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A HALTING STATE moment is what happens to my head when another bit of the jigsaw of extrapolation that went into that novel falls into place. It's sort of the opposite of cognitive dissonance, only just as unwelcome.

Lumos are getting ready to bring some see-through VR glasses to market. (More here; press release here (PDF).)

And a run on a virtual bank just hit Second Life. From WIRED:

The recent collapse of Ginko Financial, a "virtual investment bank" in Second Life, has spurred calls for more oversight, transparency and accountability, especially when it comes to business practices in the metaverse.

Last week, Ginko Financial -- an unregulated bank that promised investors astronomical returns (in excess of 40 percent) and was run by a faceless owner whose identity is still a mystery -- announced it would no longer exist as a financial entity.

The declared insolvency meant the bank would be unable to repay approximately 200,000,000 Lindens (U.S. $750,000) to Second Life residents who had invested their money with the bank over the course of its three and a half years of existence.

(Click here for a discussion of legal issues surrounding fictional financial institutions.)

Finally, South Korea's military have been put on alert against foreign (presumed Chinese) hackers who are targeting soldiers' computers. (Although for all I know it could be RBN and/or their hangers-on getting up to their usual tricks again; they have some Chinese IP blocks, and are widely assumed to be the FSB's outsourced infoward capability, run on a profit-making basis during infopeacetime.)

Have you had any HALTING STATE moments recently?




As eloquently noted by Engadget in the Lumos review, you look like a tool while wearing them. I'd dearly love to put a head-up display on my existing glasses, but not if I have to look like Geordi LaForge to do it. Interestingly, all the sci-fi I've read where people do this actually has some external device which projects the image onto your glasses or your eyes, or some direct-to-brain interface like Gibson's decks (I think). Perhaps HUD-glasses are too pedestrian for sci-fi but too advanced for current technology. That's a sad limbo to be in 'cos it means no-one will do it...


(oops, I tell a lie, Roo'd has "goggles", but then it has chording keyboards too and I'm not convinced about those either, Vernor Vinge's muscle movements stuff not withstanding.

Of course, someone is now bound to point out loads of Charlie's books that have all this stuff in, and I'll look embarrassed.


Stuart: like, oh, HALTING STATE? ;-)


"infoward" or infowar?


Don't know about Halting State moments but I had a 2 year old empty my World of Warcraft bank of several slots of trade goods and magical items. I only nipped away to make my wife a cup of tea and returned to find large gaps in my inventory.

A small child can play havoc with data, I could see mine being the root cause of a large international incident one day.



Click here for a discussion of legal issues surrounding fictional financial institutions.

That's an interesting and quite reasonable article on the issue of crime in virtual monetary organizations, but I take mild exception to your link text: calling a virtual bank "fictional" is a) somewhat misleading and b) perhaps a little condescending. For a), consider that the monetary gains or losses involved in transactions with such a bank are quite real, and for b) that the term seems to imply that the organizations involved are of less import that "real" ones. For now, the total amount of money invested in virtual banks is quite small compared to "real world" banks, but there aren't any inherent limits; it's just that there aren't as many investors, and they haven't been investing as long. That will change and it won't take a terribly long time.

For that matter, I think I could make a case that more than 90% of the money actually involved in day-to-day transactions* in the "real world" is virtual. A lot of it is "virtual" in the sense of virtual particles: it comes into existence for the purpose of a transaction and ceases to exist when the transaction is done and money flows balance.** The rest of it is value in constant motion: there's a tide of value involved in currency speculation that washes around the world as the various commodity and currency markets open and close.

* That is, not stored as gold or other valuables in a vault somewhere on Blofeld's Island or another such repository.
** The balance isn't as jealously guarded as in physical law: between middle-men siphoning off their percentage and the effects of transaction propagation time and the lack of an absolute clock, calculations can have errors that leak or gain money from the economic "false vacuum".


Bruce: it's only fiction until everybody agrees to believe in it -- and vice versa. Most, if not all, of our social institutions are really little more than consensus fictions -- although that's scant consolation if the consensus fiction called "the government" decides to take exception to your existence.

More seriously, I was being whimsical precisely in order to be provocative. How would you describe a bank in SL to someone who's just stepped out of a time machine from 1967? (A bank? In a game? That's not playing with real money, as in a casino?) Because that's where our legal system comes from -- and years downstream, too.


Do you find that your Halting State moment is caused by "reality" supporting what you thought was just fiction? If that's the case (and I'm not sure), why are you experiencing it as a negitive emotion? I would thing your ability to predict the future would make you happy. As for virtual money: the world seems to run on it. Sure, there's some paper and gold here and there, but most of it is no more than electrons in some computer. Like fairy dust.


