C O R T E X    Issue 2.12 - December 1996

PC of the Future?

Looking inside Nintendo's new machine you begin to suspect it wasn't just built for playing games.

The Nintendo 64 will be here in March, and everyone knows its guts will be the most powerful ever to hit the gaming market. We levered off the top, and found there's much more there.

So what will Nintendo do with a £250 machine that outperforms most PCs? With this much power under the bonnet, possible N64 add-ons include modems and storage devices, perhaps even a Java cartridge or an Excel 64 spreadsheet. And behind the curtain, third parties are clamouring to build extensions. But Nintendo, for the moment, is concentrating on making sure its baby sells.

CPU: The 64-bit custom-designed Silicon Graphics MIPS CPU runs at 93.75MHz, which puts it in the class of low-end PowerPCs - but with much less operating system overhead.

Expansion port: The expansion port, located on the N64's belly, is fully extensible with pins that can control all aspects of the machine. The 64DD disk drive is the only extension Nintendo is planning so far.

Reality engine coprocessor: The heart of the N64, Reality is actually two independent processors: one manages texturing (texture maps, antialiasing), while the other manhandles video, audio, and polygons. This segments the processing load in complex games like Super Mario 64.

Memory: The 4Mbytes of Rambus memory are capable of data transfers of 4,500Mbps over a 250MHz bus. In plain-speak, this means the N64 can shuttle calculations between its three processors faster than most PCs.

Controller ports: The controller ports are the easiest candidates for extensibility. The four ports, handling up to 56 Kbps of data, could connect to a keyboard, a modem - or anything else.

64DD: Nintendo unveils its magnetic disk drive in Japan this November. The drive accepts 64Mbyte magnetic disks (like the Zip drive) that provide cheaper media than N64 cartridges, store large amounts of data and are fully writable. Simply put, the 64DD is the revolution no other set-top boxes and game machines have.

- Tim Barkow


The Ditcherati

Ticket Sales Data

The Pod

Transforming Design

Pay Censorship


Finance Uses Military VR

Med-TV for Kurdistan

King Ludd

Lindis Percy v. the USA

Jargon Watch

  Meet the Ditcherati

Anyone who still thinks the new media explosion is only happening in California should get down to Shoreditch in East London. The area's Victorian warehouses have long been a magnet for artists. More recently they've been joined by all manner of new media people, from Web designers to sound engineers, electronic musicians to interactive marketeers. With this much cross-fertilisation, it's getting like a genetics experiment. There are too many interesting people to list them all, but here's a highly selective Wired map of the "Shoreditch Triangle", the most rocking part of the capital. We call its inhabitants the Ditcherati. Well, what did you expect? - Hari Kunzru

Who are you? The Bean

What do you do? We're an espresso bar with Internet access.
How long have you been in the ditch? Ten months.
How do you see your future? Caffeinated.

Mute Skyscraper Digital Publishing

Publish Mute, a newspaper about art and technology. We also do interface design and multimedia of all kinds.
Since May 1996
Depends where we are in our production cycle. On a good day, Resident Evil; on a bad day, Normality.

AMX Digital

Interactive communications company
Malcolm has been there since 1983. So when AMX Digital was formed in 1994 it was already well settled in "the triangle".
Shoreditch should tranform into "Silicon Alley", New-York style. Or not.

Hoxton Bibliotech

Publish e-tour (acclaimed e-zine), Web design, community training in new media.
Two years.
"Exciting" would seem to sum it up. Shoreditch has a reputation for creativity and it's no accident that we are based here.

Arawak Interactive Marketing

Interactive marketing, multimedia.
One year.
Members of the Arawak tribe were the first people Columbus met on "discovering" the Americas, thinking he had got there first. We intend to keep getting there first in our chosen areas.

The Strongroom

We're London's most innovative recording studio, used by the Prodigy, Chemical Brothers, Spring Heel Jack, er, East 17....
Twelve years.
Staying a step ahead, diversifying into everything from tape editing to starting an in-house restaurant. Onward upward.

Blue Room Released

Techno record company, speaker designers.
Two years.
Bright blue. Nicely styled.


