May 30, 2012

The Distributed Self

An exploration of order from chaos in #SecondLife


In a recent article on Metaverse Tribune, entitled Emergent Selves: Extrapolating on the Concept of Autopoiesis there exists the general notion of Avatar as Extension of Self. As well as the article begins, I must confess it seemed to degrade into a fashion post by the end and more or less missed the bigger point which I was expecting to be made in the context of the topic at hand.


Being a blogger myself, this isn’t much of a problem because it just gives me a reason to write another post going into some details that I believe were sorely missed.









We first begin by saying that the idea of autopoiesis generally means that your mind doesn’t distinguish between virtual context of self and actual context of self. Your avatar, or digital persona as I usually call it, for all intents and purposes is nothing more than an extension of self however limited that particular sliver of self you are presenting may be.


As a personal context, we’ll use myself as the example.


The picture above is my virtual world avatar Aeonix Aeon in Second Life. It looks a lot more like my real self than many people realize, but is not entirely a dead reckoning of my real life visual appeal. There are limitations to how well I can mimic my own person from real life, and more to the point there are definite reasons why I would want to limit my virtual representation to only what I believe is how I perceive myself in my own mind.


By virtual world standards, my avatar persona is quite tame and even *gasp* mundane. I represent myself in a virtual context as I actually am (within reason). The virtual self (persona) is still an idealized version of myself in real life, but as an extension of self Aeonix Aeon is Will Burns in the same manner as Mark Twain is Samuel Clemens.


Oddly enough, I am actually an anomaly in the virtual world according to statistics, in that I do not have a single ALT account in Second Life, nor do I have any reason to use such. This is actually quite a rare occurrence if you think about it.


So let’s get a little further context on this Multiple Personality Order before we go any further, shall we? In a research paper from 2011, Dr. Richard Gilbert over at Loyola Marymount University provided some really good insight into this phenomenon, writing in the research paper The Distributed Self - Virtual Worlds and the Future of Human Identity:



The rise of 3D virtual worlds and the introduction of avatar-mediated forms of expression and interaction has the potential to once again reshape humanity’s conception and experience of the self and usher in a fourth stage of identity, one which can be termed “The Distributed Self” (Gilbert, Foss, & Murphy, in press). In this conception, consciousness and aspects of the self will be increasingly externalized and distributed into 3-dimensional digital forms (i.e. avatars) reflecting any number of combinations of age, gender, body type, race, ethnicity, style, personality, and physical health. Several studies have shown, for instance, that participants in 3D virtual environments such as Second Life often create avatars that, relative to their physical self, are younger, have a better body or physical appearance, and are ascribed a more positive or idealized personality (Au, 2007; Bessiere, Seay, & Kiesler, 2007; Gilbert, Foss, & Murphy, in press). Less frequently, they choose avatars with a different gender, ethnicity, or skin color (Wallace & Marryott, 2009, Duchenaut, Wen, Yee, & Wadley. 2009). Moreover, Gilbert, Foss, & Murphy (in press) estimate that among the overall user base of Second Life, 18% have a single “alt” (i.e. a secondary or alternative avatar) in addition to their primary avatar; 32% operate two or more alts; and that in approximately 70% of these cases one function of the alt or alts is to experiment with different aspects of identity or personality.

Taken as a whole these data indicate that about a half of active users of Second Life are coordinating a multiple personality system consisting of a physical self plus two virtual identities (a primary avatar and one alt) and about a third are coordinating an identity system involving 4 or more components (a physical self and three or more virtual identities). As depicted in Figure 4, when the allocation of consciousness to non-immersive digital forms such as email, Facebook, Twitter, or Linked In is added to the physical and 3D virtual components of the overall identity system, the structure of the self becomes more like an organizational flowchart rather than the singular entity in modernist conceptions, or the diverse, but device constrained, model of post-modernism.



The multiple personality order (personas) actually have a lot to do with the original idea of autopoiesis. If we do not readily differentiate between virtual selves and our real self, then mentally the distributed self is the real self as well. Which, in turn, leads one to believe that all of your ALTs are actually an extension of varying facets of your inner self in a multiple personality extrapolation. Normally when this happens in the real world, we consider it something akin to Multiple Personality Disorder in our mind, but in the outward enabling world of technology, we are free to explore multiple personalities as if it is common and unhindered.


The reason this is really interesting in the case of autopoiesis is that if we do not distinguish the virtual self from the real self, then we are not any particular singular version of our persona but instead we are likely the average of the sum of personas we maintain. The more we identify with our personas the more (and faster) we drift in the direction of our idealized embodiment over time.


In keeping with the reference point of myself, when I originally entered into the context of virtual environments, I represented myself in a virtual context as a more idealized version of my real self in that my real self was roughly 250lbs at the time and my virtual self was much more of a healthy weight (maybe 160-180lbs). Because our personas in conjunction with our real life self constitute the sum of the average of the total, the farther from that average our personas represent, the more (over time) our real selves tend to drift toward that average. This, of course, is barring physical or sociological limitations that would inhibit such transition.


In my personal case, making my virtual self a more idealized version of my real self offered the logical idealized version of my real self and over time I began to drift toward what my mind saw as the idealized version in real life. Starting at 250lbs when I was younger, my idealized persona represented how I saw myself in an idealized version and due to autopoiesis I did not distinguish the virtual self from my real self, while my real self adjusted accordingly to the average of the two – drifting further toward the idealized version of persona in reality.




Digital Self - Figure 4


Figure 4: The Distributed Self



In the case of multiple personality order (The Distributed Self), wherein we are within the context of more than a singular extrapolation of self in persona – in short; Wherein we are maintaining multiple alternate personalities in the context of the virtual world (and even real world), each personality construct is a logical extension of a singular aspect of who we idealize ourselves to be but not to be taken as a whole individually.


The totality of our personas are the culmination of the average of all facets, which includes our real life self in collaboration with our virtual identities of idealism.


