May 13, 2004

And now, more VR story, as promised:

Mother blew out a breath, then looked around at the others. Everyone else was quiet, but obviously intrigued. “Right, right,” she said. “Who wants to get together to help these two?”

Most of the people there raised their hands; after a moment, even Panic raised an armored fist.

Mother regarded Thomas and Doodlehopper silently for a moment, as if weighing them in her mind, then shook her head. “Okay,” she said. “But with this crew, you might live to regret it.” She knocked her head to one side and grinned. “On the other hand, with this crew, you will live to regret it.”

Thomas spent the rest of the night exchanging encryption keys, plans, ideas, addresses, anonymizers, and all the mundane details that were part of this sort of endeavor. The group from Fortis was an eclectic bunch, and while Thomas felt that worked in their favor, it also menat that each member had his or her own perspective on the whole situation and wanted to approach it from a unique angle. That meant having to satisfy a dozen different idiosyncratic cracker geniuses at once.

Doodlehopper spent most of the evening on the bed, listening to music via small wired nodes that stuck temporarily to the skin behind her ears, sitting upright in a position vaguely similar to the lotus, her eyes closed, and her head swaying slightly. What little time Thomas had to think about her was spent impressed that she was so calm.

Late in the night, as Thomas was collecting the last sets of data from the new eager participants from Fortis, Doodlehopper unfurled herself from the bed, slipped the nodes into a jacket pocket, strode over to the other side of the room, and began a series of stretches. Thomas kept glancing at her form as she pulled her limbs into what seemed like highly pinaful contortions, all without noise or a change in her neutral facial expression. She then began to move her body through some form of martial arts forms, though Thomas didn’t recognize them. Whatever it was, she had complete control over the forms she practiced that night, never wavering a muscle or seeming off-balance.

The each slept, clothed, in a separate bed. As Thomas lay in the dark, pushing himself to sleep and failing miserably, he couldn’t deny the sexual tension between them. And it wasn’t a chemical attraction; it was the uncomfortable tension of two people who recognize their sexuality but don’t want to act on it. Thomas had to admit to himself that he wanted her, but he knew that getting involved was a bad idea, especially right now when a bunch of very serious, very deadly men were trying to kill him. And the girl definitely didn’t want any physical attention from him. Thomas reflected that she probably wanted someoone much younger htan he, closer to her own age. She was probably fifteen years younger than him. She could almost be his daughter.

He knew where this line of thought was going, and pushed it away before it turned to his pathetic love life. He threw himself onto his side, pulled the thin, uncomforting sheets around him, and forced himself to think of nothing until he finally drifted off into an uneasy sleep.

Thomas awoke with a bang.

(More VR story later today.)

Well, that was interesting.

I’m writing this a few hours after returning home from a course by Edward Tufte, who has written a lot about information design.

What is information design? It’s the study of information presentation, really. How can information—data, numbers, trends—be presented in a way that accurately reflects the information itself? In other words, if I’ve found out about an outbreak of cholera, and I’ve found that it’s related to a particular water source, how do I show that relationship to people in an umambiguous way?

(I do it like this:)

[John Snow's Cholera Outbreak Map]

The course came with all three of Tufte’s books, as well as his pamphlet denouncing PowerPoint (except as a computerized replacement for a static slideshow). I’ve skimmed or read all of them, and they’re all excellent—informative, dense, witty.

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