Art and architectural publishers with an acclaimed Web site.
Three years.
More online stuff, making the electronic side of the business start paying its way.


New media partnership. Interactive music installations.
Eleven months.
Risky! Working increasingly alongside performers, musicians and those interested in squeezing something NEW out of this "new" media.

Paul Hartnoll, half of Orbital

Three-and-a-half years.
Property developers. Expensive bar/restaurants. City pricks. Rent rises.

Somethin' Else Sound Directions Ltd.

A creative sound production company - non-linear documentary, soundscapes, no tape used ever! Lately multimedia and (accidentally) some Web design.
6 years.
No sell out! It's about making good ideas work quickly and working in a community; it's chaos and order on the same plate.

  Free Money!

Each month Wired gives away a golden business opportunity - for nothing.

Q: If, despite a shrinking budget, your job was to win customers in an inten-sely competitive field with a saturated market, what would you need most? (Anyone in marketing should have their hand in the air by now.)

A: Detailed data on the buying patterns of your target market.

Imagine you've discovered huge databases filled with just what you want. But they are fenced off and the owner refuses to believe the shiny stuff is gold, nor that there is sufficient demand to open up and charge entry.

This is the situation facing the London arts scene. The three major ticketing agencies hold years of information on ticket-buying patterns for every art form imaginable. As competition increases, the need for this data grows ever more acute. Yet any request to open up the agencies' coffers is met with blank resistance. If, instead of hoarding their information, the data owners were to offer proper commercial access to prospective producers, marketing people and other arts professionals, they might find out a few things about making money in an information economy.

- Jess Cleverly

  They Came From Outer Space

They are The Pod: they have come to satirise our futuristic pretensions by means of musical comedy and (occasionally) radio. Tim J and Janus 15 see themselves as "an enormous cocoon of images and sounds; a cyber-pupa." They are artists at the cutting edge of consciousness. Their sexless appearance was a positive move "away from the biological yeast-ridden age of massive hormone pollution." Though principally producers of techno music, they will disseminate their ideas in any medium: "through nano-cyborgs, by releasing spores or high level intense energy guns shot straight into people's eyes."

The Pod's live performances are steadily evolving. "Clubs shouldn't just be DJs spinning tunes, but plugging directly into lymphatic systems. We have the DJ pumping out proteins, nutrients and tryptamine molecules into the environment. Not so much a DJ; more like a stomach."

The Pod embrace the term New Age. "The Old Age is gone, dead, forgotten, done with. We can sit in front of computers and it's like our eyes are thousands of miles long. As we listen to broadcasts from around the world it's like our ears can burrow through the earth."

They are The Pod. Who are you?

- Jamie Cason

  Exploding Design

Lack of ambition is not a problem faced by the members of the Design Transformation Group. Nick Udall, Chris de Groot and Maxwell Young want, as their company's name suggests, nothing less than a total change in the way we think about design. They explain that consumer society, with its emphasis on speed and convenience, causes us to miss out on the diversity and richness of the world around us. Reality, as they put it, "is no longer our own".

The remedy? Designing objects that appeal to our emotions, that surprise us, that act in playful, unpredictable ways, they say. DTG imagines a world in which your answering machine changes colour according to what kind of messages your friends have left, and dictaphones scamper across conference tables, recording the participants. A typical DTG idea is the "Z-Man" alarm clock, which wanders around your room on its minute and second hands, so that when it goes off in the morning you have to get up and find it. Most of DTG's work exists firmly in the realm of the imagination. Its point is to provoke the design world out of its lazy attitudes towards the objects in our environment.

Nick, Chris and Max lead workshops in which young designers wade around in tomato soup and spend the night on hillsides in an eccentric quest to rediscover how to have fun in the 20th century. Liberating, challenging and bizarre, DTG is being consulted by major companies who want to get off the consumer conveyor belt. Contact: cris@cdegroot.demon.co.uk. Tel: (0121) 331 5820.

