1 May 2000
Reported, written and edited by David Duberman
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A high-tech group working to develop solutions to the global ecological crisis announces Planetwork, a conference to focus on what some might call the unlikely intersection of two worlds: information technology and global ecology. The event takes place May 12-14 in the San Francisco Presidio's Golden Gate Club.
Planetwork will explore how the creative application of digital tools - scientific visualization, interactive databases, GIS-based systems and computational modeling, as well as the Internet itself - can help reverse environmental damage and open up new possibilities for environmental activism and positive global change.
The conference will feature both local and international experts from a wide range of disciplines and vocations - science, technology, business, green politics & activism, and the arts. Featured speakers include Kevin Kelly (Wired), Julia Butterfly Hill (tree-sitter & green activist), Gloria Brown Simmons (MIT Center for Advanced Visual Studies), Meredith Lane, (biologist, Academy of Natural Science), Eduardo Kac (Art Institute of Chicago), Tyler Volk (Professor of Biology, NYU; NASA), Pierre Levy (Hypermedia, University of Paris-VIII), John Helly (Supercomputer Center; UC San Diego), Adam Werbach (Sierra Club, past president), John Delaney (U of WA; Neptune Project), Char Davies (digital artist), Elisabeth Sahtouris (biologist, futurist), Duane Elgin, Brian Swimme, Ralph Abraham, and David Rothenberg.
Sheri Xiaoyi Liao, founder and president of Global Village Beijing, will address the conference as a keynote speaker on "Chinese Civil Society Development and the Environmental Movement." In 1996, Liao founded Global Village Beijing (GVB), a leading non-profit in China's small but growing environmental movement, with the mission of educating the Chinese people about sustainable development. In addition to organizing grass roots community environmental initiatives, including China's first-ever recycling campaign, GVB produces "Time for Environment," the only independently produced environmental TV program broadcast nationally in China.
@watch last week announced WebShepherd 2.0, a new engine that drives its Web site monitoring service. The service acts as a normal visitor to client sites, except that it takes notes at one of three different monitoring levels. These range from checking the site hourly to once every five minutes. At the specified time, @watch monitors several different aspects of the site, including page load time, server response time, link veracity, integrity of site graphics, and overall user experience.
Clients receive an alert message within five minutes if their site is experiencing problems; alerts can arrive via email, fax, or pager.
Other features include an alert retry system, recovery alerts, support for SSL and secure sites, IFRAME support, HTML and server redirection, flexible alert notification, and diagnostic alert detail.
Panasite Software last week announced the successful beta testing of its new Web-based content-management service. The subscription service, expected to be available June/July, is an online application with tools that import assets from existing Web sites and automate a client-specific publishing workflow that tracks new content from creation through approval and deployment. The system is designed to let multiple contributors across an organization to define, create, manage and publish Web site content.
SRS Labs plans to ship this fall a new technology aimed at the game market -- Circle Surround Interactive (CS-I). The company claims it will deliver real-time, interactive, multi-channel sound capability when used in conjunction with existing and future game consoles such as Sony PlayStation, Sega Dreamcast, Nintendo Dolphin or Microsoft X-box, adding surround sound realism for all supported games.
The first available hardware product will consist of a custom CS-I decoder and two-rear surround speakers, which in conjunction with the stereo speakers of a TV or a separate stereo system can play back the CS-I encoded game audio signals in five channels. The center speaker is simulated as a phantom source using the front left and right speakers.
Game developers will be able to take advantage of these sound advancements for real-time position encoding through integrated "middleware" to be available from various SRS Labs partners. By utilizing the encoding API, developers can achieve real-time movement of sound locations; front, back, left and right, in accordance with the movement of game objects relative to the user.
Steinberg North America last week announced Cubase VST 5.0 for computer-based music production. The software offers a UI makeover plus new features such as analog warmth with Magneto technology and 32-bit recording, output and mixdown.
Among the most significant new features in the Cubase VST 5.0 line are:
As the popularity of the Internet continues to rise, worldwide line-powered internet appliance (IA) shipments will increase by a factor of 15 from 1999 to 2004, according to Cahners In-Stat Group, a high-tech market research firm.
