The Experts Speak

“The bow is a simple weapon, firearms are very complicated things which get out of order in many ways … a very heavy weapon and tires out soldiers on the march. Whereas also a bowman can let off six aimed shots a minute, a musketeer can discharge but one in two minutes.”

That’s Colonel Sir John Smyth in 1591, advising the British Privy Council to skip muskets and stick with bows.

InfoToday collected a lot of similarly farsighted advice into an online feature, appropriately called OOPS!

Harrison Ford, Call Your Agent

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Air_Force_One_over_Mt._Rushmore.jpgThe exact layout of Air Force One has always been classified, but How Stuff Works has figured it out and rather recklessly published it online.

When they retire the plane in 2010, I’m hoping they put it up on eBay. At 4,000 square feet, it’s twice the size of my house, and my house doesn’t have a pharmacy, an operating table, 85 telephones, 19 televisions, radar jammers, hand-crafted wooden furniture, and flares to confuse heat-seeking missiles.

Also, Air Force One holds 2,000 meals and feeds 100 people at a time, and it can carry 70 passengers halfway around the world without refueling. I think that would be handy on vacations. I can probably fit 10 people in my dining room if we set up an extra card table, but it doesn’t go anywhere.

City Lights

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Earthlights_dmsp.jpg

Earth’s city lights, seen by satellite. You can make out major transportation networks: the American interstate highway system, the trans-Siberian railroad, the Nile. 100 years after the invention of electric light, only Antarctica is entirely dark.

Theseus and the Minotaur

Theseus and the Minotaur is a series of Java-based puzzles in which you have to escape a maze without getting mashed by a computerized monster that moves predictably. There are 14 levels, and I can’t get past level 4.

The interesting thing is that the puzzles were designed by a computer, and they’re now being used in AI experiments at the National University of Ireland. So computers are now solving puzzles designed by other computers.

The Glass Bead Game

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Hermann_Hesse_1925_Photo_Gret_Widmann.jpegIf there’s a master’s cup for science-fiction visionaries, it might actually belong to Hermann Hesse. In a late novel, the German author seemed to imagine the World Wide Web, and its kaleidoscopic hyperlinks, fifty years before it existed.

Das Glasperlenspiel, which won the Nobel Prize in 1946, centers on “the Glass Bead Game,” in which players combine the symbols of world cultures into new and insightful combinations. Here’s his description of the game — see if this doesn’t sound like the Web:

“The Glass Bead Game is thus a mode of playing with the total contents and values of our culture; it plays with them as, say, in the great age of the arts a painter might have played with the colors on his palette. All the insights, noble thoughts, and works of art that the human race has produced in its creative eras, all that subsequent periods of scholarly study have reduced to concepts and converted into intellectual values the Glass Bead Game player plays like the organist on an organ. And this organ has attained an almost unimaginable perfection; its manuals and pedals range over the entire intellectual cosmos; its stops are almost beyond number. Theoretically this instrument is capable of reproducing in the Game the entire intellectual content of the universe.”

Hesse never quite explains how the game is played, which has set a lot of modern designers working on playable variants. The most popular is Charles Cameron’s HipBone Game (here’s an example of a board game, but Cameron’s working on a web-based version). This bears watching: The web is constantly evolving, and perhaps Hesse’s vision is still ahead of us.