Sunday, August 31, 2008


For those who don't play Eve: many of the action in Eve takes place in asteroid belts. These belts provide ore to miners, but they are often protected by game generated enemies, which are nicknamed 'belt rats'. These belt rats show up as little red crosses in the distance. If you notice them, you'll usually fight them or get out of the belt, if you haven't got the firepower. One thing is clear: red crosses in the sky means an enemy, and, quite probably, battle.

Yesterday I was at a garden party - one of the very few this year, the summer hasn't been that great unfortunately. Standing in the dark I looked up to the star dotted sky, where even the milky way was faintly visible. Suddenly, my eyes caught a plane passing overhead, a little red light blinking away in the night. And for a second, that red light triggered a response in my subconscious: a belt rat! Lock on target, dispatch the fighting scout drones and open fire with the 125mm rail guns! And then, a fraction of a second later, I realised that it was just a plane. I wasn't playing Eve Online, I was standing in a very real garden watching a normal plane passing overhead..

My guess is this must happen more often to those engaged in immersive virtual worlds or games!

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Still relevant after all these years: Arthur C. Clarke

It was a summer somewhere in the 1980's, I was twelve or so, and I needed books. This summer holiday we would be traveling a lot with the camper, meaning I had days and days to read while my father drove - so I needed quite a bit of reading. One of the volumes I ended up taking with me the local library was a book called "2010: Odyssey 2" by one Arthur C. Clarke. Its' cover intrigued me, and being an amateur astronomer, all things space travel fascinated me anyway. And it turned out to be very fascinating indeed! Even without having read part 1, which was not available, the story gripped me.

I'm still trying to find out what it was that appealed to me. The bits of dry wit, a fascinating future of space travel, the characters, new perspectives on time and space..all that and more, I think. Over the years I kept reading his books, bought several of them, watched him on TV and read articles about him, and I was impressed and amazed on more than one occasion.

Again it was summer, and I needed something to read for the holiday, and Arthur had just passed away. It seemed fitting to buy something from him again: The Collected Stories. It's almost a thousand pages and contains Clarke's short stories, written between 1937(!) and 1999.

Unfortunately it came too late for the holiday, but I have read a sampling of the stories, and again I was surprised by how relevant much of it still is. Many of the concepts found in Star Trek for instance, can be found in these short stories - but these stories often date from the 1940's or 1950's. Many of the stuff taken for granted in current scifi, can be found here - in writings fifty or sixty years old. And much of it is still science fiction even today!

Of course, some of the material is dated. Clarke couldn't, for instance, foretell the shape of the current internet in the 1940's, even though he wrote about reading the paper on an electronic device and over a network, in the late 1960's.

And, a disclaimer: it's possible that Clarke got some of his ideas from other, older writers. His bio on Wikipedia for instance mentions that Clarke, as a kid, read cheap US scifi pulp magazines - who knows what ideas found their humble beginnings in these mags?

But still. The man who has given us the communication satellite left us a great body of literature; food for thought for many years to come. I wouldn't be surprised if some of his stories are still relevant as SciFi stories in another fifty years.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Choose your life - real and virtual

I've been doing EVE online for some time now; about eight weeks I'd say. During that time I have chosen several EVE careers.

Solo or ..
At first I was content with flying solo, doing a bit of mining and shooting the incidental Serpentis belt rat. No real need to worry about skills and skill training, so I more or less neglected it, randomly choosing skills to train, without a real plan or goal. In hindsight, this was very shortsighted. After two shooting incidents I noticed I was too vulnerable, all alone in EVE's large universe, with only minimal protection and almost zero offensive capabilities; I needed to train skills to be able to fly a bigger, stronger ship, and I needed a corporation where I could learn and grow. I have been lucky to join TRACE, the Trade Association Corporation, which is a great corp - and not only for n00bs like me. I really learned a lot there, and the corp members are really nice.

Skills and changes
While working on skills for bigger ships, drones and guns, I needed to do missions too. They bring in money, train your combat skills and help you grow. These days, I don't even have a miner fitted on my ship anymore - what's the use? I'd rather fit an extra gun there! So without really noticing it, I switched from being a 'solo miner' to a 'mission runner within a corp'. Consequently, my skill training plan has changed too; I've been working on drone, cruiser and some weaponry related skills first, followed by skills needed to operate salvagers and tractor beams.

Mid Year Review
Today I had a mid year review at my current job. My manager and I discussed, amongst other things, my longer term prospects within the company: where do you want to be, two or five years from now? The answer to this question does have immediate consequences for the choices you make in everyday life - now! What training to choose, which people to link up with, what to read.. And then it struck me that reality doesn't differ that much from gaming in this perspective. The career path you choose has an impact on the skills you train, and this is true both in real life as well as in the gaming universe.

Time wasted
The lesson for me is, that I wasted valuable time when I first started out in EVE Online. I had no real goals, other than to enjoy myself a bit. Yes I trained some skills, but it was aimless, there was no structure, no comprehensive plan to it. I've wasted a lot of valuable skill training time this way! After todays Mid Year Review, I have decided I won't let this happen in real life too, as the time lost in real life is, obviously, infinitely more valuable than those skill training hours in EVE.

Do you know where you want to be five years from now? What's your five year plan?

