Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Kicking Kickstarter

RtO has 0 interest in Kickstarter as a method, but it does value high-quality comments on the Innertubes. Here you get 'em in spades. Good reading, even if you have no interest in Virtual Reality technology. Close to 20 years ago now, I was invited to a VR presentation at the Maui High Performance Computing Center, one of very few places at that time with the digital muscle to drive a VR program. The presenter, who was from the U. of Illinois though I have forgotten his name, had a mantra: With VR you would soon be able to interact "without bringing the meat." I didn't buy it then and I don't buy it now. A little story will explain why. In the early, early days of the Internet a few forward-looking Maui companies were getting Webfeet. They were badgering me to write stories about them in The Maui News, and in several cases I did. At that time, my son was finishing up his degree at SUNY-Purchase, which is next door to Armonk, where IBM has its headquarters. Hal was working with one of his professors on alpha testing of VRML, the first program that could reliably make Internet screens look 3-D. IBM was promoting Big Blue, its chess-playing software, by staging a match with Kasparov. Each move, as it was made, was published on the Internet. (Later on, when Hal was telling me the story that is the point of this story, I asked him how many hits Big Blue was getting and he said, "Two million a day." I was being pestered by local businesses who were getting 20 hits, so I said, "That's my new standard for getting a feature in The Maui News, two million hits a day." But that is not the point of this post.) IBM was spending freely, commissioning a custom set of chess pieces etc., but the moves were just being put on the 'Net on 2-D. Late in the match, someone who knew Hal mentioned to someone at IBM Armonk, "You know, there's a kid down at Purchase who can put those moves in 3-D." So IBM called Hal, and he put the match into 3-D overnight for them. And that's the point of this story. I thought then and still think that face-to-face and personal contact is the way people work best, and that includes learning in and out of school, finding work and customers and mating. I spend a good deal of my time as a "social media director" trying to fool the algorithms into thinking I'm "real." You don't hear much about "virtual corporations" any more, do you? They don't work very well. (A friend who tried to start one told me, "You REALLY have to trust your partners." That's true of other businesses, too, but on the Internet "nobody knows you are a dog.") Hal's introduction to IBM -- the result of an accidental encounter on the sidewalks of Armonk -- eventually sent him to Japan and Russia, and helped him create the career he is pursuing 20 years later. This has large implications for efforts to get America's underclass on the road to the middle class, but that's a topic for another day. For now, I'll just say that Barack Obama's "you didn't build that" line was exactly right and the howls from the rightwingers proved how out of touch with real people they are.

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