April 13, 2011

Last month, Google began detecting faint 404 signals from my first website, the online presence of an effectively fictional school newspaper. The product of many fruitful hours in Netscape Composer and FrontPage Express, The Loveland Schools Press ONLINE drew a whopping ten minutes of attention from my sixth grade class, in between teacher-mandated doses of ClarisWorks and Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing.

In 1998, a cheapskate like me couldn’t find a better host than Fuse Internet Solutions: back then, with a standard Internet subscription, you could get 10 MB of space, a free hit counter widget, and a URL that didn’t begin with some bizarre “neighborhood” name. So the choice between my ISP and GeoCities was a no-brainer.

The newspaper has since moved on and shuttered at one of those ad-supported hosts. But in a fit of self-deprecating humor, I kept its original Under Construction page online. May it serve as an example of what can go wrong at the intersection of amateur journalism and animated GIFs.

March 15, 2009

I keep a folder of bookmarks filled with pages I intend to mention at some point on this blog, because they’re just so funny or otherwise worthwhile to read. But the last time I ever drew from the “Blog About…” folder was over a year ago; since then, its growth has closely paralleled that of the National Debt. The 182 bookmarks stand as a rustic testament to my penchant for procrastination, and that’s just the ones I didn’t lose when switching to the Mac. Though many of those links are now dead, no longer interesting, or covered copiously elsewhere, I’m still going to post the interesting ones.

Well, maybe later. Instead, I thought it’d be fun to share a few of my oldest “good read” bookmarks. Here are some of the webpages I added to the “Humor” folder back in high school, sorted by date bookmarked. Seriously: it’s not every year you find this kind of brilliance on Digg or Reddit:

January 25, 2009

Longtime readers of this blog – again, all two of you – will recall that I’m still a fan of Adobe Atmosphere, that brilliant online virtual reality platform, even though Adobe killed it off shortly after version 1.0, more than five years ago. But even though Atmosphere has gone virtually unused in the years since, I’m on a quest to preserve its memory:

  • Shortly after Adobe pulled their support, I asked the user community for help in establishing an “abandonware” website specifically for Atmosphere, similar to websites that memorialize other long-gone software. That led to the article on Wikipedia. The article still lacks numerous details and contains scant citations, but it’s a start.
  • A few months ago, I updated MingerWorld – which I painstakingly developed during my freshman year in high school – for compatibility with Atmosphere 1.0. Finally.
  • My latest project is “Dialup”, an avatar that Atmosphere’s beta testers will instantly recognize. It imitates the placeholder avatar that other users would appear to wear as Atmosphere downloaded their real avatars.

The breakthrough came when I found Joe De Costa, who’s been running a working copy of Atmosphere’s chat server all these years. With his permission, I hooked MingerWorld up to his server, allowing you to explore the world as it was meant.

Atmosphere’s powerful chat functionality allowed users to see and converse with each other in-world, setting the software apart from countless other 3D offerings, including Adobe’s later ventures in 3D modeling.

In a fit of irony, Adobe released the chat server under an “Atmosphere Open Source License” but neglected to publicize the fact. In fact, the only way to obtain a copy of the source code was to contact Adobe directly. So even at the height of Atmosphere’s popularity, there were only a few chat servers in operation, apart from the official Adobe server. The vast majority of worlds were connected to the official server. After 2004, these worlds went silent: even in the worlds that saw dozens of visitors at a time, each user would appear to be alone. For the many thousands of meticulously-built worlds, the “killer app” was gone.

I want to fix that. I have a copy of the Adobe Community Server software, which I’m planning to run on my own computer in the future. I’d love to make the software publicly available, the way it should be, but first I have some legal questions about it. The key passage in the server’s license agreement reads:

Subject to the terms of this Agreement, Adobe grants you a non-exclusive, worldwide, royalty free license to use, reproduce, prepare derivative works, publicly display, publicly perform, distribute, and sublicense the Software for any purpose provided that the copyright notice below appears in a conspicuous location within the source code of the distributed Software and this license is distributed in the supporting documentation of the version of the Software you distribute.

That’s all well and good, but contained in the source code are two references to patent applications held by Adobe. The first was granted as patent 6,842,786 and seems to describe a server-side dynamic language runtime. The second is still pending after all these years and covers the way worlds “cloned” when full. (An overflow copy of the world was created automatically, so that worlds wouldn’t fill up so severely and users wouldn’t have to load 150 avatars on their dialup connections. Most of us found the feature annoying but dreaded the alternative.)

So my question is: would I be legally permitted to distribute and even modify the server software, as provisioned in the license, even though Adobe holds a patent on certain parts of the server? Note that the license never mentions patents, but rather grants sweeping rights. If not for the patent question, the license would even let me relicense the server under something very much like the MIT license.

Any help appreciated.

  1. It fell in the woods
  2. High school humor
  3. Revisiting Atmosphere
  4. Yesterday’s Web: Netscape and friends
  5. October through January
  6. State of the art
  7. How things work (or don’t)
  8. Firefox 2.0
  9. Thinkers’ Club
  10. Going forward
  11. Gone
  12. Mosaic Communications