Week 28: VRML 97

Locations: Mountain View, CA; Monterey, CA


Dates: 2/23/97-3/1/97

Sunday morning I frantically tried to get two things done in time to leave for Monterey by 2 pm: laundry, and tracking down my homomorphs file. I eventually did get the file, but it took far longer than I'd expected; as did the dryer, so when I finally decided I couldn't wait any longer, around 2:45, my clothes were all still damp. But there was a meeting at 4 in Monterey that I didn't want to miss, or at least didn't want to miss all of...

The drive down was pleasant and quick; I spent most of it listening to Lake Wobegon tapes. Garrison Keillor is unparalleled as a storyteller. Checked in at the spiffy Hyatt Regency Monterey, dumped my stuff (damp clothing and all) in my room, and rushed off to the Text Working Group meeting, half over by the time I arrived. After the meeting, registered for the conference and found that SGI was giving every attendee a bulky, kinda goofy solid-looking aluminum suitcase labeled "VRML 2.0 Toolbox"; the case contained a videotape, a CD-ROM of SGI's VRML tools, and a copy of The VRML 2.0 Handbook. Apparently SGI gave the same suitcase/kit to every attendee of the World Movers conference last month in San Francisco, and most VRML-related SGI employees had already been given a copy of the Handbook, so now said SGI folks have three copies of the Handbook each... Oops.

Back in my room, I hung damp clothing on every available surface to let it dry (which it eventually did).

I won't go into much detail about the next three days of the VRML 97 conference. Lots of detailed technical discussions, some stunning demos, some surprisingly low-brow (as he carefully avoids saying "sophomoric" or "juvenile") shenanigans and jokes. But for me, the social interaction was what made the whole conference worth the significant amount of money I spent on it.

Two years ago I attended SIGGRAPH in Orlando. Besides the fact that Orlando in August is a rough approximation of Hell, and the related fact that the water there is undrinkable, I was semi-miserable simply because I couldn't find anyone I knew for most of the time I was there. This VRML conference reminded me of the lesson I recently learned about science fiction conventions: the best part of a convention involves talking to people you know in the hallways and over meals, and meeting new people with interests similar to one's own. Most of the SGI VRML engineers were there, so I knew somewhere around 30 or 40 people right off the bat (and this conference was much smaller than SIGGRAPH; only about 400-500 attendees here). (And of course Josie was there, so even when there weren't other SGI folks around I could talk to her.) And there were a dozen VRML pioneers whose work I'd admired on the VRML mailing list while I was working on the Handbook, almost all of whom I got to meet at the conference. But the best part was that I wasn't just some random stranger introducing myself: they knew who I was, and most of them praised the Handbook to the skies, and all of them were happy to meet me. Major egoboosting for three solid days. It's a marvelous feeling. Sometime on Tuesday I realized that this was exactly what I've longed for all my life in the science fiction world: the ability to introduce myself to people I respect and admire, and have them know who I am because they've seen my work. So this experience wasn't quite the fulfillment of a lifelong dream, but pretty damn close, and possibly as close as I'll get to that particular dream...

Tuesday afternoon Josie and Delle and I did a book-signing; only half a dozen people showed up to have their books signed, but better than nobody showing up. During the day, was pleased to run into several people I knew from other contexts, and met several more of the aforementioned VRML luminaries. That evening, SGI threw a party at the Monterey Bay Aquarium; I even dressed up a little (wore a silk shirt for the first time in months). Was nice to get to wander around the aquarium with relatively few other people there, and SGI folks had created a stunning VRML demo based on exploring Monterey Bay (including animated fish and jellies). I spent over half an hour petting the bat rays, always my favorite part of the aquarium.

Anyway, the conference got me excited about VRML again (I even resubscribed to the VRML mailing list). If only there were VRML 2 tools that would run on my Mac... I hate to say it, but I may have to get a PC just to do VRML stuff. Or maybe I'll save up and buy an O2, the new low-end SGI box with way fast graphics...

Drove home Wednesday night, stayed up late doing two weeks' worth of travelogue updates. Whew. I'll try not to slip this far behind again...

Thursday I picked up my accumulated (paper)mail, including a pleasant "no thanks, but please send us more" rejection from Realms of Fantasy. Arthur and I worked on our screenplay for a while (comparing his version of the file with mine, and choosing between them where there were differences). I chatted with Steph on the phone for half an hour or so; then Arthur and I went off to dinner at Tad & Deb's. Afterward, we stopped by Lola's place to distract her from packing for a while.

Friday was going to visit Kris, but realized that given plans to have dinner in Mountain View, I would spend longer driving to and from her place than actually visiting. So I called to postpone 'til Saturday. Wasted a couple of afternoon hours trying to find a file in my archives which turned out not to be there at all (instead it was easily available on the Web); then got a start on the Words & Stuff column. Arthur and I had dinner with Marté and Paul. After dinner we went to the yuppie pool hall ("Pockets"?) on Castro in Mountain View; nice place, and (as I notice every time I play pool) it's been far too long since I've played, considering how much I enjoy playing and how much I would probably improve with some practice. After pool, they showed us their honeymoon pictures.

Saturday I drove up to see Thida and her lovely new house and cats. We talked for a few hours, partly clearing up misunderstandings that had come up via email, partly just chatting. Late in the afternoon I wandered up to Kris & Scott's; Scott wasn't back from Denmark yet, but Kris and I had dinner and talked for a while. She wasn't feeling well, though, so I headed home relatively early. Nothing much further happened 'til Sunday.

Movies, Books, etc.

One Fine Day
Thoroughly enjoyable, if a little fluffy, light romantic comedy. I saw it 'cause I think George Clooney and Michelle Pfeiffer are sexy, but didn't expect much from the movie, and was pleasantly surprised.

(Last updated: 5 March 1997.)

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