Monday, August 11, 2008

The male office dwellers' guide to finding the right toilet

Something off topic I need to get off my chest: the male office dwellers' guide to finding the right toilet.

Usually, a man doesn't have to go through a lot of trouble to get rid of the waste his body produces. Liquid waste especially is easily disposed of - sometimes a tree is all a man needs.

But things change when you're locked up in this huge office building you get to spend your working days in. Especially for those of us who work in technical professions, finding a nice, clean toilet can be quite difficult, as offices occupied by the IT department tend to have a larger than average male population - young, geeky males I might add. This does have a distinct, noticable, negative impact on sanitary hygiene in bathroom areas in the immediate surroundings of said offices.

So what's a civilized man to do? Again, disposing of liquid waste is still not difficult, as long as you can hold your breath for, oh, 30 to 60 seconds and can find a dry spot on the toilet floor to stand on. But the real problem arises when you, a hygiene conscious man, need to get rid of the solid waste your body produced. You are definitely not going to sit on those toilets used by the IT dept - that would be beneath your human dignity, and you would need to take a shower afterwards, which is, even if possible, highly unpractical.

So here's how to go about this business: the male office dwellers' guide to finding the right toilet!

First off, locate those areas in the building where, on average, more women than man seem to work. Target your search; look for the HR or marketing department to begin with.

Once you've found such a location, locate the male toilets in the area, and execute a quick visual inspection of those premises. Also, use your nose. No need to sniff explicitly, just take notice of what signals your nose sends up to your brain.

If the visual and nasal inspection leaves room for doubt as to the level of hygiene at the site, repeat the steps above until you find a place that passes this first, initial test. Once you've succeeded, proceed with the steps below.

If no one is at the scene, proceed to inspect the available stalls, executing a more thorough visual inspection. If someone enters during this procedure, you're supposed to do like you were just entering the stall; enter, lock door, wait until other person leaves again and proceed as necessary. This should not be difficult, as males tend to ignore one another in bathroom areas anyway.

The nose plays an important role in this second, more thorough examination of the site. As you're not the only one looking for a suitable place to sit and relax a while, some of these stalls may have been used recently. No matter how clean they look, these should not be used unless you can hold your breath for many minutes.

By now, there are probably one or two choices left. Choose the one that has the least visual contamination on the installed hardware. After all, you need to sit on it. Ideally, there's no contamination at all, but you can still wipe the thing down a little with some toilet paper, just to be sure. Be careful to keep a couple of layers of paper between said hardware and your hand; no moisture should be able to penetrate the layer between the moment you wipe and you throw it away.

The best choice is the stall that has little dust particles floating in the water in the toilet bowl. This means it hasn't been used for some time, probably not since it was cleaned last night, and it's the best result an office dwelling man can hope to achieve in his quest for sanitation and hygiene. Sit down, let out a deep sigh and relax. You're safe.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Time to do OpenSim again

Last year, I spent many an evening on installing and running versions of OpenSim on Linux. The blog items I wrote about that, still get a lot of hits - apparently many people still have the problems I encountered then. It was a lot of fun, and I learned a lot, but some of the early issues with OpenSim prevented me to really do something with it. Not that I blame anyone for it, it was alpha or very early beta software! But after a while I stopped updating the install regularly, and recently I wondered if I, perhaps, should just deinstall it and stop paying rent for an unused Linux box..


But just before I went on holiday, something very interesting happened: a couple of IBM and Linden Labs engineers succeeded in teleporting an avatar from OpenSim to a Linden Lab Second Life simulator, essentially breaking down the barrier between the two simulators. I'm quite sure you read about that!

It looks like this was more than a proof of concept, as Linden Labs has opened a beta program for repeating and expanding on this first experiment: Open Grid is the name of it. I will apply, as did many others; but Linden Labs is giving precedence to those who will be able to bring up an OpenSim region. And I already have one, I just need to update the install and make the connection!

Soo.. time to dust off the cheap rental Linux box, update my OpenSim install, and hope Linden Labs will allow me to participate in this beta. Of course, I will keep you posted.

More information on this whole intergrid teleporting can be found on the Metanomics site. A good list of recommended reading is at the bottom of this page.

All about the..
As for Linden Labs' revenue model, my quick guess is that the Lindens see OpenSim as a good way to expand the reach of Linden Labs compatible technology. After all, anyone using an OpenSim simulator will have a viewer that's compatible with Second Life. This way, SL-compatible technology may be a bit closer to becoming a standard of sorts. Plus, Linden Labs gets to claim the moral high road in the interoperability debate by openly collaborating with an open source competitor to their main product.
Linden Lab could also position itself as the trusted, known grid provider with the most interesting, enduser generated content (products, entertainment) available. But they could also claim to be the most legally compliant or regulated grid and hence (perhaps) safe environment - not sure about that, but it's a thought. These are just quick guesses; I'm sure there are more thorough analyses out there. I'll see what I can find when I have the time.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Just a quick note..

Saturday, I have returned from a nice holiday in Austria! More specifically, we visited the Stubai Alps. A beautiful part of Tirol, with lovely flower filled fields punctuated by fierce mountain ranges and grim gletschers. Tomorrow it's back to work, and virtual world stuff will resume shortly, too!