Comprised of TV-based internet appliances, Web phones and Internet terminals, this market's overall growth will be led by Web phones with an estimated five-year compounded annual growth rate (CAGR) of 202%.
In-Stat predicts that the more mature TV-based IAs will see strong growth. However, as alternative IAs begin to emerge, TV-based market share will erode. Internet terminal shipments will outstrip TV-based IAs in a few years, after surpassing Web phone shipments by the end of 2000.
According to Joyce Putscher, Director of In-Stat's Consumer & Converging Markets & Technologies Group, Internet Terminals are "a familiar form for those with previous knowledge of PCs who will be interested in these types of products for additional use in the family room or kitchen. Those who are not PC savvy will also be enticed by these products in that they are simple, have a low-maintenance of ownership and are not as expensive as PCs."
A recent In-Stat report also finds:
The $2,995 report, Line-Powered Internet Appliances: The New Frontier for "Boxes" & ICs (#MM0006IA), provides worldwide forecasts for Internet appliances including TV-based Internet appliances, Web phones and Internet terminals and resulting microprocessor and memory forecasts. The report also covers IA market drivers, market strategies, platform providers, and operating systems, with over 40 profiles (including individual products and technologies, business models and pricing strategies, and alliances and partnerships) including Acer, Be, Compaq, Ericsson, Gateway-AOL, IBM, InfoGear (Cisco), Intel, National Semiconductor, Netpliance, Philips, QNX, RCA-Thomson, Sony, and Vestel.
A new survey of Internet users found that consumer fears of online credit card security are a major barrier to expanded e-commerce. The survey, conducted by Washington DC-based SWR Worldwide for Cyota Corporation, a New York City technology firm, found that:
Two thirds (64%) of Internet users are "very concerned" about the security of their credit card information and credit card transaction online.
Concern over online credit card security limits in the purchasing behavior of many Internet users. A majority (55%) of Internet users say they purchase only "small ticket" items or do not make purchases online because of their concern about the security of their credit card information online.
Eight in ten (79%) say they would be "much more likely" (37%) or "somewhat more likely" (42%) to shop online if they were convinced their credit card information was secure.
Surprise! Cyota last week unveiled SecureClick--an online payment system that enables consumers to never send their real card number over the Internet to make purchases. Instead, customers use a one-time "disposable" transaction number that only the authorized customer can access. The SecureClick system also checks the customer's final invoice against their original purchase order for discrepancies.
Just out in its third release is, as far as we know, the only LightWave 3D hair plug-in. Features include:
Binary Arts Inc. / Metrografx
ph/fax (719) 748-3972
P.O. Box 568 Florissant, Co 80816
MeGa MoCap is character animation specialist Credo Interactive's latest addition to its PowerMoves motion content library. Originally created by the Pepper's Ghost Studio in the UK, MeGa MoCap has been tweaked by Credo to ensure maximum compatibility with a wide range of applications.
Available in LWS, Poser, and LFA file formats, MeGa MoCap is compatible with LightWave, Poser, and Life Forms. The collection consists of 12 different motion capture bundles, with anywhere from 19 to 61 motions in each. Priced at $1 per motion, the complete collection includes 500 motion capture files.
MeGa MoCap is available May 15, 2000 from http://www.CharacterMotion.com.
project:messiah 3D character-animation software is the product of a collaboration among CGI veterans Dan Milling, Lyle Milton and Fori Owurowa, who spent five years collecting the wish lists of digital artists and animators.
The project:messiah team has just released version 1.5.4. New features include two animation preview modes in addition to its standard 24-bit open GL: 1-bit black-and-white, and 8-bit gray scale. It also includes 25 new expressions functions that can be tied to sliders for animatable control. These dedicated functions are geared mainly towards facial animation, including lip-synch movements.
Project:messiah 1.5.4 also retains all of the new features from versions 1.5.2 and 1.5.3, including the addition of a JPEG loader to the background image module; a new keyframing panel that lets animators control which items the keyframes will be created for, and a Character Group Module that lets any item be assigned to one or more groups for keyframing and other functions.