I was just pimping HS to a friend of mine who was talking about the Second Life bank, and trying to figure out if his PayPal account was any different. He stumped me. I mean, there's no REAL money, just 1s and 0s, and you can get it in whatever flavor you want, they aren't backed by government deposit insurance, etc. I can't tell the differnce b/t Lindens and, say Chinese Yuan which both have a strongly fixed exchange rate with the USD.


I had a Halting State moment of sorts, but relating to the writing style rather than techology. I'm just finishing it up and was thinking about how much I enjoyed the second person narrative, and wondering why it didn't bother me the way it does some people. Then I realized I've been using it for years while GMing various pen & pencil RPGs. Some of the first narrative I created was in second person...

It was a great choice for a book like Halting State!


Charlie: HS isn't out yet, hence antsy waiting for it. I got the Jennifer Morgue for Christmas, though, so I'm reading that first anyway :-)


Charlie @ 7

How would you describe a bank in SL to someone who's just stepped out of a time machine from 1967?

That's why my name for these little epiphanies has been "21st Century moments", because the frison comes from trying to figure out how to describe 21st Century events to a 20th Century person in 20th Century terms. The one that tickles me most is the guy who introduced himself at a party as an astronomer specializing in "promoting the use of open source remotely-controlled astronomical resources by school children to help solve real problems in astronomy." Try explaining that to someone in 1970: "We get kids in elementary schools to use their own personal computers to control telescopes on other continents in gathering information to solve problems we set out for the public." Personal computers? Remote-controlled telescopes available to the public? Professional astronomers enlisting amateurs in solving problems rather than telling them "wait until you've grown up and gotten a doctorate"? Riggghtt.


The VR glasses are on my 'I'd love to get some someday' - but the technology will need to progress to the point of being able to deal with my significant near-sightedness, astigmatism, and whatever you call it that leads to us older types having to get bifocals.


Scott, I think the real promise of VR glasses comes in when you stick a 10 megapixel camera in front of each eye, instead of a semi-transparent display. Then you can capture 30 frames a second, mangle them to correct for the user's particular combination of eye trouble, and hey presto! Universal corrective spectacles with dynamically adjustable vision correction and image intensification and night vision and hyperspectral imaging and logging (if you want to film whatever you're looking at).

Oh, and they make a good computer display, too.


I'd explain it as being rather like a bank in, say, Monaco; an essentially fictional alternative reality maintained by consensus for financial convenience.

The economics is moderately interesting; as Linden (rather like East Germany) stipulates that you change your hard currency for Linden dollars at their rate, they can either trade their own currency for cash (cash: it's the real thing!) with few limits, but have to tolerate inflation in-world (which is already a serious problem), or else trade it at an honest rate, which would still have the problem that being small compared to the world market and having essentially no exports, the price level within will tend to soar.


Professional astronomers have always appreciated the network of amateurs who spot things for them that they can bring their own instruments to bear on, so that's not too big a stretch.

A slightly more boggling phenonmenon is amateurs who are turning the tables, and bringing their instruments to bear on objects the professionals have kindly spotted for them: amateurs are now observing transits of extrasolar planets.


I can spell "phenomenon" really.


Re: VR glasses:

Add a microphone to the stereoscopic video feed and you have a neat way to instrument your activities and cunning things that you accidentally say; when you recognize that something significant just happened, you can poke your system to cause it to record the past few minutes permanently to stable storage.

Assuming, of course, that you don't have enough online capacity to just spool everything to disk. Though you'll then start running into corporate policy fun, in the same way that we do today with email with rules like "Thou shalt delete any non-critical messages older than N days." Or simply wholesale eavesdropping as in Accelerando.

Realistically, these specs would need a mechanism to automatically adjust the front-mounted optics to focus on the parts of your environment that you're trying to look at - otherwise, you'd have the same fixed focal-length problem that stereoscopic cinema does today. (Unless advances occur in building optics that can accurately sample and reconstruct the entire lightfield passing through the aperture.)

I wonder how long it will take Apple to make their own version? iGlasses, anyone?

The Lumus promo pictures all seem to show the glasses being worn without any trailing wires; in reality, though, you need some sort of PAN to connect the display peripherals to your processing, storage, and other sensory facilities, we're not yet at the point that we can fit all of that into a single pair of rimmed specs. And then power is another challenge..


I've got a hard time believing in the upgrade path to augmented reality. It's obviously technologically feasible, but I think it's going to end up being a flying car.

As Mr. McBride mentions above, you need a PAN, you need power, you need better camera technology. You're going to need to a few generations of the glasses to get to the point where you don't look like a total tool wearing them, they don't hurt your nose, etc. You need a really powerful, really acurate locative network (+/- 10' from GPS isn't going to do the job) (or you need much better object recognition than currently exists so that the glasses can give you some utility without a network support). And through all the refinement period, here, you need enough uptake and consumer interest that, you know, anyone bothers to continue to refine it.