Whether we are utilizing personas (ALTs) in the context of exploration of self or abilities, or whether we are using them as a liberation from self-imposed or very real constraints in our otherwise “real” world, the more extreme the personas represent away from our real life, the more they represent how we associate our true selves as an average of our real self plus that persona or the culmination of personas.


This understanding of Multiple Personality Order in conjunction with Autopoiesis has a profound conclusion in that the idealized version of ourselves constitutes an internal view of oneself which, over time, constitutes actual change in oneself in order to match the reality to our virtual. The average of the total culmination of our personas represents the true self as time shifted in the future embodiment.


More or less we are speaking about the idea of mind over matter, or more appropriately the ability of the mental construct to impose real change over oneself and the environment when given sufficient personification or a mental signpost to aspire to over time.


Personas are often not the extrapolation or extension of what we already are, but instead represent what we are not but would like to aspire to be.


The more personas we maintain, the more aspects we believe we are lacking in our combined self but would like to aspire to be, or at the very least fill a perceived deficiency which we feel cannot be obtained under ordinary circumstances. The longer we maintain our idealized personality constructs, the more we embody them over time, if we already are not from the start.


In this context, the more you associate yourself with your personas as an extension of self and not as a separate entity from the whole, the more your personas are able to enact change on the whole. This is why there are two camps in the virtual world train of thought:


  1. Augmentationist
  2. Immersionist


An augmentationist sees their persona(s) as extensions of self and an embodiment of who they are, whereas the immersionist sees their personas as entirely different entities with no relation to their real self or connection. For the most part, I would reckon that a wide majority of virtual world inhabitants associate themselves as immersionists and keep a perceived separation between their avatar and their real life self – what they do as an avatar self is wholly separate as a person from their real life self.


As an immersionist, and because of the preconceived notion of persona separation from the core self, one is not likely to actively enact change in the core self as a result of the extensions of self in a virtual context. I liken this to the equivalent of wishful thinking but no action taken (or available to follow through).


The augmentationist, on the other hand, embodies the connection to their persona(s) and as such embodies the follow through of action to drift toward the idealized version as put forth. There is also a much higher sense of accountability with augmentationists because in their mind they are not making a distinction for their persona as a separate person, but as themselves.


However, this being said, even the immersionist is subject to autopoiesis and limited augmentationist application, in that however much you role-play as a separate entity, your imagination becomes your embodiment over time and you begin (even subconsciously) to drift toward the average of yourself and your persona(s) the longer you inhabit them in any context – even if that change is internal.


The danger that I see (personally) in the immersionist approach is that because of the separation of self from the accountability of your persona, you are far more likely to act in a manner which would be immoral, reprehensible and outright damaging to others (and yourself) because you feel no reason to fear consequences for your virtual actions. In relation to autopoiesis, this means that over time you will begin to embody the traits of your personas in your real life self, whether you intended to or not, and if those traits are wholly negative, then the immersionist persona in conjunction with autopoiesis will eventually become damaging to the self.


While some may be able to keep this in proper check and engage in a healthy role-play as a separation of self, far more are clearly unable to maintain this over time and fall prey to their own self-created demons. In this understanding of the two differentiations, I will not state that maintaining an immersionist persona or multiple immersionist personas is impossible without far reaching and damaging consequences, but I will state unequivocally that there is a much higher probability under this situation than with an augmentationist persona.


May 26, 2012

Apocalypse Marketplace

Are in-world stores being killed off by Marketplace? #SecondLife






I’ve been hearing this debate for quite awhile now, and to be honest, you’re all full of it. Caught up in some sort of self-delusion about what the virtual world owes you and how newer technology or methods for accessing the content you sell is damaging your in-world business.


Here’s a bit of truth:


You are the reason your in-world store is failing.


There is nobody else, nor new technology to blame, however convenient it is to look for a scapegoat for your own naivety in this situation.


Before Marketplace, you enjoyed a virtual monopoly for access to shopping, and before Marketplace you took for granted that there was no other option for your customers to turn to. Because of this access monopoly, you took it upon yourself to do things that, in the real world of business, would spell certain death to your business in the face of honest competition and innovation -


You’re not running your in-world location like a real business because up until recently, you weren’t forced to. Maybe you do on the back-end but on the forward facing part (you know, that pesky in-world location) you almost entirely ignore your customer experience. When I walk into a real world store, there are people actually working there who can help me. When I go to a real store, it’s the environment and experience of shopping that I’m there for as a first priority with actually buying things as my secondary reason.


If your store is devoid of customer service representatives or in-store associates, and nothing more than an automated self-serve automat, then you offer absolutely no compelling reason for anyone to come to your location versus simply avoiding the hassle and using Marketplace to browse and shop. When you disengage from your customers, your customers will disengage from you.


This is the same exact argument as retailers complaining that the Internet will put them out of business, and quite honestly the Internet has put a lot of businesses out of business but it’s not because they were necessarily bad – it was because they offered no compelling reason to shop there versus the online retailer. The phrase “If you build it, they will come” has never been true in retail, so stop acting like it is.


The question I ask you is -


Side by side, what can a consumer get from shopping at your retail location that they cannot get from the self-service catalog on Marketplace?


When I visit your in-world location, is there anyone working there to say “Hi, welcome to [Store]! If there’s anything you need help with today, just let me or one of the associates know and we’ll be glad to help.”


Nine times out of ten, the answer is unequivocally no.




Store Associate


Just in case you forgot the reason you go to stores in the first place



How is it that the common nightclub in Second Life hires more staff than you do for nightly parties where people stand around and pretend to dance, but when it comes to a full scale retail location in-world the thought never occurred to you that you should actually have associates and staff on hand for point-of-sale?


Then there is the expectation of location owners for staff to work on tips alone as if they’re playing an instrument on the street corner. You call yourself a business owner, and yet you’re literally too cheap to pay staff adequately for working for you, if you bother to hire anyone at all. The biggest problem with in-world locations is that we’ve been spoiled far too long on the expectation of slave labor.


What about marketing?