- Hari Kunzru

  Hands Off Our Net

With politicians clambering to endorse PICS-based Web site rating schemes, it's becoming clear that in true "Angry of Tunbridge Wells" fashion, British public opinion is snowballing towards Net censorship. The PICS-RSACi rating system - currently flavour of the month with online moralisers - produces some worrying results: it gives restricted ratings to sites mentioning sexual topics, with scant regard for context. Sites that, for example, discuss sexual issues with nary a GIF in sight are as likely to be blocked as hardcore pornography. This ham-fisted approach is what the Net community has feared for a long time.

Doubly ironic is that after June 1997, RSACi, which holds copyright on its system, intends to charge for its services. With ISPs like Demon starting to "recommend" PICS-RSACi for their subscribers' homepages, Net users face the prospect of paying to be censored.

In this climate, it's time to step back and ask why everybody is so keen to jump on the anti-kiddy-porn bandwagon. The Get the Met Off the Net campaign www.junius.co.uk/censorship/index.html takes an uncompromising stance on the issue. If you find censorship offensive, join.

- Mo Kaye



Dial-up ISPsWireless ISPs
Celebrity BuddhistsCelebrity Scientologists
HomepagesPersonal Marimba transmitters
Mince pies with GrandmaFace down in Soho
Network Computer ArchitectureVT100
HoroscopesThe magic 8-ball
Wanting to be in Star WarsBeing an extra in Star Wars
ShockwaveRealAudio 3.0

  Market Wars

It won't be long before stock market prediction overtakes fishing as Britain's most popular pastime. Now the military are getting in on the act. And if they get their way, the broker of the future will be wearing a VR headset and manipulating price data in full 3D. The Defence Evaluation and Research Agency (DERA), a branch of the MoD that with 14,000 employees and a turnover of £1 billion per annum is the largest research organisation of its kind in Western Europe, has set up the Financial Laboratory Club. The club will bring together representatives from all kinds of financial institution in order to brainstorm new kinds of market trading technology.

DERA claims its miltary expertise will transfer well into the financial arena. They want to use dynamic VR environments to represent the huge amounts of price data that city traders have to process. But the real carrot they are using to attract partners is privileged access to the Cray T3D supercomputer at Farnborough Supercomputing Centre (FSC). Already interested are Sun Alliance, Silicon Graphics, City University Business School, the Worshipful Company of Information Technologists and the risk management consultancy Z/Yen.

3D information visualisation software already exists: companies like the Canadian firm Visible Decisions make software that will 3D-ify your graphs and pie-charts. But DERA are hoping for something much more radical, according to Corporate Development Director Michael Mainelli. Mainelli talks of representing market data as blobs in a multi-dimensional space. "This is Gibson," Mainelli exclaims. "You get into it, you're totally into it. You're not thinking about anything else."

Of course the MoD are interested in the Financial Laboratory Club's results. The military has to process phenomenal amounts of data, and even evaluating fighter pilots for a mission can prove to be a huge headache. According to Mainelli, the City is the place to look for solutions to these kind of quantifiable risk-return problems. Remember - it's war out there.

- James Flint

  A Voice for Kurdistan

Satellite TV is a headache for regimes around the world that seek to limit their citizens' access to information. But what happens when governments bite back? The staff of Med-TV, the world's only Kurdish television station, know only too well. In raids across Europe in Sept-ember, anti-terrorist police in Belgium, Germany and the UK seized assets, computer disks and files from the station, which is run on a shoestring from a London HQ. Belgian police also arrested 80 staff, later releasing the maj-ority without charge. This was a result of Turkish government claims that the station is a front for the PKK (Kurdistan Workers' Party), who are fighting for Kurdish autonomy. Med-TV reaches an officially non-existent proportion of the Turkish population (16 million at weekends), yet Ankara has been pressurising its European partners to crack down on the station. Director Hikmet Tabak says Turkey is keen to silence any sign of Kurdish nationality in a country where even the Kurdish language is banned. Viewers have been beaten just for watching Med-TV.

News forms the largest chunk of Med-TV's content, but it also runs films, music, arts and discussion pieces. It gives air time to all five major religions worshipped by Kurds and to all the various shades of Kurdish political opinion. Tabak is determined to continue, and states that Med-TV will fight any intimidation, as far as it can, through the courts. "Even if we have to move to India or another part of the world, we will continue to broadcast."