The second beta release of Deneba's Canvas 7 for the Linux OS is now available as a free download from the company's Web site. This release has been updated to reflect input and suggestions provided by users who downloaded last week's initial release.
Canvas provides vector drawing, diagramming, technical illustration, creative drawing, image editing, Web graphics and page-layout features.
Canvas 7 for Linux has been tested on several flavors of RedHat (RHAT) and Debian Linux. It is distributed as an RPM package, Debian Package and TAR file. The latest version of glibc (version 2.1 or greater) is required. This release also includes all Canvas 7 documentation online.
A couple of years ago, 3dfx and its Voodoo family of ICs led the consumer end of the graphics-hardware market. More recently, Nvidia has ruled the heap with its TNT and GeForce chips. Could ATI Technologies be the next king?
Last week the company introduced what it claims is the most powerful graphics processor for desktop PCs, the Radeon 256.
The new chip offers these features:
Pixel Tapestry, part of Charisma, offers:
Nvidia Corporation last week introduced the GeForce2 GTS, reportedly the first shading graphics processor unit (GPU) for the desktop PC market. The product's Nvidia Shading Rasterizer (NSR) technology allows per-pixel control of color, shadow, light, reflectivity, emissivity, specularity, gloss, dirt, and other visual and material components used to create realistic objects and environments.
The company says the GTS achieves four pixels per clock (dual-textured) or eight texels per clock and delivers 1.6 billion texels (or 1.6 gigatexels) per second -- more than twice the performance of its GeForce 256 and more than three times the texture processing power of any competitive consumer graphics product. GeForce2 GTS drives resolutions and color depths of up to 2048 x 1536 x 32 at 75 MHz.
Another key feature of GeForce2 GTS is its High Definition Video Processor (HDVP), which enables a variety of HDTV solutions when combined with a mainstream CPU and a DTV receiver. The HDVP allows mainstream high-performance processors to support all 18 Advanced Television Standards Committee (ATSC) formats with a simple, cost-effective DTV receiver card.
Other features of the GeForce2 GTS include:
Also, this week Guillemot-owned Hercules will ship its 3D Prophet II GTS boards, which will be available in 32MB and 64MB versions and are based on the GeForce2 GTS.
Lastly, Elsa, Inc.'s Gladiac, coming this month at an estimated street price of under $350, will also be based on the GeForce 2 GTS. The card comes with stereo 3D, Elsa WINman Suite (which includes Elsa SmartRefresh, SmartResolution and Elsa Advanced Properties) for monitor and application control, and a software DVD player (ELSAmovie included). An optional video-in and video-out module allows for video capture, video editing, video e-mail and playback through a computer or TV. Capture and editing software will be included with the VIVO option.
Image-compression technology firm LuraTech last week launched its Java implementation of LuraWave, software for compressing images for the Web and other applications.
Until now, the viewing of wavelet-compressed images on the Internet has required that the viewer download a plug-in. The LuraWave Java decoder applet (approximately 70K in size) allows LuraWave images to be viewed by anyone with a standard Java-enabled browser offering true platform independence and portability.
JDOM (Java Document Object Model) is a new technology that enables Java developers to read, change, and write XML (Extensible Mark-up Language) data more easily than before. Created by Jason Hunter and Brett McLaughlin, JDOM has just been released under an open-source license. The JDOM Project has a Website dedicated to promoting the understanding and use of JDOM (http://jdom.org), and the site has joined the O'Reilly Network, according to O'Reilly officials.
The site includes documentation on the project, the JDOM code downloadable in both source and binary form, mailing lists, and information about related Java and XML projects. The O'Reilly Network will assist jdom.org by marketing the site and eventually, selling ads on the site.
JDOM is an XML technology optimized for the Java developer. Previous programming libraries and APIs (application programming interfaces) designed to interact with XML have been intended to work with multiple languages, which causes inefficiencies for Java programmers.