Do you even bother with this? When I say marketing, I don’t mean throwing astronomical amounts of L$ at the classifieds or banner advertising. But the latter might help a little (I consider banner advertising the bottom of the barrel and the absolute least you can do). What I’m talking about when I ask you about marketing are things that actual companies do – Customer Engagement.


Does your company engage with social media?


If so, do you actually engage with your customers and audience using this social aspect or are you acting like a total jackass and spamming your twitter account with an RSS feed for promotions at your store? Most of you fail miserably at social media interaction and marketing – I know this because I’ve had the (dis)pleasure of having you follow my own account on Twitter – and if you’re one of those businesses in Second Life who follow me and wonder why I’m not following back – it’s because you’re a Spamming McNinja.





Spam is not a viable marketing strategy. Get a grip.



How about cross-promotions in-world or sponsoring events that are tied to your brand in some manner? I hear that’s a big thing in the real world (where you apparently checked out of long ago).


What are you doing to promote brand awareness?


Do you sell clothing? Has it ever occurred to you to hold a cross promotion event in conjunction with a nightclub? They’re always having “Best In –“ events, and I beg to ask you if it ever occurred to you that the words “Best In –“ should ever end with the words “Your Particular Brand Name”?


How about sponsoring other events like concerts in-world where the company (yours) is raffling off prizes from your store at the event (sort of like a 50/50). The 50/50 tickets are free and everyone who attends the event is automatically entered – and then you put an entry fee for the event at the border to cover the costs and make a little money in the process. That’s how real venues work out with sponsorships. Simply make the prizes outweigh the barrier to entry and you’re good to go.


There is literally an abundance of creative marketing avenues that a majority of you blatantly ignore in favor of organizing yet another hunt (you unoriginal bas#$%ds), and yet you’re crying a river about how your in-world stores are going under. Either that or I keep hearing about moving over to places like InWorldz or another grid because it’s “better” – when really you mean “Because I get to have my monopoly back and be a lazy retailer again. Plus it’s so much cheaper over there!”


The bottom line is this: It takes money to make money.


If you are reinvesting the bare minimum back into your in-world retail location, you should expect nothing less than the bare minimum in customer response. If you are outright neglecting a majority of points that most real-world retailers address with a passion, then you are likely to go under as an in-world retail location. Countless times I’ve heard would-be entrepreneurs in-world telling me they can’t afford honest marketing or business strategy, and act like they’re owed services for next to nothing or for free. Hell, I’ve been told my own consulting fee is a “rip-off” when they really have no concept of what service they are getting and how much it’s actually worth.


Let’s say my base fee is usually $10,000L for two weeks, plus expenses related to enacting the marketing and business strategy. Is that a rip-off? Well, that equals about $50.00 US for two weeks as a retainer which comes out to well below minimum wage for a contract that normally equals $50.00 US per hour. Evidently, you should now understand that $10,000L for two weeks on retainer is adjusted adequately for Second Life, and if anything it’s a generous gift of my time. And yet, I also set that retainer price at $10,000L for two weeks specifically because I know first hand that a majority of in-world businesses aren’t serious enough to be willing to invest that much into their own benefit – so it works like an effective manner to weed out people wasting my time.


Retail Methodology


There’s a reason that retailers have quarterly inventory and products. It’s because it’s much easier to manage a smaller high volume inventory than a behemoth retail inventory with mixed results. The latter becomes a massive time sink (and you retailers in-world already know this) unless you start hiring a team to work with you in order to split the inventory work among multiple people, which most do not for a myriad of excuses. This, of course, leads to one or two people running a business in-world virtually swamped with the day to day operations of their business.


Home Depot, for instance, isn’t five people. They actually hire people and fire them. They train associates to work on the floor and help customers. They train those associates in the fine art of “The Total Sale”.





Thank you for shopping here, sir! I’ll be glad to take your money from you.


Buying a new pair of shoes? Those would go really well with our new fashion line for the Fall season. Have you had a chance to see our new line this season?


Of course you’re the reason that your retail experience sucks. It’s not Marketplace.


There is literally nobody on your retail floor to qualify customers and up-sell the total package when available. Your store is the equivalent of a self-serve experience, which happens to be served better through Marketplace. If you fail to plan, you’re planning to fail.


I go into someplace like Hoorenbeek in-world and I make a bee-line to the shoe section, completely ignoring the rest of the store. I have no compelling reason to look around, and nobody works there to make that recommendation to me or help me out on-location. The reason I stick with Hoorenbeek for shoes is because the quality of their shoes is really good – but more importantly, it was a customer service experience with them that made me into a long-term customer. I have their sneakers, and noticed it had no option to turn off Full Bright, making them essentially glow at night. I messaged them asking if I could get a pair with Full Bright turned off, and made a suggestion to them about building a menu option into future releases allowing people to toggle that option.


Within a few days I received a message back, and shortly after I was given a pair of sneakers with full bright turned off. I know we can’t be everywhere at once or handle every little detail… but we can assemble a team of associates to scale this experience for the benefit of the business and the brand – but more importantly, for our customers.


Knowledgeable associates on location would be absolutely whiz – just ask Bax Coen Boots.


Why would I recommend Bax Coen over higher end retail locations?  Actually having customer service and on-site associates to help customers. That is a compelling reason to shop there instead of Stiletto Moody. Better prices, and while they have a limited selection compared to other places, the feeling that Bax Coen actually gives a damn about her customers trumps $5,000L brand name Stiletto Moody’s any day.


As a matter of fact, for a store that charges obscene prices for their products, and a brand name at that, it is a complete and total insult to their customers that they do not reinvest that money adequately back into the business in order to make the shopping experience better. It is a sign of complete contempt for the customer when a brand rests entirely on its laurels and does little to nothing in order to reinvest in the shopping experience.


Does that mean this conversation is a matter of In-World locations versus Marketplace?


Not at all.


It means that Marketplace should be effectively utilized as your retail back channel. You keep only the quarterly inventory (new releases in inventory for the quarter) at the retail location, and move the last quarter inventory into Marketplace as a back sales channel. Every 4 quarters you effectively retire last year’s inventory from Marketplace, with a yearly holiday end of year sale (50% off) and move on.


