Let me be your fantasy: virtual actors, Final Fantasy, Guinness squirrels and Eyes Wide Shut

This article, on the possibilities and problems with virtual actors, still holds good a decade later. It’s very difficult to produce realistic humans (and why bother when, as one of the Mill’s staff said, there are thousands outside the window) – they either have to be perfect, or they fall into the ‘uncanny valley’ of looking nearly, but not quite, right. Instead, virtual actors are either cartoon-like (the route taken by Pixar) or used to add digital extras in post-production.

I don’t suppose many more films have added naked figures to HELP a film get a lower certificate from US censors – as revealed in the box at the end on Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut (a section published in the paper but missing from the version available on the Guardian website).

Continue reading “Let me be your fantasy: virtual actors, Final Fantasy, Guinness squirrels and Eyes Wide Shut”

New York, London, Paris, Munich: Fear and loathing on the IPO trail

First published in Business 2.0 magazine (UK), July 2000

“Place your bets for the floatation roadshow, financing’s answer to the Grand National. It’s not so much about finishing first, more about simply making it to the line.”

It’s late May, and two Internet executives are mentally and physically preparing themselves for the businessman’s version of an Ironman competition. One is nervous, and the other is cocky as they get ready to embark on what, at the best of times, is a rocky, rigorous ordeal and what, in the current climate of stock market decline, seems downright masochistic. They are embarking on their companies’ IPO roadshow. They hope to encourage investment banks and the public to pour hundreds of millions of pounds into their fledgling operations. Continue reading “New York, London, Paris, Munich: Fear and loathing on the IPO trail”

Parc life: how Parc Xerox changed the world – 2

Parc life

This is an edited and extended version of an article first published in Computing, 11 May 2000

Palo Alto Research Centre, Parc, opened in July 1970 on a bucolic hill overlooking Silicon Valley, before it was called Silicon Valley. The valley, once dominated by agriculture but now crowded with the suburban sprawl that makes up the world’s greatest cluster of IT businesses, was injected with silicon by Parc’s Ears project: Ethernet, Alto, Research character generator and Scanning laser output terminal. The four components of Ears created a network, a computer for one person, a memory buffer for a printer and a laser printer, all invented nearly from scratch. Together, they set the template for the billions of personal computers produced since. Continue reading “Parc life: how Parc Xerox changed the world – 2”

Parc life: how Parc Xerox changed the world

Introduction (2013)

In the dot com era of the late 1990s and very early 2000s, IT companies ran lavish press trips. Most generated pretty awful journalism, partly because the companies wanted to get something out of organising the trip, partly because journalists treated such trips as paid holidays.

Peter Kirwan, my editor at Computing, sent me on my first press trip asking “how would you like to go to the Atlas mountains?” Another journalist at the paper, now a senior editor at a national newspaper, described IT journalists as having “working class pay, middle class attitudes and upper class lifestyles”. The main problem I found on such trips – apart from getting some sort of usable copy out of them – was how to order something from the expensive hotel room service that I could get past the editor when claiming expenses. I ate a lot of club sandwiches. Continue reading “Parc life: how Parc Xerox changed the world”

Oracle: as happy as Larry (Ellison)?

First published in Computing, 18 November 1999

Oracle is a success. It is the world’s second-largest software company. It is number one in relational databases, at least joint second in enterprise resource planning. It is making a strong showing in customer relationship management software – this year’s love for IT managers and stock-market analysts alike – and is poised to move into another hot area, enterprise application integration.

Yet this is a firm with a problem. Its chief executive has a predilection for announcing bold new ideas and products in a blaze of press coverage. These concepts usually see the light of day – but they are not always recognisable by the time they do. Continue reading “Oracle: as happy as Larry (Ellison)?”