A new research report from Jupiter Communications reveals that more than 75 percent of online consumers participate in some type of loyalty program, but few said that it is a critical motivator to increase online purchases. Commerce players must not rely on incentive programs to serve as the sole mechanism to drive loyalty; instead, they must fill functionality gaps or face losing customers to either more costly channels or to competitors that offer more value.
According to a Jupiter/NFO Consumer Survey of 1,200 US online consumers, only 22 percent of respondents indicated that loyalty programs serve as an incentive to purchase online. Online consumers place a higher value on easy returns (40 percent), customer service (37 percent), and product selection (37 percent).
Cycling '74 last week reached an agreement with Gibson Guitar subsidiary Opcode Systems and the French music research institute IRCAM in which Cycling '74 has acquired the publishing rights to Max, a graphical interactive programming environment for real-time music and multimedia.
Max was originally developed at IRCAM in the late 1980s by Miller Puckette and was licensed to Opcode Systems in 1990, where Cycling '74 founder and president David Zicarelli took the lead on its further development. Cycling '74 has extended Max's MIDI and multimedia support with MSP, a set of synthesis and signal processing extensions. Remarked Zicarelli, "Now we can take the next step and transform MAX and MSP into cross-platform authoring tools." The company has announced plans for a Windows version of MAX to be released later this year.
Blizzard last week announced plans for Diablo II's Battle.net stress test -- the final phase of Diablo II beta testing and the company's largest public beta test to date. Starting Monday morning, gamers will have the opportunity to register for their chance to be one of up to 100,000 players to be chosen to help stress test Battle.net servers prior to the launch of Diablo II.
The beta signup is scheduled for a seven-day period exclusively on ZDNet's GameSpot (www.gamespot.com) beginning on Monday, May 1 at 10:00 a.m. PT and ending Sunday, May 7 at 9:00 p.m PT. Following the registration period, Blizzard will randomly select up to100,000 testers.
The beta, which will only be playable over Battle.net, will include the Barbarian character class and portions of the game's first act. The purpose of the beta test is to ensure the stability of Battle.net servers worldwide.
In Diablo II, players return to a dark world plagued by evil forces. After possessing the body of the hero who defeated him, Diablo resumes his nefarious scheme to shackle humanity into unholy slavery by joining forces with the other Prime Evils, Mephisto and Baal. Players face a new series of quests to rid the world of Diablo and his vile brethren forever.
Diablo II is being developed by the Blizzard North design team and is expected to release during the first half of this year in Windows format. A Macintosh version of the game will be available during Q3 2000.
The Sims, which publisher EA says just marked its 12th consecutive week as the top-grossing PC game in North America, isn't your usual gaming fare. It's not about slaying dragons, fighting aliens or scoring touchdowns. Rather, it's about controlling the domestic lives of supposedly regular people.
During the game's long seven-year development, skeptics said a game about domestic life just wouldn't be fun to the core of computer gaming enthusiasts. So developer Maxis turned to the industry that has been making domestic life entertaining for over 50 years-the world of motion pictures and television.
Enter Danny Bilson and Paul De Meo, two longtime passionate gamers, who most recently created the television series "The Sentinel" and "Viper". Over a period of several months, The Sims' game designers worked with Bilson and De Meo whose Pet Fly Productions was also responsible for bringing the comic book "The Flash" to television, and Disney's "The Rocketeer" to the motion picture screen.
In the game, players create a cast of simulated characters (called Sims) assigning them personalities, appearances and names. Then they control their lives, helping them pursue careers, friendships and romance.
The Pet Fly team using their storytelling abilities helped the game designers at EA to think about what makes domestic life and the family unit entertaining. "Every time we met with Danny and Paul, they really helped us move our thinking forward," said Luc Barthelet, the EA general manager who oversaw development of The Sims. "They forced us to think about the fact that the family concept was valuable. One critical decision that Pet Fly helped us make was to include children in the game. Having kids had been discussed among the team members, but somehow they pushed the idea so that everyone agreed."
Pet Fly also worked with the game developers to think about the careers that players would want their characters to have. Instead of focusing exclusively on real-world jobs, Bilson and De Meo encouraged the game designers to include some unusual career tracks. The final choice of careers in The Sims, therefore included law enforcement, politics, extreme sports, show business and the life of crime.