It'll be neat if it happens, but I wouldn't bank on it.


C.S. said, "Bruce: it's only fiction until everybody agrees to believe in it."

I say that's a good way to describe Consensus Reality. Here'a a good example: The story of Jesus (replace with your god of choice, or natural law) was only a fiction until I believed..." The mind Reels. Coming to a Book Store near you: How A Placebo Saved My Life!



Have you seen the borg like people with blue tooth head sets... People are remarkably tolerant.

The Displays, PAN and power will be developed for personal video displays such as this . People will want better displays for their smart phones/ipods while away from home and watching movies/tv shows from 3G-4G etc. And pocket projectors don't really work on the subway.

Better cameras will be developed for mobile phones as well, in volume. Even though most people don't really need them, in the same way that the Mhz went up.

Positioning software will be developed for robotic control, as will object recognition.

Not all parts of the AR technology will be developed for AR itself. In fact most of it probably won't be developed exactly for itself. Just as small LCD displays were made for camcorders viewfinders, rather than just video glasses.


Forget the glasses.

I want a Boba Fett helmet with enhanced vision and hearing.

Yes, it would look really geeky, but I don't care.

One drawback: with the enhanced hearing, you could hear

everybody saying how stupid you look. :)


Will @ 21: It could happen. I won't claim to be a prophet. But my money has it that all those other technologies will have just sufficiently different needs from their advances that you'll still need a multi-year period of money-intensive refinement and tweaking before an augmented reality system will become attractive to more than a really tiny slice of the population. This is the kind of thing that's hard to get right.

And companies won't be willing to go through that tweaking process because nobody will buy the early generation augmented reality rigs because the fact that nobody uses them means that nobody will develop content for them -- and thus the entire process won't ever get going.

That's my take, at least. But hey, I could be wrong.


Michael, maybe the VR gear will be like the first PCs, just hobby kits for geeks to put together in their basements, adding this thing or that, tuning the lasers to pulse just right on thier retnal implants. The first cyborgs will not come off a production line, but will be humans that have slowly up-graded themselves into Transhumans. I know this to be so because I read it in a book. But really, the stuff has to look good. I'm going to hide as much of gear under my baseball cap or in my cyber-jacket


The thing I found most interesting about the world of Halting State was the idea of people's "phones" being such powerful computers that they effectively ran the world. The hardware isn't a problem there, our society makes insanely powerful, incredibly tiny devices all the time (though cost may need to come down). But the distributed, (mostly) secure software infrastructure posited by Halting State still needs to be developed. That's the sort of Halting State moment I'd like to see happen.


Jeff: I have memories of wandering around Central London on a hot summer afternoon in 1996 with a couple of visiting American friends. He (the male geek of the couple) was wearing a computer he'd built for himself. We were collectively sampling the brew at a beer festival. It was rather astounding how many people were completely flummoxed in those days by someone wearing a head-mounted display, computer in a belt pouch, and a knobbly multifunction input widget from Logitech with a webcam velcro'd on top of it.

Alas, due to cellphone/modem issues he wasn't on the net while visiting the UK (although he was connected when he was home in Mass.). These days, that wouldn't be a problem.

(He later went on to a master's degree and then postgrad work at the MIT Media Lab.)

My point is, the hobbyist VR scene has been around for more than a decade at this stage.



Maybe so. But the thing about augmented reality is that it really needs content. It's kind of like a telephone, right? If I have the most awesome phone in the world, it doesn't help me unless someone else that I want to talk to has a phone as well.

Similarly, I could have a really, really cool bit of augmented reality hardware, and if nobody is out there using a locative network to, I don't know, glam up main street or put floating reviews out in front of restaurants or whatever, it's not very useful. That's what I'm talking about in terms of an upgrade path. There's no doubt that we could do augmented reality today (clumsily) and that if there was sustained interested and money going into it, that it could get incrementally better. There are no big, unsolved problems for it, just incremental gains to be made.

But it seems to me that there's no reason for anyone to buy AR hardware unless someone out there is creating AR content, and there's no reason for anyone to create AR content unless someone's out there with AR hardware. It's kind of a chicken and egg situation.

Now, in the past, we've managed this -- after all, there was no point in making an html web page until someone had a browser to point at their page, but there's no point in making a browser until someone's got a web-page, right? But the key difference there was that people could buy into the system at a very low cost. Browsers have traditionally been free. And webpages were at least initially, when people were still buying in, easy to make.

In contrast, I suspect that AR hardware will be expensive, and AR content will be difficult (expensive) to create. I think that'll make it a lot harder to get to the kind of mature and robust AR technology which will lure a lot of people in.