- Nick Ryan

  King Ludd

Our Token Luddite(s)

How can we accuse all managers of being luddites? Sure, it's hard being a manager. You have to take executive decisions, do lunch, work out how best to downsize, outsource, rationalise and restructure whatever it is you manage. This would be as easy as pie if it wasn't for all that pesky information. According to a supremely silly Reuters report (Dying For Information, only £40 to you, guv), the biggest problem facing the world's middle management is something called "information overload". Apparently managerial heads are just exploding with data. It's causing them stress, screwing up their relationships and wasting valuable lunch time. And 48% of them think the Internet will be "a prime cause of information overload in the next two years".

Allow us to let all you managers in on a little secret: you are information workers. Information is not a problem; it's what you do for a living. And the Net isn't going to "cause information", like VD or high blood pressure. It's going to help you do your job by giving you access to the data you need. It is bizarre in the extreme for Reuters, which makes its living as a data pedlar, to present information as a problem. Deciding what information is useful and what is not will be the most important skill of the 21st century. If you can't handle that, you should probably consider a career in dry stone-walling - or maybe as a Reuters executive.

  Lone Protester v The United States of America

How did a fifty-year-old NHS nurse come to takethe world's largest superpower to court? The answer - surveillance.

Spies were a major beneficiary of the cold-war "special relationship" between Britain and the US. In the 1950s, the American National Security Agency (NSA), the world's largest signals intelligence organisation, set up a web of spy stations across Britain. The biggest of these, Menwith Hill, near Harrogate, was to become the NSA's largest listening post outside the US, intercepting communications from throughout Europe and the former Soviet Union. It has been repeatedly alleged that these bases are also used to spy on British communications, with the UK government farming out to its American counterparts surveillance it would be illegal for it to carry out on its own citizens.

You might think the US had wound down its spy empire since the end of the cold war; not so. In Wired 1.01 we reported our suspicions that the Menwith Hill base was expanding. It is now enjoying a growth spurt. Since June, the base has lodged eight development applications with the local council for a string of structures, described as ray domes, "P6" and "hazardous storage facilities". Menwith Hill is also on a recruitment drive to find 500 techies to staff the NSA and GCHQ bases. The surveillance business is booming.

Though the government routinely invokes secrecy legislation to rebuff questions, some people are not happy with this state of affairs. Lindis Percy, an NHS nurse in her mid-50s, vowed seven years ago to bring the NSA to account. Since then she has trespassed on bases and sounded the alarm whenever the Americans expanded their empire here. At Menwith Hill alone she has been arrested 160 times on everything from breach of the peace to breach of the Official Secrets Act. The NSA has now secured permanent High Court injunctions against her approaching bases at Lakenheath (Suffolk), Mildenhall (Cambridgeshire) and Menwith Hill.

Percy's visits to the bases have often ended violently. Last year, after an incident on a public road outside the Mildenhall base, Ministry of Defence police, for whom the NSA pays, stood by and watched while Percy was handcuffed and blindfolded by NSA guards. Bizarrely she was later charged with assault against her assailants, a situation that might have ended badly had US servicemen not filmed the assault. The magistrate, seeing the video that the NSA had provided in evidence, threw out all charges, commenting that "the level, duress and duration of the violence [by the Americans] was shocking."

Percy tried to have the Americans charged with assault, but despite the evidence on the video, found that the NSA had applied for immunity under the Visiting Forces Act; neither the MOD police nor the civil police would take action. Her lawyers then did a runner, convinced that they had no hope of victory.

Percy decided to continue the case without legal help. In an unprecedented decision, the High Court has allow-ed her to sue the United States of America. Now she is single-handedly taking on the world's only remaining superpower. The odds have made Percy even more defiant. "The Americans on these bases routinely act unlawfully. Their activities are outside the jurisdiction of the British government, and their presence is against the best interests of a democracy." Lindis has established the group Campaign for the Accountability of American Bases (CAAAB). Contact caaab@privint.demon.co.uk.

- