo try to stop such efforts? I don't see how it would be in their interest to do so.

[Commentator Dezro pointed out that Mii-sharing is built into the Wii through the "Mii Parade." I had incorrectly thought that it wasn't possible to share Mii avatars based on some blog posts I'd read recently. I've got a Wii on order, so hopefully it will turn up this weekend and I can try this out myself!]
  Learning Lindenese  
Posted 2006-12-07 by Tony Walsh
Linden Lab, maker and operator of virtual world Second Life, is responsible for a software platform some see as the future of the World Wide Web. I find the idea of a 3D Web and the experience of the virtual world significant enough that I've devoted many hours of research and writing to Second Life. And I'm not the only one--this year in particular saw a major upswing in business interest from a number of significant sources, including Microsoft, Amazon, and IBM.

Some very powerful and influential people are following Second Life's story, but Linden Lab can't seem to keep its story straight. In my view, the Second Life platform is at a stage where consistent, accurate information about it needs to be made readily available by its maker and maintainer.

Continue reading: Learning Lindenese
  Is ‘Second Life’ Sustainable?  
Posted 2006-12-01 by Tony Walsh
I agree with venture capitalist Susan Wu: Linden Lab's Second Life is an incredibly innovative platform, but is probably not sustainable. I have noted, as Wu does, that the closed system has a high barrier to entry and doesn't provide a great user experience. I said in a recent interview for La Stampa that "Second Life is more powerful as an idea than as a functional software platform. If the platform doesn't survive, the idea of Second Life will live on."

Given that Linden Lab is struggling to scale Second Life to accommodate a massive upswing in sign-ups this year, I wouldn't have imagined that the company is already nearly profitable. That's good news for now, but Linden Lab desperately needs to shore up its virtual world infrastructure, from servers to staffers--demand for virtual land has outstripped its capacity to supply servers, for example (over 1,000 island orders are currently on backorder). Certainly Second Life can scale with enough resources, but will its profitability (and therefore longevity) scale accordingly?

Continue reading: Is ‘Second Life’ Sustainable?
  The War on Anger  
Posted 2006-11-23 by Tony Walsh
Angry Netherlanders may be brought to the attention of police now that local surveillance cameras have been upgraded with aggression-detectors. According to New Scientist, the technology is installed in the city of Groningen, where three arrests have already been made during a trial of the system. Last month, New Scientist reported on a separate surveillance system designed to detect violence. I doubt either system is very effective, but perhaps a combined system would turn up fewer false positives. As I noted in earlier comments, I think systems like this encourage "the authorities" to limit personal freedoms--if the system is easily fooled by playful behaviour, I suspect that rather than find a technological fix, deliberately fooling the system will become a crime.
  Toronto Gets Residential Fibre Optic Networking  
Posted 2006-11-22 by Tony Walsh
Yesterday I received a sales brochure from Bell Sympatico (my ISP) informing me that residential fibre optic internet connectivity is available in my area (after having been launched last summer). I first subscribed to high-speed internet access (DSL) in 1998, and currently subscribe to Sympatico's highest-speed DSL service, which runs me about $50 CAD monthly before taxes. For this price, I get ample transfer speeds, bandwidth and extremely rare service interruptions. Now, for $70 monthly, I could get 10Mbps download speeds and 50GB of bandwidth. But I won't. There's nothing wrong with my current service, which I believe gets me something like 3Mbps (it might be more, but the point is the speed isn't an issue). I am a hardcore gamer, but I'm not limited by my current connection--getting fibre optic isn't going to improve my situation much, considering most games aren't built to output unlimited bandwidth.

So why would anyone subscribe to "Sympatico Optimax?" Bell thinks you'll need that kind of speed to (and I quote):
  • Download a full-length movie at high speed and upload photos – at the same time.
  • Download CD- and DVD-quality music and videos.
  • Play high bandwidth video games online with improved response time.
The first two points are a bit silly. If you're downloading up to 50GB of movies and music each month, you are likely pirating rather than spending thousands of dollars per month at the iTunes store. The third point, as I mentioned, just isn't all that applicable. Today's games aren't putting out the kind of bandwidth that would require a fibre optic connection. The biggest two selling features aren't even mentioned in Bell's literature: Tell me if I have a dedicated IP address (DSL customers have dynamic IPs), and tell me what my upload speed is. Then maybe we can talk.
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