Now, again, I'm not saying it's impossible. Maybe some kind of business or the government or somewhere will find a use for AR that doesn't depend on a robust takeup from the public, and that will bootstrap the technology into something that the public can then get into.


Michael: the location-based content is already out there -- it's just that the user interface is your smartphone. All the AR glasses are -- initially -- is a head-up display so you don't keep walking under buses while you IM, text, or consult your satnav map.

Of course, once the mature hardware is out there too, new uses will come along -- uses about as easy to envisage from today's perspective as Web 2.0 would have been back in the days of GopherSpace and WAIS.


Michael@19, I think you are incorrect to think there won't be consumer interest. Look at the whole wearable computer movement. There is a small contingent of people that are very interested in wearable computers. These people were willing to put up with the technological limitations for the past 10 years, so the fact that there continue to be issues won't phase them. However, I don't think this would prevent them from being interested in improvements either.

Also, there are a variety of niches where augmented reality could be very valuable, and hence drive improvements, such as medical and military applications. Affording high resolution location measurements shouldn't be a problem in either case.

All the above possibilities can drive those first generations of technology before they are good enough to be more widely acceptable and affordable.

From your later post that you posted while I was writing this (in between work), I think you are incorrect in assuming that useful AR content has to be developed for AR. Heck, just look at the GPS use in the Lumos pictures. Now imagine glasses that can combine GPS data with Google Maps to show you reviews of nearby businesses. Maybe even use already existing or soon to be developed Web 2.0 services that can automatically identify businesses of personal interest to you.

Any location based content intended for web or cell phone use could also be worked into earlier generation AR when AR specific content isn't available. There's already a big surge of location based content because of cheap GPS and location aware cell phones.


P.S. I just finished reading Halting State myself, which I got as a holiday gift since it was on my Amazon wish list. Very good book, though I thought the ending was a little too quick. (Reminds me of those old ST:TNG episodes where they wrapped everything up in the last 5 minutes of the show.)

I will definitely have to get some of Charlie's other books to read now.


Charlie @ 28: Maybe. That's certainly one of the more plausible ways for it to go. My quibbles are, first, that current location-based content has lots of technical troubles from anything like an AR front -- not exact enough locations, no network protocol which supports finding information local to you, etc. and, second, that I just don't see a lot of people crying for a heads-up display for their phones.

LeBleu @ 29: I think that they key descriptor for people interested in wearable computing right now is "small." My impression is that it's not even remotely big enough to drive expensive innovation in this field.

Anyhow, hey, maybe I'm wrong. I don't want to make a big argument, so I'll bow out, now.


Just got my new business cards today. They have my Second Life and HiPiHi avatar names. Not a big moment, but what the hell.


My Halting State moment came when I heard Gary McGraw talk about exploits on MMORPGs. See the new book, Exploiting Online Games: Cheating Massively Distributed Systems by Hoglund and McGraw. There's a really fun interview with McGraw online.

That convinced me that Halting State was a lot closer to now than I had first thought...

Hm... Italics don't seem to work....


"How would you describe a bank in SL to someone who's just stepped out of a time machine from 1967? (A bank? In a game?)"

To anyone familar with the prototypically American board game "Monopoly."

One player is, in fact, The Banker.

There are several books published on how to play Monopoly well. Much has changed since software ran stochastic models of the game.

One key rule: no player may lend, or give, money or property to any other player.

Loopholes abound. "say, that one-dollar bill that you have attracts my numismatist's interest. May I buy it for $500? Oh, and in return, will you waive charging me rent the next time I land on Atlantic Avenue?"

At the level I played by the mid 1960s, the significant level of the game is all about the market in options of various kinds, and contracts between players. The differing values of the Free Pass and the Free Landing. The optimization of a portfolio of cash, real estate, options, and contracts. De facto, players can create corporations. I did, anyway, once I taught other how to.

There is a famous (in tournament-level Monopoly circles) story of the player asking, pre-game, "is it okay if I use real money if I run low on game money?"

"Of course," say the other players, seeing a chance to earn real money.

"So, any money I bring to the game, I may use?"

"Of course."

The player, mid game, is short of cash. "Okay if I kick in the cash I brought?"


He hauls out his wallet, starts to peel out real USA $1 bills, then instead pulls out a wad of Monopoly $500 bills and sets them on the table in front of him.

"This is the money I brought, with your prior unanimous permission!"

By the way, the very first time I played Monopoloy with my genius son, when he was about 7, he kicked my ass all the way from Baltic Avenue to Boardwalk. This is the soin who is now in USC Law School.


As regards VR glasses. They have been made, and if they're cheap enough a game system will make use of them.

Now that you've got the technology someone will sell them to game geeks as the next great accessory. I can already see someone using them as a heads up display for a fighter game.