The quarterly new releases are the only items available at the retail location, and not available on Marketplace until they are moved out of the store to make room for the next quarter new releases.


That effectively gives you a smaller (and fresh) retail inventory every 3 months, while retaining the last quarter inventory until the end of the year at a 25% discount, and for the holidays you clear that past year inventory out by doing a 50% sale.


Now we have a compelling reason to start shopping at the in-world retail location.


However, just because you get your retail in line, doesn’t mean you get to keep your customers on this alone. Now, you need to take it a step further and start treating your in-world location like the retail experience it should be. I’m just providing a bit of free advice from an actual professional here, but by no means should you take it as a complete strategy.


I can go into far more details from the point of view of an actual marketing executive, but this is a limited blog and your time is valuable (as is mine). I used to deal with this situation on a daily basis when I worked at Pulse Point Media as their VP of Operations – wherein it was my job to assess client situations and make recommendations, and even advise whether or not the company should even bother taking a client at all. I had a similar role when I was younger and working for Janez Digital Media years ago. Needless to say, most of the in-world clients that came to us were outright ignorant of what they really needed to do in order to grow a brand and business, and in some situations outright hostile and “know-it-alls” who completely disregarded everything a consultant would recommend, even going so far (in some occasions) as to do the complete opposite.


Is it any wonder your in-world locations are collapsing faster than a house of cards?


Simply put, most just want it all handed to them on a silver platter for next to nothing (and free if they can get it). I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but it’s time to start acting like you’re actually serious about your business for once and treating marketplace not as your enemy, but as a viable tool to strengthen your business and brand, both in-world and through the web.


Before you get any bright ideas, let me make myself perfectly clear:


If you’re thinking about contacting me in-world for this as a consultant, the fee is non-negotiable (don’t waste my time trying). I reserve every right to cancel the consultation during the process if you act like a complete ass and willfully sabotage or blatantly ignore a majority of the recommendations. There is no refund – so don’t waste my time and I won’t waste your money.


That being said, I’m pretty sure I’ve eliminated a majority of you reading this from bothering me. There is no magic bullet or easy way out when it comes to retail and marketing. There is, however, a lot to learn and a lot to apply not just during the two weeks but going forward after my time expires. It is an ongoing process, not a one night stand. If you aren’t in a position to address this in a serious manner, nor have a budget to work with – you’re on your own.


If you’re still feeling brave – go ahead and contact me in-world: Aeonix Aeon.

May 23, 2012

Terabyte 451

The capacity at which blogs burn | #SecondLife


I’m going to let you in on a little secret.


Deep down inside, I actually dislike technology. For many of you reading these words, this comes as a great surprise, and may even leave you scratching your heads a little. Clearly, if I am a computer science researcher, you’d be led to believe that I actually love technology.


Allow me to clarify.


As the title of this post implies, the theme for today is based on literary references and begins with the book Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury, whereby the plot was essentially a dystopian world where books were banned and burned. Furthermore, in this dystopian future, television was the central role of media delivery.








I remember reading the book when I was younger, and later on I watched the movie version from 1966. It is very true that the book is almost always better than the movie adaptation, and even when I saw I Am Legend there was disappointed because I had actually read the book before hand. It’s not so much that the movie was bad, because in its own right it held its own in a society that has a short attention span. What makes me angry about technology is not that it is bad in any way, but that society chooses to use it as a crutch or an excuse to lower their standards of intelligence or expectation of the world and:


Technology isn’t advanced enough yet to tell the

stupid monkeys to get a grip


We live today in one of the most technologically advanced societies, and you would think the collective level of intelligence for the world would have been raised by now out of the gutter and into the stratosphere. What we see instead seems to be a position where the world is quickly separating into a situation of technological Eloi and Morlocks. In the 1960’s we put a man on the moon, and in 2012 what amazing advancements in space exploration do we have?


Um… apparently NASA discontinued the space shuttle, and we haven’t stepped foot on another planet since the hippies in the 60’s took some LSD and collectively said “Sure, why not?”. I mean, clearly we could have not only another trip to the moon but we’d be able to do it thousands of times better this time around. Essentially if Apollo can make it to the moon and back with the equivalent of a TI-80 calculator in computers on board, what the hell is stopping us today with doing it again and setting up a moon-base with nothing but an iPad on board?




Time Machine - Morlock

Morlock: The Eloi will give you brain damage. | Doc: C’mon, they can’t be that bad!



Such things as the Internet have empowered many to be much more intelligent than we could have otherwise, making it that much easier to soak up the knowledge of the world as if we have access to a modern day Library of Alexandria. These would be the Morlocks of our age, while there is still an unprecedented amount of ignorance despite this advancement; clearly we’re talking about our Eloi in this case who use the technology but really gain nothing more than convenience and frivolity. The digital Morlocks, on the other hand, are taking that vast resource of knowledge and using it to push forward and create more information and technology, though sometimes I really question – “For what, exactly?”




Time Machine - Eloi

Doc: Did you just compare Justin Beiber to Mozart?



Recently I saw on the local news that Newark Airport had installed an avatar assistant to help people, and to be honest, I was immediately reminded of the Librarian from The Time Machine by H.G. Wells.



In the future, artificially intelligent systems won’t try to kill us… they’ll just be patronizing.



Clearly the avatar at the airport isn’t as advanced yet as the VOX system from The Time Machine, but it gives us a little context for both how technology is advancing accordingly to our science-fiction roots as well as (and I argue more importantly) what the outcome of that technology is likely to bring upon us due to our stupidity.




Maybe science-fiction authors are smarter than we give them credit for?



In a twisted sort of irony, we’re living in a world where both Huxley and Orwell were correct. Huxley’s argument was that there would be no need for militaristic control over the world and the people because we’d be entertaining ourselves into submission. Orwell, on the other hand, imagined a world where militarism and dictatorial leadership reigned supreme to keep the population under control. Strangely, they’re both correct in that the best way to establish a militaristic control over the population is to let them entertain themselves into submission first.



