Let’s give a big hand to George Lucas

Being the sci-fi geek I am, I recently watched the entire Star Wars series on DVD. Again. And it struck me that George Lucas has a penchant for severed limbs. Seriously, in almost every movie, at least one character loses a hand or limb.

I don’t think that I’m being OCD about this, because most other movies I watch don’t have quite so many body parts hitting the ground. To make sure I wasn’t imagining things, I compiled this handy list:

Star Wars I: Phantom Menace
Well, nobody lost limbs in this one. That I could see.

Star Wars II: Revenge of the Sith

  • Obi-Wan cuts off bar patron’s hand.
  • Count Dooku cuts off Annikin’s arm.

Star Wars III: Revenge of the Sith
This one is a veritable limb-fest.

  • Annikin cuts off both of Count Dooku’s hands.
  • A battle droid loses both arms aboard the ship.
  • Annikin cuts off Mace Windu’s hand.
  • Obi-Wan cuts off Annikin’s real arm. Then both legs.

Star Wars IV: A New Hope

  • Tuskan raider rips off C3-P0’s arm.
  • Obi-Wan cuts off bar patron’s arm (this is becoming a habit with him).

Star Wars V: Empire Strikes Back

  • Luke cuts off the snow creature’s arm.
  • C3-P0 loses all limbs off-screen.
  • Darth Vader cuts off Luke’s hand.

Star Wars VI: Return of the Jedi

  • Luke cuts off Vader’s hand.

So there’s my handy (heh!) list of lopped limbs. I put this question to George Lucas: What is your fascination with dismemberment? I should watch Lucas’ other movies. Did anyone lose limbs in the Indiana Jones movies? Or maybe American Graffiti?

The web, the wasp, and the metaverse

Cast your mind back, if you will, into the murky past of the Internet. Think back to before the Y2K scare. Back, before the dot-com days. Back, before the Browser Wars. Back, to a time when Babbage‘s computing machine was powered by steam, and monkeys were routinely hired to operate it.

Hold on. No, we’ve gone too far back. And I’m not sure that the bit about the monkeys is true anyway. Let’s fast-forward a bit.

It’s the early nineties. The World Wide Web has yet to reach the public consciousness — it’s a vast empty plain roamed only by herds of geeks and plodding researchers. And while everyone is thrilled with this nifty “hypertext” idea, nobody is quite sure what to do with it. Of all the hundreds of home pages in this primordial web, the majority include governments and universities, Star Trek fan sites, pornography, and occasionally Star Trek pornography. Geeks the world over are able to freely exchange information, ideas, and photos of Lieutenant Tasha Yar, naked. It was an information revolution.

I remember clearly my first encounter with the web. I had connected to UBC’s network through an old text-only terminal to check my email when I noticed a link named “Web of Wonder”. I didn’t know it at the time, but as I activated that link I was about to surf the web for my very first time.

Glowing green text rippled down the screen as I hopped from page to page, and before long I found myself looking at what appeared to be pages from the UK. Was it possible? Had I unwittingly connected to a university across the Atlantic? I was agog at the possibilities.

And then, with a world of information at my fingertips, I found and downloaded the game cheat codes for The Secret of Monkey Island. A useful thing was that “Web of Wonder”.

For a time, life was good. As I surfed daily, my surfing addiction grew. I found new and fascinating places, often just by chance. I’d click, click, click away the hours.

Then corporate and business interests sank their filthy claws into the web. Like the tarantula wasps of the American southwest, the advertisers grappled the web, rammed their ovipositors into its belly, and laid millions of eggs in the web’s helpless, writhing form. What had been an egalitarian and non-commercial service, unsullied by business, by and for educational institutions became a living zombie spider rupturing poisonous, stinging ads.

It’s a sad fact that 87% of all links on the average website lead to advertising (and 89% of all statistics are just made up). So in any given hour of surfing, most of your jumps will probably lead to ads for all variety of products and services, including online dating, pornography, herbal treatments for men, and insurance. Incidentally, 99% of men purchasing three of these products will also require the fourth. The other 1% fails to use the dating service correctly.