Half the new creations for computers were made for, or developed for, hobbyists of one type or another. Why should this be any different.

As to Halting State moments. I had mine when the blue tooth head sets first came out. I thought I was a bit of a futurist, but I find myself more and more out of date. I think I need a reset, my standards were set in the 70's and need an update.


"the prototypically American board game "Monopoly.""



What I want is glasses that will focus on what I'm looking at. Progressives are better than wearing contacts and taking reading glasses on and off all the time, but even with the progressives, I sometimes need to take them off to do close work.


Charlie #14 and others:

1. Comfort: Even now, an ongoing problem I have with existing spectacles/glasses is finding ones that are comfortable to wear for long periods of time, leaving aside style considerations. VR-glasses have to be comfortable.

2. Myopia: Were VR-glasses to be a reality & be worn virtually all the time, we'd spend most of our time focussing at points very near our eyes, potentially to the detriment of our distance vision. But don't worry, the VR-glasses can correct for myopia, so we'd be even more dependent on them.

3. SFPD (Software Fail People Die): A potential "Halting State" scenario. I'm not so trusting of technology that I would depend solely on VR-glasses to 'see' the world at large.

BTW, WRT "Halting State", reaction has been generally positive but I've had a couple of friends bounce hard off the use of 2nd person PoV, in spite of being gamers. The response to 'you do this' being, "No, *I* don't" - partly because in games, the participant has *some* ability to direct the action, but the book doesn't allow any interaction. And partly due to too much knowledge on the subject(s) in question - criminology, forensic IT, that sort of thing.


For me, "Halting State moments" are those moments when I think, "god, there can't be that many people who are familiar with this stuff for Stross to make money selling these - I mean, how many people know off the cuff how the protocols for Chaum's Digicash work?"

Or maybe that's just a "Stross moment," I reacted the same way towards a sendmail.cf joke in _Atrocity Archives_.


BTW, there's a thing called VR sickness; motion sickness from VR glasses. It's especially bad when the glasses are taken off. A very sharp researcher I know is therefore arguing for AR rather than VR.


Randolph Fritz #39:

Re: motion sickness.
I used to get it playing DOOM2 too close to the monitor.

Some old tech guy #38:

The reader shouldn't need to know Digicash protocols to enjoy the story, but knowing may bring an added level of enjoyment. It's about the story being written well enough that the reader can glean enough from context to follow the story.


In my just ended roleplaying campaign set in Steve Jackson Games' Transhuman Space setting (a somewhat optimistic year 2100 with cloning, genetic upgrades to humanity, AI, and other technologies that radically change the concept of "an intelligent being"), I confronted the player characters, a group of private investigators based in Montréal who specialized in informational crimes, with a virtual reality entertainment firm who needed help with their players being victimized by a version of the Spanish Prisoner. Before the case was resolved, one of my players posted a link to the campaign livejournal about a very similar con game that was being run in the present, and the legal options for dealing with it.

And, of course, I bought and read Halting State while I was running that scenario, too. But having a real world case really brought the thing home.


The major issue with virtual banks in online worlds such as Second Life is the weakness of the virtual currencies that they trade in. The problem arises because although many of these currencies are exchangeable, they are not redeemable - in other words, although the virtual world owner might condone or support the exchange of, say, Linden Dollars for US$, there is no guaranteed right of exchange. Indeed, if you look at the Second Life TOS, Linden Lab explicitly declaims the redeemability of the L$, or even that it is 'money' at all.

Why? Well, a recent analysis [1] shows, from analysis of Linden Lab's own published economic statistics, that LL is maintaining liquidity within the Second Life economy by inflating the money supply through the issue of new L$. Now, this is a perfectly common thing to do with fiat currencies (ones not backed by commodity reserves) [2] but doing so creates debt. If LL issues L$265M - the equivalent at current exchange rates of US$1M - that ends up in the (virtual) pockets of Second Life users, then in theory they could ask for it in real US$, and LL would suddenly need to find (cue Dr Evil cackle) One Million Dollars!. This would clearly be a Bad Thing, so LL protect themselves by declaring in their legal boilerplate that in fact the L$ is worth whatever LL say it is, potentially including nothing at all. Hey presto, no debt!

This stands in stark contrast to, for instance, PayPal, whose European subsidiary is regulated as an Electronic Money Institution under EC Directive 2000/46/EC, one of the requirements of which is that it must redeem on demand and in full (less reasonable charges) any money held on account. To answer one of the earlier questions, that's why PayPal is a real bank (well, a real EMI, but the difference is not germane here) and banks in Second Life aren't.

