Spacewar was one of the first video games and in 1972, Rolling Stone sent a 33-yo Stewart Brand to document the early days of computing as entertainment. The photographs were taken by a 23-yo Annie Leibovitz.
"We had this brand new PDP-l," Steve Russell recalls. "It was the first minicomputer, ridiculously inexpensive for its time. And it was just sitting there. It had a console typewriter that worked right, which was rare, and a paper tape reader and a cathode ray tube display, [There had been CRT displays before, but primarily in the Air Defense System.] Somebody had built some little pattern-generating programs which made interesting patterns like a kaleidoscope. Not a very good demonstration. Here was this display that could do all sorts of good things! So we started talking about it, figuring what would be interesting displays. We decided that probably you could make a two-Dimensional maneuvering sort of thing, and decided that naturally the obvious thing to do was spaceships."
You can play the original version of Spacewar in your Java-enabled browser.
In 1997, the BBC aired a three-hour documentary based on Stewart Brand's book, How Buildings Learn. Brand has posted the whole program on Google Video in six 30-minute parts: part one, part two, part three, part four, part five, part six.
If you're hesitant about whether to watch the series or not, check out this two-minute appetizer of perhaps the meatiest tidbit in the book: the oak beam replacement plan for the dining hall of New College, Oxford. (via smashing telly)
Update: An old version of the New College web site says that the oaks were not planted specifically for the replacement of the ceiling beams even though they were used for that purpose. (thx, emily, david, and phil)
"Stewart Brand has become a heretic to environmentalism, a movement he helped found, but he doesn't plan to be isolated for long. He expects that environmentalists will soon share his affection for nuclear power. They'll lose their fear of population growth and start appreciating sprawling megacities. They'll stop worrying about "frankenfoods" and embrace genetic engineering."
Since my internet access has been somewhat spotty at the conference (I'm trying to pay attention and power is hard to come by here so the laptop is closed most of the time), I'm going to do rolling wrap-ups as I go, skipping around and filling in the blanks when I can. Here we go, soundbite-style:
Alex Steffen: Cars equipped with displays that show gas mileage, when compared to cars without the mileage display, get better gas mileage. That little bit of knowledge helps the driver drive more economically. More visible energy meter displays in the home have a similar effect...people use less energy when they're often reminded of how much energy they use. (Perhaps Personal Kyoto could help here as well.) At dinner, we discussed parallels between that and eating. Weighing yourself daily or keep track of everything you eat, and you'll find yourself eating less. In the same way, using a program like Quicken to track your finances might compel you to spend less, at least in areas of your life where you may be spending too much.
Bruce Sterling is the Jesse Jackson of technology. He has this cadence that he gets into, neologism after neologism, stopping just short of suggesting a new word for neologism. Wonderful to experience in person. Perhaps not as upbeat as the Reverend, though.
Bruce also related a story told to him by an engineering professor friend of his. The prof split his class into two groups. The first group, the John Henrys, had to study and learn exclusively from materials available at the library...no internet allowed. The second group, the Baby Hueys, could use only the internet for research and learning...no primary source lookups at the library. After a few weeks, he had to stop this experiment because the John Henrys were lagging so far behind the Baby Hueys that it is was unfair to continue.
Kevin Kelly noted that the web currently has 1 trillion links, 1 quintillion transistors, and 20 exabytes of memory. A single human brain has 1 trillion synapses (links), 1 quintillion neurons (transistors of sorts), and 20 exabytes of memory.
Kelly also said that technology has its own agenda and went on to list what it is that technology might want. One of the things was clean water. You need clean water for industrial manufacturing...so water cleanliness is going to be a big deal in China. In a later talk, Thomas Friedman said, "China needs to go green."
Hasan Elahi, during his ordeal being mistaken for -- what's the term these days? -- an enemy combatant, learned that language translates easier than culture. That is, you can learn how to speak a language fluently way easier than to have the cultural fluency necessary to convince someone you're a native. In his interrogations, Hasan liberally sprinkled pop culture references in his answers to questions posed by the FBI to help convince them that he was a native. Workers at call centers in India for American companies are not only taught to speak English with an American accent, they also receive training in American geography, history, and pop culture so as to better fool/serve American callers.
"The best laid plans of mice and men turn into a nonlinear system." -- Will Wright, with apologies to Robert Burns.
Speaking of Wright, a couple of Spore trivia bits. The data for a creature in Spore takes up just 3K of memory. And entire world: just 80K. And these worlds are amazingly complex.
Brian Eno: With large groups of people, the sense of shame and the sense of honor that keeps the members of small groups from misbehaving breaks down. The challenge for larger groups is to find ways of making honor and shame matter in a similar respect.
Stewart Brand: "We are terraforming the earth anyway, we might as well do it right." Stewart also noted that cities are very effective population sinks. When people move to cities, the birthrate drops to the replacement rate (2.1 children per family) and keeps on dropping. Combine that with the fact that by early next year, more people in the world will live in cities than in rural areas, and at some point in the next hundred years, the earth's population will start to fall.
Stewart Brand interviews Jane Jacobs about cities. "Cities are about the most durable things we have. People think of them as superficial things, but they aren't. They're very, very basic. Rural places, which are considered more fundamental and more basic, actually are hangers-on of cities in most cases."