Many players of The Sims are now playing the role of screenwriters themselves. Using subtitled still screenshots from the game, something that looks like a detailed storyboard, players have created and published over 5,000 of their own TV-style comedies and dramas. These include everything from the adventures of superhero Lama Man to the rise and fall of politician Juan Vasquez to a tragic alien-human love story. The stories are posted on the game's official Web site, http://www.TheSims.com.
Sierra Attractions today announced its 2000 console, Windows and Macintosh product lineup. The lineup includes six console titles and numerous Windows and/or Macintosh games from brands including You Don't Know Jack, The Incredible Machine, 3-D Ultra and Hoyle Games. New titles, such as Backstage Pass: The Ultimate Rock & Roll Trivia Game, will also launch this year.
Coming this fall is Command & Conquer Red Alert 2, the sequel to the three-million-selling real-time strategy game Command & Conquer Red Alert. The title brings players back to the alternate universe of Red Alert with an onslaught of new units, tactics and strategies. As in the original, gamers can choose to lead Soviet or Allied forces. Soviet commanders will invade North America and try to claim it for mother Russia. Allied commanders will fight to push back the invaders and save liberty.
Both sides are armed with conventional weapons and experimental technology. The Soviets can engage in psychic warfare, wield nuclear weapons and fry all they survey with Tesla technology. Allied forces can teleport with chrono technology, conduct covert operations with the help of gap generators, and rain down lightening bolts through weather control. Supporting these high-powered, advanced weapons are massive conventional forces, including armies, air power and navies.
The war rages across recognizable American cities, including Washington, D.C., Chicago, New York City, the Florida Keys, Pearl Harbor, even Texas. The war will then spread to Mexico, Germany, France and, of course, Siberia.
Currently in development at Wombat Games is Dark Zion, a massively multiplayer online world to be released for the Windows, Linux and Macintosh platforms "in the future." Players will explore, build cities, create clans and governments, wage wars, breed insects and discover the lost secrets of the world of Dark Zion as they create a story of their new civilization.
Fantasy and science fiction writer Tad Williams is serving as creative consultant on the project, contributing to the design, story and overall feel of the world of Dark Zion. In addition to Williams, the development team includes Rick Delashmit, former lead programmer of Ultima Online, Jason Spangler, former lead programmer of Ultima Online: The Second Age, Todd McKimmey, former designer from Ultima Online, and Glenn Israel, artist from Alien Intelligence.
Wombat will release parts of the game as open source, and has already released one library as open source. The company is currently searching for a publisher or partner for Dark Zion.
Macromedia announced last week a record 95% growth in revenues for the fourth quarter ended March 31, 2000.
Fourth quarter revenues grew to $89,282,000 compared to $45,780,000 for the same period a year ago, and increased 39% on a sequential basis. Gross profit increased 94% to $78,989,000 compared to $40,776,000 in the fourth quarter a year ago. Pro forma net income for the fourth quarter, excluding non-cash charges, rose to $12,547,000 or $0.22 per share on a diluted basis, compared to pro forma net income of $3,926,000 or $0.08 per share on a diluted basis, for the same period a year ago. The financial results for all periods presented were restated to reflect the acquisition of Elemental Software, Inc. and Andromedia, Inc., both of which were accounted for as a pooling of interests.
Financial statements and a replay of the conference call held last week can be viewed at http://www.macromedia.com/macromedia/ir/annual/1999/updates/q4/index.html.
Ensemble Studios recently added artist David Cherry and art director Brad Pollard to its art department.
Pollard has 25 years professional experience creating art and directing its development for companies such as Disney, Hanna Barbera, Broderbund, Electronic Arts, and Universal Studios.
Cherry, said to be one of the best fantasy and science fiction artists in the country, has won multiple Chesley, Frank R. Paul, and Polly Freas awards, along with 10 nominations for the Hugo Award's Best Professional Artist. In addition to final art on the boxes and in the game, Cherry will be the concept artist for future titles.
Designing the Dynamic Web: Five events over five days:
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