[1] Yes, it's from the Von Mises Institute, a bunch of libertarian eccentrics who harp back to the Good Old Days of the gold standard. However, this paper appears to be reasonably fruitcake-free and is based on Linden Lab's own numbers and some fairly uncontroversial elementary economics.

[2] This sort of thing happens all the way from major nations down to tiny micro-economies using scrip to facilitate barter - the Capitol Hill Baby-Sitting Circle being a classic example.


This is about people playing games with money, so I suppose it is relevant:
John Lanchester explaining the modern derivatives market in the London Review of Books.
"The complexity is such that even the people who know what they’re doing don’t always know what they’re doing."

Fuck it. I'm putting all my money into tulips.


I hate to quote wikipedia AS IF it was an utterly reliable authority, since such a thing does not exist [cf. antipope, autopope] but this [briefly excerpted] article is not bad:


Monopoly is a board game published by Parker Brothers, an imprint of Hasbro. Players compete to acquire wealth through stylized economic activity involving the buying, rental and trading of properties using play money, as players take turns moving around the board according to the roll of the dice. The game is named after the economic concept of monopoly, the domination of a market by a single provider.

According to Hasbro, since Charles Darrow patented the game in 1935, approximately 750 million people have played the game, making it "the most played [commercial] board game in the world."[1] The 1999 Guinness Book of Records cited Hasbro's previous statistic of 500 million people having played Monopoly.[2] Games Magazine has inducted Monopoly into its Hall of Fame.[3]

Or is Adrian Midgley disputing my sloppy statement that the game is "prototypically American"? If so, I apologize. I just wanted to illustrate how I'd explain banks in Second Life to someone who just appeared from 1967, having been cryogenically suspended with Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery.

I agree that America has no special claim to Capitalism. The USA (which deserves no special treatment in Chales Stross's blog) is neither the oldest Capitalist country, nor the largest, nor the purest.

But Atlantic City is in New Jersey, which, as opposed to Jersey, is the the USA.

When it was first proposed to allow a plethora of casinos in Atlantic City, a reasonable objection was made that this might attract organized crime. One graft-recipient politician assured that he'd keep organized crime out of Atlantic City.

"Oh, yeah?" countered another, in debate, "the way they keep penguins out of Antarctica?"


Mr. Stross, I kindly ask your permission to print and sell T-shirts with the quote "Being whimsical precisely in order to be provocative".

My "Halting State" Moment?
I once invested a substantial amount of my savings into shares in a computer-game company where I was employed -- and lost all of it. The company produced a very expensive MMORPG (Massively Multiplayer Role-Playing Game). The moral? Software can easily turn consensus currency into consensus nothing...


ARY: you have my permission to print and sell T-shirts bearing that quote, on one condition -- that any profits you make may not be donated to any charity without my prior approval of the charity in question.


#37 Soon Lee

WRT Myopia. If you have laser beamed to your retina, then the image could appear to be at any focus and distance. Microvision were/are working on this before switching to micro Laser projectors.


Artificial currency like Linden$ currently falls into a sort of legal and tax grey area. If it was an actual currency, then all sorts of banking regulations would apply, financial laws, tax laws, etc. For every country they have players in...


Simon@42 - Well no, there is an important difference as regards PayPal not being a bank. They can take your money at any time and not return it for any reason they see fit.

I think that's pretty much exactly like said Second Life bank.

There are better examples from Eve Online, frankly - there have been some absolutely massive financial scams there. (And like Linden Labs, CCP won't help you...)


Actually, in Europe PayPal _is_ a bank. They incorporated in Luxembourg and became regulated as a bank in 2007.


Paypal, in the US, tries diligently with fleets of lawyers to have it both ways. They are a bank for any purpose for which they find it advantageous to be a bank - for example, electronic funds transfers - and instantly not a bank when it would be inconvenient, such as freezing your funds for no stated reason and refusing ever to return them to you. After the horror stories I've heard from a number of reputable people, I avoid running any funds through them if possible, and when I must I pay it via a credit card which AFAICT gives me some extra recourse.


Andrew C @ 49; are you referring to PayPal US or PayPal Europe? The latter is tightly regulated (Andrew D @50 is right; having indeed become an authorised EMI, it then became a bank) under EU laws that ought to drop it in deep poo if it engaged in that sort of behaviour.


Charlie, here's an editorial cartoon you might find appropriate.

And may I mention that next Friday is Wear Orange Day to show your support for closing Gitmo? All the rallies are in the US, but I suspect there are non-USians who would like to show their support, too.


JvP@ 33 and 44:

I think what confused Adrian was your mind-boggling suggestion that anyone in the modern world might not have heard of Monopoly.


Simon@52: Well they were still doing precisely the same at least until November. "Suspicious activity" - which banks *can* do but they can have customers walk easily if they do it liberally. It's not so easy with PayPal.