George Carlin tells us about the Morlocks



That’s why people who watch Fox News are routinely ignorant on both the facts and implications of serious situations in the world and locally. If you aren’t intelligent enough to see the situation for what it is, then clearly it doesn’t matter if you vote or have an opinion about it. All of that just becomes part of the entertainment value of society  – keeping people smart enough to work and dumb enough not to know any better or care. But then, the Morlocks are uprising as of late and going for broke, now aren’t they? Maybe the Morlocks are the Occupy Wall Street movement and related protests, in conjunction with cyber-hacktivist groups like Anonymous.


Or maybe, the Morlocks are best described today as our 1% in the world. Ok, that’s a much better analogy. Then there are the technocrats such as Anonymous which seem to have realized that the only real way to get us out of this Eloi future is to stop listening to the stupid Eloi, and fight against the Morlocks. The Eloi would just let their own be killed without so much as an intelligent thought about what happened or why… their attention span is so short that it’s always a matter of time before something else catches their attention and they forget all about why they were pissed off to begin with. I suppose I can cite September 11th 2001 as a perfect example of this Eloi mentality.


Going back to the Fahrenheit 451 theme, the real reason this bothers me about technology and human stupidity, I suppose, can be blamed on Dora the Explorer.



Dora - Favorite Part



The thing about Dora the Explorer is that at the end of the show she asks “What was your favorite part?” and then just goes ahead and breaks the fourth wall in the worst possible way by going completely silent and staring at you. A few birds might chirp, and Boots the monkey might shuffle a little bit, but Dora simply stands there staring at you with her gigantic eyes.


Those giant… unblinking… eyes.


It doesn’t matter what you say, either, because as adults we know it’s just a television show and can’t hear you (though you sports fans out there shoot my theory to hell). No matter what the kid says, Dora will always say “Yeah, that was my favorite part, too!”. The simplistic way to address children who don’t know any better is to just have the fictional characters always agreeing with them no matter what. To the children it seems like Dora is their best friend and talking to them, which I suppose beats the parents having to actually do that. God forbid.


Of course, our kids are watching this condescending crap on our new flat screen televisions stuck to the wall in glorious high definition output and surround sound…








Which now that I think about it, sounds like a really familiar scenario. What does this remind me of…. hmmm.






Aren’t you ladies missing the latest episode of Dora the Explorer?



Oh, that’s right! Fahrenheit 451 again!


See, in the book, there’s this flat screen television that Montag’s wife watches all the time – because remember, books are illegal… and one of the scenes I distinctly remember was when she was kneeling in front of the flat screen television watching some sort of “interactive” murder mystery and it had this button where she could interact with the show. So all of the characters in the show would talk for a bit about what they knew about the case while Mildred watched along, and then – just like Dora the Explorer does today, they all just stop and say “What do you think?” while every character on screen stares back at you in silence. Mildred then starts to say something but really can’t formulate an answer too well. After a few moments of thinking she begins to say something but before she can finish her sentence, Time’s Up! and all the characters on screen proclaim “Yes! That’s exactly what we were thinking, too! That’s a great idea!”

Of course, Mildred at that point is debating with the fictional characters on the screen about them not letting her finish what she was saying, and so on… Not bad for a movie from 1966 and a book written far earlier.




By the time you’ve learned to love your slavery, you won’t mind the transition to totalitarianism.




Of course, this isn’t to say that it’s all bad news.


I acknowledge that technology is really agnostic and that it is really what we actually do with it that makes it good or bad. I just wish sometimes that we weren’t using it for frivolous things or as an excuse to be placated and stupid. Whatever happened to the digital board in the classrooms where the students would be sitting around with tablets and sharing in an open conversation to and from that board with the class and teacher in multimedia?


Walk into a classroom today and chances are you’ll see a whiteboard or common blackboard still, which really bothers me. All of this technology in the world and we’re still fighting tooth and nail just to catch the majority of the population up for a global benefit.




Twenty years later and we’re still not realizing this future. What the hell, humanity?




Personally, I don’t watch a lot of television. I mean, I actually have a television but it rarely is turned on. For the most part I read books or watch stuff on the Internet. It’s a balanced agenda, however, as I spend most of that time looking at academic and high minded materials versus frivolous activities. One of my favorite shows is How Stuff Works, and when there is a marathon you know I’m the first to be watching it.


What this boils down to is that despite having vast amounts of knowledge at our disposal, and incredibly high-powered technology in our hands, the average person never seems to bother with thinking bigger or of higher minded topics. We live on a small planet in an infinite universe and chances are that most spend their lives never even thinking about just how profound that is. The Internet itself was referred to originally as Intergalactic Computer Network before later being referred to as International or Interconnected Network. This isn’t one of those weird conspiracy theories, either… just look up J.C.R. Licklider.


Really, I just think it’s a shame that despite all of the technological advancements, the Eloi of this planet far outnumber the Morlocks, yet the Morlocks are clearly in control. It’s a shame that despite all of this great technology, we’re just as stupid proportionally as we ever were and there is still only an upper percent of the population that is much higher minded who can truly appreciate it all while thinking far deeper about everything as a whole. If anything, humanity, you should be thankful that groups like Anonymous exist and the Occupy Wall Street protesters. They’re out there literally trying to save our asses because we’re collectively too stupid to do it ourselves.


What really matters in the end?


Maybe the entire world needs an existential crisis to wake from this ignorant slumber and move forward together instead of continually fighting each other and impeding global progress?


Who knows… maybe that global existential crisis is closer than we think?




Apparently humanity would rather believe they are utterly alone in the universe than to share it with others.




So much potential in humanity, and we continually waste it. I’m pretty sure we’re all smart enough to stop doing this to ourselves…


I suppose there’s hope. I’m one of those people who wholly believe that popular media really acts as a social engineering outlet to introduce and prepare the population for coming events. I’m not entirely satisfied with constant coincidence that popular science-fiction shows and movies more often than not end up predicting the future. Either it’s function following form (inspiration) or in my belief, somebody knows an awful lot about the real world that you and I don’t, and have been sharing little by little over time.


Stargate SG-1, Star Trek, M.I.B, and countless other shows and media over our lifetimes have been slowly leaking out bits and pieces of what is likely going on for real on a higher level than our mundane lives and little social bubbles. A perfect example is the movie Lord of War where the movie flatly states it is based on a true story… and yet here we are still thinking that stuff doesn’t happen. It’s a classic case where we are conditioned to the point where we could literally be told and shown the truth and we’ll still laugh it off and walk away.


Another example is assuming Anti-gravity is impossible.


My question then becomes: Is it really?


Let’s explore this further a bit, shall we? Essentially what we’re talking about is reversing the magnetic pull of a planet in order to cancel or repel from the mass object. It’s a localized field, and so we only have to create a localized magnetic field which acts upon the planet in some manner, correct?


Well, this would be much simpler if it was dielectric magnetism, because then we’re talking about floating a magnetic object between two other fields. But where do we get two opposing magnetic fields on opposite sides whereby the entire planetary surface is the space in between? I’d wager the planet’s core (such as Earth’s molten core) could suffice as the first magnetic point, while the magnetic field covering the Earth (called the magnetosphere) acts as the opposing magnetic field above us.








Which puts us smack in between two magnetic fields by which we can assume dielectric magnetism for “anti-gravity” purposes. Of course, I’m oversimplifying this immensely, but that’s the gist of it all. I mean, how often have you seen those floating globes in the mall science store and thought “Wait, if a sphere floats between two magnets like that, then why can’t we apply the same basic knowledge from this children’s toy to the magnetosphere and planetary core?”


Two words alone explain why we don’t have flying cars yet:


Drunk drivers.


But it’s not so much that I’m right or wrong about anti-gravity that matters. What matters is that I actually took a few minutes to really think about it and how it can possibly be done, whereas a majority of the planet automatically ignores it. That’s what this world needs more of, objective thinkers.  We all need to become better objective thinkers and work together as a planet on stuff.


Look at the great comics of the time: Bill Hicks, George Carlin, et al.


All flatly telling us the blatant truth of the matter and like stupid monkeys, we sit in the audience and laugh… not knowing just how serious the message really is.


So today, I leave you the best message I can find.

It’s time to start thinking.

It’s time to make this world a better place.





It’s just a ride…

May 16, 2012

Euclideon Dreams

Give me something to believe in: Is #Euclideon Unlimited Detail a hoax?







Every revolutionary idea seems to evoke three stages of reaction. They may be summed up by the phrases:


  1. It's completely impossible.
  2. It's possible, but it's not worth doing.
  3. I said it was a good idea all along.

- Arthur C. Clarke



Where to begin?


Recently I made a post on Google+ about the future of graphics technology, citing both the Outerra and the upcoming Euclideon Engine. In some regard, they both represent an interesting crossroads in the industry where one company (Outerra) is using the polygon methodology mixed with procedural systems, while Euclideon is using a variant of a voxel based system with procedural methodologies. What transpired was a really interesting debate between myself and one of the staff from Outerra (Brano Kemen) who falls somewhere between the first and second category of debate as listed above from Arthur C. Clarke.


His insistence that Euclideon was likely just a hoax wasn’t what raised my eyebrow, but instead it was the reasoning he was using. In a typical fashion, he put forth his best arguments against Euclideon from the perspective of a current generation technology programmer.


The obvious stance being – Well, this isn’t a new idea and it’s been tried before, but nobody has managed to pull it off like Euclideon claims they have.


I’m a little perplexed at this statement because it’s really no different than saying:


Thousands of people in the past have tried this and failed, therefore it’s not possible that somebody will come along and succeed.


At best, that’s a bit of faulty logic.


Generally speaking, if you’re coming at this from the perspective of what you already know in the industry, then the Euclideon engine looks like nothing more than witchcraft and magic. Of course, Arthur C. Clarke also notably commented on this phenomenon as well:



Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

– Arthur C. Clarke

Past Tense Future


I've done a few articles on this blog awhile back concerning the Euclideon engine and what I believed at the time were the general mechanics of the engine which made it so powerful (and unique). For the most part, the more I research into this system and read (or listen) to the details that are made available, the more I am convinced it is not a hoax. If you would like to read the original posts on this subject, feel free to hop over to Quantum Rush and Quantum Rush [Redux] for some perspective.


To be fair, the Outerra engine is marvelous in its own right and has definitely earned my respect for what is being accomplished, but in the grand scheme of things, it’s like praising one technology at the height of advancement but knowing it’s a sort of last hurrah! before the sun sets and a new age approaches. I say the same thing about Crytek as well, and even they believe that technology like Euclideon is not a hoax because they tried to import a point-cloud model of a tiger during their research on the Crytek engine.


So in the grand scheme of things, at least one company thinks it’s possible and they sure as hell are bigger than Outerra. That being said, Crytek also acknowledged that they didn’t manage to crack the secret recipe for point-cloud data approaches and went with the approach they have now in the Crysis 3 engine.




Outerra Engine in alpha stages. Ground is procedural, but models are polygon.



In the beginning, was the Pixel


Simply put, the Euclideon engine is not a typical voxel engine. It may use similar foundations from this technology, but that’s about where the similarities end.


In order to wrap our heads around the claim of Unlimited Detail, we first start with the idea that your screen only has a certain amount of pixel space. Let’s say this is your screen resolution and go with 1900x1200 as a default resolution (which is mine).


Now, the first thing we ask is how many pixels is that on the screen?


It’s really a math problem, simple multiplication:

1900 pixels wide by 1200 pixels height.


This math problem yields us an answer of:

2,280,000 pixels on screen.


We can display photographs on screen at 1900x1200 resolution and that still image looks, well, photorealistic. But in a 3D Engine, photorealistic seems to be a word reserved for rendering farms and a year of processing.


In the case of Euclideon, they realized something that I don’t think the rest of the industry realized when dealing with point-cloud data models. Typically we’re loading the entire model into memory and shuffling it around, and that actually does get computationally expensive, but we’re talking about also moving around all the little digital atoms in the model that you can’t see, which is about 90% of the model at any given time.


