Just a quick note for those who follow my blog. I will try to post more often now that I’ve emerged in my new role at Syntertainment as co-founder, CTO/CPO and interim CEO. Will is naturally Chief Creative Officer.

In my previous stint at Amazon, I was limited in what I could speak about publicly, for company PR reasons. Ironically, my project (next gen tablet shopping experiences) was not nearly as secretive as my work at Microsoft had been. But then again, no one at Amazon tried to fire me for speaking my mind… You’ll hopefully see some of those cool projects announced by their respective owners.

Mostly, I wanted to open an invite for people who know what kind of things I love to work on to come join us at Syntertainment. We’re looking for a few more superstars to join the early team, with the perks and challenges that entails.

What can I say? We’re developing an entirely new kind of game, which will add some new ways of thinking about the world; and like SimCity and The Sims, likely inspire an entire genre after the fact. It’s a unique opportunity full of fun and adventure, with challenges few dare to take on.

We won’t be providing more details publicly yet, but for those who love the startup life, now is the best time to make the leap and effectively be your own boss on an equally self-motivated team.

I’m personally having a blast.

Gone to Plaid

Well, I finally did it. I went and left a perfectly good corporate space ship for a tiny winnebago. I can honestly say that for the first time in at least a decade, I’m truly excited (not just enthusiastic) about what I’m working on.

I can’t yet say what this new startup is doing or even what it’s called, except to say that it’ll be a whole new kind of game, developed with some of the people I most respect and admire in the industry.

In fact, it’s a chance to work with one person in particular that I’ve wanted to work with for over 20 years, to be a co-founder, CTO, and even interim CEO while we find just the right person to manage the business side of things long-term.

The design side is already well-covered. We need a few more world-class technologists to join up next.


Brain Implant Controls Robotic Arm

We may have seen the monkey controlling a robotic arm, but here it is in human trials with much more impressive results. Researchers were able to train the system by having the participant think about moving her arm. With several months of training, her motions were fluid and precise (see video below). Future improvements would make the system more tolerable to brain tissue and wireless, paving the way for those direct brain/machine interfaces we’ve imagined.

Still, it requires surgery. Gives new meaning to “you are the controller,” doesn’t it?

Mind over matter helps paralysed woman control robotic arm | Science | The Guardian.


Meta Blog

So Friday 11/2/2012 is my last day at Microsoft. I’ll be officially unemployed for short while and then off to a cool new and quite different gig in San Francisco, my favorite city outside of my hometown of New York.

I believe this new role will let me write much more. I still won’t be able to discuss my work at Microsoft except for what they disclose or publish (some of which is already out there, fwiw). The new rule is just that I can’t blog about my new company without permission from management. That’s reasonable. I followed that general principle with and ever since the famous “WebGL” post last year. Enough said.

I’ll miss a lot of things about Microsoft, especially the people. It would be a very different company without the people. One small thing I’ll miss is a really useful news feed by Richard Banks that I’ll have to recreate for myself now (his sources are all public blogs, now safely in my RSS reader…).

The Force

What can be said about the Disney acquisition of Lucasfilm that hasn’t already been said?

Sure, it’s a great deal for Disney, even at 4.05B. And there’s no “George Lucas Media” waiting to sue over the rights. It’s a great deal for Lucas, who owned the company all out and didn’t want to endure any more criticism over his movies.

[update: Lucas will apparently donate much of his wealth to charity, making Star Wars, Indiana Jones, etc… even the critically panned installments, some of the most socially redeeming entertainment of all time… Well done!]

It’s probably a good deal for his employees, since Disney has better pay/benefits/stock, last I checked. And they have the bandwidth to keep the factories humming for eternity + 50 years, which is how long copyright will last, as long as Disney has any say in it.

It’s an unknown future for Star Wars fans, since Disney has proven they can be both much better and much worse than Lucas himself at making great movies. For me, no Disney film has ever reached the emotional quality of episodes IV and V, even as a kid (these are, after all, my #1 and #2 favorite movies). But most Disney films, especially the more recent ones, have far exceeded the plot, character and tone of episodes I, II and III. And I’m including The Black Hole.

At least we get to find out, with more movies now being planned. I’m excited and optimistic, esp. if they do what they’ve done with the Marvel universe. Perhaps they’ll even re-do the prequels, with a Star Trek-like reboot that forgets all about metachlorians and trade disputes with quasi-racist cartoon characters…

What I’m most excited about is the potential fusion between ILM, Pixar, and Disney R&D, assuming there isn’t some deal to split the Lucas properties before sale. If Disney does at least as well to integrate the companies as they did with Pixar, I think this would become the biggest wonderland among all high tech creative places to work.

Here’s the lost opportunity though: Lucas supposedly loved the fan-made works in his universe (if not the critics). What would have happened if Lucas had crowd-sourced and then produced the next Star Wars film instead? Who better to protect the franchise than the fans? It’s a pipe dream, I guess.

There’s one thing that’s virtually guaranteed now. Star Wars will be going in and out of “The Vault” every 6-10 years. Disney has perfected the art of drumming up nostalgia by withholding your “precious” until you beg for it at any price.

Panoramas on

I’m proud to inform that a feature my team originally built as part of Read/Write World back in the fall of 2011 is going live on to display panoramas from Photosynth (esp. in this case 360 Cities).

Kudos to Bing and the Photosynth team for making it all come together.

FWIW, I lead the small team and architected the original technology that could render high-detail 3D surfaces, including panoramas, across most browsers (via WebGL, Canvas, Silverlight and even Flash if needed) with the same high-level Javascript running everywhere. The hard work was done primarily by Peter Sibley, Hansong Zhang, and Adam Mitchell. Kudos to the PM, David Gedye, for tirelessly working to get this technology on the homepage. And special thanks to Blaise for supporting it and the whole sprawling vision.

bing photosynth

Of course, this is just a very small part of what Read/Write World means. It represented just a portion of our team and time, but a useful bit of work nonetheless.

Obligatory Shuttle Photo

My colleague Ran Mokady took this great photo today as we stood near Moffett Field (aka NASA Ames) watching history fly by, only 1/4 mile away (I’m living and working in Sunnyvale now, FWIW).

I must have been in 7th grade for the first shuttle flight. I think I was at home for the launch. It would have been 8am on Sunday in New York, and the landing would have been at 2pm that Tuesday, I figure. I never got to see a launch in Florida, but I watched most of the first twenty or so anyway.

I remember when Challenger exploded — I was in a hospital bed my senior year of High School, recovering from major trauma the night before. Watching it live, I thought the world was ending right there and then.

I was in Las Vegas, of all places, when Columbia broke up somewhere overhead. Like most people, I could barely imagine the hell it must have been for the crew trying to keep it together as their ship was torn apart.

And I remember the space walks, the satellite launches, and the docking maneuvers with the ISS, a giant  achievement of its own.

I have nothing but respect and awe for the accomplishments of the shuttle program. As Ran put it so well, we went from barely-flying wood and cloth to space shuttles in a hundred years.

The Museum of Flight near Seattle has the original big red (relocated) Boeing barn with early machine tools and half-built wooden/cloth planes to show just how crude and beautiful it all was early on.

That same museum almost got an actual shuttle for display, perhaps this one. But in losing the bid for the flying machine, they actually got something better — a full scale crew trainer that kids can climb inside and better imagine themselves on the next shuttle ride.

Imagine yourself in 7th grade, trying that on for size, feeling like you could actually be one of the lucky few to make it to space. Maybe by the time they’re my age, it won’t be such a rare and special event. But it’ll always be magic, every time.