Will Pearson #37:
Interesting indeed. If they could sync that so that your eyes are forced to change focus depending on if they are viewing 'near' or 'far' scenes, then I wouldn't have any issues with potential eye-strain problems. No idea how technically challenging that would be.

Marilee #53:
In Northern Ireland, I would hope that protesters have clearly identifying markings indicating what they are protesting to avoid misunderstandings.


Bluntly, the Ginko "bank" in SecondLife was a straight up Ponzi scheme. They were at various times promising 1000% annualized returns and were only able to continue as long as they were because of the rapid increase in SecondLife residents.

I'm not saying that it isn't damn interesting that a Brazilian gentleman was able to scam three quarters of a million dollars from people worldwide via a virtual community, just that focusing on the situation as a "bank run" is somewhat off the mark.



I understood that part of the point of Eve Online was that behaviour was therein acceptable that was considerd intolerable and rightly criminalised in real life, because if the worst came to the worst, a player could drop out of the game with no real-life consequences. Trying to regulate it as though it was real life would really mess it up.



First take after reading Lumos's sales pitch is "objects (seen) through these glasses are smaller than they appear." Much, much smaller...

If I didn't botch the math, the wide viewing angle which they tout ('equivalent of a 60" screen viewed at ten feet') works out to about half a radian, or about 28 degrees¹. Even if that quantity is per eye, it's still less than one-quarter of typical human field of vision, IIRC.²

Anyone going to CES? Would love to hear from you if you get a chance to test-drive these, no matter what size.

¹ Scale by 0.8 if your virtual 60" screen is measured on the diagonal ==> 0.4 radians, or 22.6° FOV per eye.

² Human-factors study of space station design, which successfully modelled reach and accessibility to work-station controls but found it difficult ("nearly impossible") to model or display field(s) of view which a user would experience in situ — in part because people can take in >100° field of view from one eye and up to 170° FOV with binocular vision, but extant graphics systems from mid-80's were seldom up to rendering such a wide frustrum without clipping. (Displaying the result, even if it could be rendered, was another sticky point.)


C.S. said, "My point is, the hobbyist VR scene has been around for more than a decade at this stage."

Gods, at least. I mean, anyone who's been to a sf con in the last 20 years has seen what kind of Borgistic styles have evolved with the home designer. I'm not sure I aspire to be like your character in Accelerando. And it seems that most of what the public sees now get's shunted over to Youtube right away. Do you think you saw the Free Information revolution hitting so quickly? You probably did.


Here's a Halting State moment:
G.M. to Show a Vehicle That Drives by Itself

GM is predicting that it will be selling driverless cars by 2018. And if GM can do it, then I'm sure there are plenty of other companies that will too.


Andrew G: "GM is predicting that it will be selling driverless cars by 2018. And if GM can do it, then I'm sure there are plenty of other companies that will too."

If GM is predicting it for 10 years from now, I'll start checking passing Toyota's to see how many of them don't even have a driver in them.


Andrew and Barry: would this be the same GM who came up with all the joystick-controlled jet-turbine-powered prototypes in the 1960s? And then proceeded to turn out technically pedestrian interchangeable motor vehicles right up to the present day?

My 21st century moment was a certain group flying a couple of late 20thC technological icons into a late 20thC cultural/economic icon. It was the first serious piece of news that I first saw on the internet... and my first reaction was that it was like something out of science fiction.


It didn't take the present long to catch up with Gibson. Will it take any longer to catch up with Stross?


62,63: BMW demonstrated a driverless car on Top Gear in the UK a few months ago. The future's here, etc.


Greg Bear uses slave-ways. I'm not sure P.K. Dick did, but those same sorts of cars are shown in the movie Minority Report. It makes sense to have a fleet of automated taxis instead of everyone owning their own car. Sorta like the way you can just use a public bike in Amsterdam.


JHomes@58: And the metagaming this has caused has come back to bite them, repeatedly. (Yes, used to play Eve)


Hello future:


As close to a HALTING STATE story as one could wish for?


Hello future:


As close to a HALTING STATE story as one could wish for?


Aha, Linden Labs are outlawing "banks" [sic - quote marks in original] in Second Life. http://blog.secondlife.com/2008/01/08/new-policy-regarding-in-world-banks/


The military has been running a competition for true driver-less cars for a few years. I suspect the commercial versions are coming from that.


Jeff @#20, having just reread Hal Duncan's amazing _Vellum_ and _Ink_, consensus reality seems *dangerous* to me more than anything else.

(Oh, and really cool.)


I parsed Charlie's "multifunction input" in #26 as "malfunction input." For 90s style mobile computing, the two were virtually interchangable...


Linden Labs has outlawed Second Life banks.


As I understand it, they haven't outlawed banks in Second Life, just outlawed virtual banks without a real-life existence, in essence outsourcing the regulation of the banks to the real world.


I had a Halting State moment when I read this article. It fits the "unwelcome" part of Charlie's definition.

This could be the start of a domino effect for super-cheap cars that will spread to Europe and America, causing major pollution and traffic problems. Overall, the U.S. has a terrible public transport system, and super-cheap cars would reduce incentive to build any new transport infrastructure.

I also cringed when I learned the "Nano" name for the Indian vehicle, since nanotech has such a great potential to protect the environment and improve quality of human life.


Josh, I can get you a car for less than that. It'll be second-hand, but it'll still be a car. Probably a lot more car than that one, in fact.

One of the major things that people always forget about mass-production of cars is that it makes parts interchangeable. That means you can maintain older cars cheaply. I frequently wonder what would happen if new cars had to be designed for a twenty year service life, rather than the 2-years-and-chuck-it mentality of the current crop.


According to one of my kids, "nano" simply means "small" in Gujarati (his native language).


"what would happen if new cars had to be designed for a twenty year service life"

We'd be choking on smog from 1980s engine technology? And if we did implement higher CAFE standards, say, we'd have to wait 30 years for the fleet to turn over. Ack.

There was a NY Times article recently about cheap Chinese motorcycles in poor countries. Yes, of course increasing worldwide demand for fuel, new sources of air pollution, and new requirements for roads are going to be challenging (though I'm hardly volunteering to give up my Subaru) but that article made clear that for many rural people in poor countries, the lack of transportation is a deadly problem in terms of getting people medical treatment, and it's a huge barrier to commerce, for instance.

I think there's a somewhat patronizing Western green attitude that implies that people's desire for cars in the developing world is based on a slavish imitation of what is supposed to be a failed model of car-centric development in the West.

I think we take for granted those advances in safety & convenience & commerce that are enabled by personal road transport, and I don't think we can imagine very well what life would be like without them. If cars are such a bad idea, why do most people in developed countries own them? Why do virtually all rural residents own them?

And while city development can and should be designed around reduced (though not eliminated) road transport, cheap road transport doesn't really have any substitutes for poor rural people, who number, what, a billion or so? A fifth of the human race, maybe?

Of course that doesn't mean that putting 10s of millions of cheap new cars on the road in developing countries has no cost, but I think we should appreciate the benefits that it brings to those people, and so try to imagine a sustainable and reasonably balanced future for car technology that includes cheap cars in huge numbers. Because cars really aren't going to go away.


I have a 21-year-old minivan that is certainly on the heavy end of emissions*. But it's much cheaper for me to maintain it than it is to buy a new car. If someone wants me to buy a new environmentally-sensitive car, they have to not only make it accessible for me, but they have to give me most of the money to buy it.

*I drove 2732 miles last year so I'm not adding a *lot* of fumes.


"We'd be choking on smog from 1980s engine technology?"

Catalytic converters were around in the 80s, you know. My 1987 car has one (it's not working, but I live in a country with emissions standards but no emissions tests...)

If a car was designed to be upgradeable, modern engine management would be trivial to retrofit. As long as it's got fuel injection the last 10% is mostly down to the computer anyway. Maintain what you've got instead of throwing it away because 1 component in 10 000 is no longer up to scratch.


The US isn't going to start importing a car like the Nano. Our safety and environmental regulations typically prevent it, not because they're strict but because they aren't designed to allow things like city cars.

The Ford Ka is a small car that's sold all over the world, but not in the US despite Ford being an American company. The only little car I've seen here is the MINI Cooper, and that's because it was trendy with upper class urbanites.

You can buy used cars pretty cheap in the US, the resale value drops off sharply after the first year or two. So any bare-bones budget car is going to be competing with used cars that have far more in the way of comfort and safety features at the same price. People aren't going to give those up just to get a new car, especially if cost is a primary concern.


I want to add that I wouldn't be surprised if there were 100 million new drivers over the next decade, primarily in India and China.


Andrew G@82, the two-seated Smartcar is now for sale in the US: http://www.smartcarofamerica.com/


Marilee: the SMART ForTwo has been in sale in the US for about two years now. It costs -- unlike most cars -- twice as much over there as it does over here, which probably makes it a bit of a niche product. (Normally it's the other way round ...)


Just saw an article in this month's Technology Review about a fraudulent "bank" set up in Second Life.

In-game kiosks encouraged players to deposit their "Lindens" and open a bank account; they even earned interest for a while.
Then the kiosks (and the Lindens) disappeared....

Evidently, more than a few Second Life citizens lost money in the scam, and they are having a hard time finding a law enforcement agency willing to investigate.


Charlie, the Smart ForTwo is cheaper than most other cars here, even if it's a lot more than over there.