Why exactly are we shuffling around 90% of a model we can’t see? That means we’re wasting 90% of our processing power doing stuff nobody will notice.


The obvious question then became:

What can the user actually see?






The answer to this is clearly:

They can only see what’s in front of them at any given moment, or whatever pixels are lit up in their resolution.


Well, this gives us something interesting to think about. If the pixel space 1900x1200 is the maximum amount of pixels on screen at any moment, then the only thing we need to know from there is what color those pixels are.


This is just one half of the equation, though. So we set this thought aside for a moment and ask:


How do we figure out what the user can see out of those 2,280,000 pixels on screen?


The World of Tiny Little Atoms




Setting aside the answer of 2,280,000 pixels on screen, we then look to figure out how we deliver only what will satisfy that prior question of what of the models can be seen in that screen space.


This is the point where another explanation from Bruce Dell in a recent interview comes to mind where he explains that current systems are pulling the entire book (model) and processing, yet what happens when you index the individual words in the books properly and make them searchable?


In a point-cloud model, we’re working with little digital atoms, so the model file itself is comprised of atomistic descriptions. The goal, then is to figure out which of those digital atoms in the model file are visible on screen at any given moment and ignore the rest of the model file.


So when you take a model of 500,000 polygons and convert it to the Euclideon point-cloud data format (which for all intents and purposes likely also indexes those points in the file) you end up with a high resolution point-cloud model where every point is indexed for searching. This is where we get the beginning of the second part of our answer for Euclideon and where the typical voxel engines stop.


The Euclideon engine is said to work a lot like a search engine, where the only search query is:


What pixels on the screen correspond to the point-cloud data in the model files that this user can see?


When we do a camera check in-world to see what is in front of the user, the engine likely returns the models it sees, and then the individual points from those files that are visible to the user within the screen space (again, 2,280,000 pixels).


Knowing this information, we ask the point-cloud data models up front to return only the points within it that correspond to the pixels on screen. Since the point-cloud models are pre-indexed to begin with, and the points (atoms) inside of it are individually indexed inside the file, only the points in the model that match the search query are returned as an answer to the engine, ignoring the other 90% of the file up front.


What we are likely left with then is something like this in the scene:






Clearly this is a good start, but we have quite a lot of empty space in between those pixels that are unanswered from just the points in the model files that are stored. Obviously, we wouldn’t want to store the point-cloud data at absolutely full resolution (because the storage then becomes the issue), so there must be a way to fill in the blanks on this point cloud scene.


Luckily for us, we have an answer.


Algorithmic Interpolation


More or less, the idea of what happens in between the points on the point cloud model are likely left to an algorithmic interpolation sequence. If we have two points and there is space between them, then the algorithm takes the average of the two sides and creates a new point algorithmically generated.


This isn’t a new idea, but when applied to something like voxels it gets interesting. The closer you get to the atoms in a voxel display system the more they enlarge and even start generating algorithmic interpolation to fill in the spaces, creating detail where there wasn’t before.


This is a common technique in console emulators to upscale 2D sprite art to modern HD screens, so Mario as sprite art can look good when made bigger on your high definition computer screen. One of the more popular algorithms for this 2D Sprite scaling is the hqx algorithm, and is available as part of most current console emulators.


In image processing, hqx ("hq" stands for "high quality" and "x" stands for magnification) is one of the pixel art scaling algorithms developed by Maxim Stepin, used in emulators such as Nestopia, bsnes, ZSNES, Snes9x, FCE Ultra and many more. There are 3 hqx filters: hq2x, hq3x, and hq4x, which magnify by factor of 2, 3, and 4 respectively. For other magnification factors, this filter is used with nearest-neighbor scaling.




Image Scaling




Procedural Methods


In much the same manner as Outerra makes use of procedural methodologies for their terrain, Euclideon seems to make use of procedural methodologies for a majority of the engine as applied to specialized point-cloud data that is indexed efficiently.


It’s like going to Google in order to search for something. Naturally you don’t expect Google to start at the beginning of the Internet and go through everything in a linear manner looking for what you searched for?


No, instead Google crawls the Internet and indexes the content which is why when you search for something it skips 90% of the Internet and brings back just what you searched for in a few milliseconds.


Therein is the secret for Euclideon. The typical 3D Engine is the equivalent of having to travel from the beginning to the end of the Internet to find what it needs, whereas Euclideon is the equivalent of skipping 90% of it and bringing the results in milliseconds. This, in turn, makes Euclideon a highly optimized graphics engine, and the indexing of the files happens when you’re converting the high resolution polygon models into the Euclideon point-cloud data format (the equivalent of Google crawling the Internet)


The former of the two approaches uses up quite a lot of processing power with computation that is wasted because 90% of what it’s dealing with can’t be seen by the user to begin with, while Euclideon frees up that computation for other things.


Under the traditional methodologies today, the graphics cards are just sufficient enough to handle the polygon detail and all the computations, but under the Euclideon methodology, that same graphics card suddenly has nothing to do and is vastly overpowered for the engine.


So what do we do with a graphics card that is sitting around twiddling its thumbs?


Now we have room for improvement, assuming you can even imagine improving on photorealistic 3D at 25-30 FPS on the CPU alone. Stuff like astronomical resolutions for screens, ultra high fidelity, lots of GPU free to do more advanced physics and lighting calculations, and more. Instead of sharing those calculations on the GPU as an afterthought after the initial 3D calculations, now the entire card is free to unleash its full attention on it.


So the claim of Unlimited Detail is accurate, but it’s a contextual statement. Unlimited Detail, but you don’t need to load all of infinity at once to see it any more than you need to see the entire universe you live in to claim it has unlimited detail. All you can see is what is in front of you at any moment, and you take for granted that the rest of infinity exists because it’s there when you get around to seeing it.


Essentially, Euclideon engine works like the real world does. Everything is made of tiny atoms, and nothing exists except what you can see at any given moment at the level of detail you can actually see.