For the net junkie, alternatives have evolved along with the web, and in some cases, they merged. The venerated dial-up bulletin boards, where people chatted, debated, and SHOUTED IN ALL CAPS at each other moved to the web as forums. Internet relay chat (IRC), which predates the web, continues still, and is mimicked by web-based chat rooms.

I have never understood the appeal of chatting anonymously with random strangers on the net. To me, chatting online is like walking along a busy sidewalk and striking up conversations with oncoming traffic. I know that some people actually do that, but they’re usually off their meds.

So while others whiled away the entire night in chat rooms LOLing and emoting with sideways happy faces about nothing in particular, I shrugged and continued to surf through increasingly commercial websites, dodging pop-ups and other hazards. But the chatters and forum surfers grew in numbers and evolved a sense of identity. They were communities who found homes on the web, LOLing and ROFLing with like-minded individuals.

It was around this time in the web’s history, one early morning at about 3:30, that I woke up with a keyboard waffle pattern on my face and drool oozing between the Ctrl and Shift keys. My desk was littered with discarded snack wrappers, and my screen was full of dancing hamsters — the official Hamster Dance website, in fact. My screen was full of dancing hamsters, and I had no idea how I got there. It was in this moment that I realized that I might be wasting my time with this “web surfing”.

And then, as if chat rooms cross-pollinated with online games, something new sprouted from the steaming, fertile soil of the Internet. Imagine a chat room, but in a 3-D virtual world. Like a computer game, you walk your character around and interact with the environment; like a chat room, you can engage in light banter and even throw in the occasional LOL.

Among the first of these was ActiveWorlds, the grandfather of all metaverses. Then came There and Second Life. Soon there will be others, as Sony and other companies enter the arena of virtual worlds.

It seems to me that the development of the metaverse mirrors that of the early web. The Second Life world is constructed mostly by individuals as a hobby, and populated by casual visitors seeking a little light chat and entertainment. Of those looking to engage the metaverse for practical purposes, researchers and educators have led the way. All the metaverse needs for the parallel to be complete is Star Trek porn, and I’m fairly certain that you wouldn’t have to look very far to find that or any other kind of porn in Second Life.

Metaverses and Second Life in particular are at a stage where the news media writes articles about virtual worlds as a curiosity, reheating tired phrases like “It’s not even real!” and “You can make real money!”

Eventually the novelty will pass, as it did for the web, and interest will turn to more practical matters. Business matters. With the growing list of corporate players like IBM, Dell, CBS, and NBC, we find ourselves at a crossroads where longtime Second Lifers fear being crushed like ants under the wheels of progress in the corporations’ greedy rush upstream to the rich spawning grounds. There simply aren’t enough clichés and mixed metaphors to describe the apprehension growing among longtime Second Life residents.

I would hope that, like the web, there would be room in the metaverse for both business and personal use. Second Life needs both an Amazon and a MySpace: the metaverse may need to feed on advertisement, but it will thrive on communities. Second Life may have been impregnated with writhing wasp larvae, but we aren’t yet a zombie spider. Communities still have control. For now we can still log in and ROFL and LOL in a completely ad-free environment. We can even post pictures of Tasha Yar.

In fact, I think I’ll do that right now.

Mmm. Yar.

3ASE launches 3rd Annual Sattelite Exhibition

Scripter extraordinaire, Timeless Prototype, has launched the 3rd Annual Sattelite Exhibition, featuring “useful, interesting or fun autonomous scripted objects”. In past years, this event has been full of cool gadgets and tools that push the limits of scripting in Second Life.

The Cubey Terra “base” is located in the 3ASE 1 sim.

Although my forte is piloted aircraft and parachutes rather than autonomous objects, I cobbled together a self-piloting lunar lander that does a little loop around the exhibition site. A fairly large chunk of the autopilot script (meaning almost all of it) was actually lifted from an airplane autopilot by Apotheus Silverman, so I can’t take credit for that. But it looks nifty.

The exhibition runs from Monday March 19 to Sunday March 25 in the sims 3ASE 1 and 3ASE 2, with a special event on Saturday. If you have scripted something that you want to show off, contact Timeless Prototype. There are still exhibit spaces available.