Polygons are a lot like a Classical Physics approach while Euclideon is the Quantum Physics approach.


Voxel Animation


Which brings us to the sticking point concerning the ability to animate point-cloud data. It’s not exactly easy, and it has come with a lot of ups and downs. Originally, it was thought to just be impossible and that was that, but we now know that’s silly because of the three points from Arthur C. Clarke at the beginning of this article. Eventually, somebody actually did manage to figure out a way to animate sparse-voxels but the conclusion was akin to the second stage of revolutionary technology statements:


Yes it can be done, but it’s not worth the effort.




What are Voxels?



How to Animate these things…



Further information on Voxel Animation




With Euclideon, I’m going to say they figured out the animation aspects further and will progress into the third statement of revolutionary technology:


I said it was a good idea all along.


The people in this industry years ago who came out and said that point-cloud data was the future of the graphics industry were likely correct. The problem with being a visionary is that often times you make predictions that are completely accurate, but far ahead of their time.


Because the technology and methodologies hadn’t been figured out in a reasonable time from those visionary statements, the rest of the industry lost interest and said:


See? It was just a false alarm. Nobody came out with it, so it must not be possible. Nothing to see here, move along. Point and laugh at the suckers who bought into this idea to begin with.”


So when a company like Euclideon comes out and says they figured it out, those same industry people who saw the original visionary statements years ago chime in again and say the same thing –


Oh, this again? Didn’t we already conclude it wasn’t possible and move on? *yawn* Tons of people already tried this before and failed. Clearly Euclideon is a hoax, because if it was going to be accomplished, it would have been one of us with all of our training, expertise and money - not some guy in his basement programming in his free time. Since we haven’t figured it out, clearly this Bruce Dell guy isn’t able to.”


Do you know what that makes the rest of the graphics industry, with thinking like that?


Arrogant. That’s what.


Or, more likely, these are the people who have heavily invested in their current generation technologies and are subject to technology lock-in. With all of that invested in their own systems, you would obviously think every single one of them would come out against Euclideon as a hoax or impossible. It’s a biased viewpoint altogether, with absolutely every possible motivation for being biased that exists. So why are we listening to them in the first place if we know they couldn’t possibly have an unbiased view of this type of technology?


Jon from id Software says it’s not possible for a few more years. Notch from Minecraft says Bruce Dell is a snakoil salesman. Even the CEO of Epic Games predicts that photorealism in games won’t happen until between 2019 and 2024.


Those people all have one thing in common:


Each has a vested interest in Bruce Dell and Euclideon being absolutely wrong.



Bruce Dell sounds unprofessional


For a guy who has been coding the Euclideon engine since 2006 as a hobbyist programmer in his spare time, do you really think he’s going to come out and get a professional actor and marketing team to do the presentation?


Secondly, he’s Australian and that accent comes across pretty heavily. He really does talk like that normally… cut the man a break.


Does this guy know the terminology of the industry? Probably not nearly as well as most would. It doesn’t really matter if you know what he’s talking about as long as he knows what he’s talking about in his head. Just because he doesn’t know the word for it doesn’t mean he doesn’t know what it is.



This is the best interview of Bruce Dell and Euclideon I’ve seen so far



We’re talking about a guy who wasn’t told this stuff was impossible, and went into coding a graphics engine from scratch with the thought that it was perfectly feasible and he just didn’t know how at that time. This likely drove him harder than most coders would for solving the problem.


Think logically for a moment… when you go to college and try to earn a degree in programming, your professor is teaching you things they studied and learned from other people in the industry. There is a bias already in what you are going to learn, because it is heavily geared toward teaching you the current practices and not encouraging you to try and invent new ones. Hell, even if you’re just learning from the latest publishing of GPU Gems, you’re learning from the accomplishments of others in the industry who are themselves following accepted practice by the book. Sometimes standardized education is far more poisonous than unconventional learning methods.


They aren’t looking to turn you into a creative, unorthodox, thinker… they just want a guy/girl who can churn out code in an existing industry that has a vested interest in specifically not drawing outside of the lines on the coloring book.


Bruce Dell wasn’t poisoned by that preconceived ideology atmosphere. He didn’t even realize the lines existed to begin with, and as such likely was free to create a masterpiece of coding.



So, Euclideon is not a hoax?


It’s not likely that Bruce Dell and Euclideon are trying anything funny. If anything they seemed to have figured something out that much (if not the entire) industry failed to do. All it took was thinking from left field and the ability to ignore all the people who failed before hand telling him it wasn’t possible.


It’s funny how that works out.


I’m not going to sit here and tell you that I know exactly how Euclideon works, but I can give a simplistic rundown on what I think is happening based on what Bruce Dell has already said. From my point of view, it seems to work out just fine, and has the potential to do exactly what he says it can do. Of course, I’m not a programmer either… so all I can do is give an analysis from a layman point of view. There’s plenty going on behind the scenes of this engine, and I’ve only simplified it as much as possible for a general audience to digest.


What does that mean for the industry as a whole?


Just what Bruce Dell said in the original Euclideon demo video below – Your graphics are about to get a whole lot better, by a factor of about 100,000 times or more.


When is this supposed to come out? That’s the number one question on people’s minds right now concerning this technology. Well, I can say that Bruce Dell made a comment concerning this if anyone was paying attention. He had a number in his head, and that number was about 16 Months, give or take polishing things up for a release.


He said that around August 2011, and 16 months from then is December 2012. Give or take, that means a near Christmas release for 2012, or Spring 2013 release. There’s a good estimate for you to shoot for.


If Bruce Dell is particularly a man of twisted humor, he’d release Euclideon as a demo on December 21st, 2012 (Last day of the Mayan Calendar). Something tells me that is a very likely date, because it’s the end of an era… and would be fitting. If Euclideon does exactly what he’s claiming it does, then it may as well be the Apocalypse for polygons, unleashing an era of photorealistic gaming and virtual environments.



Unlimited Detail Real-Time Rendering Technology | Euclideon 2011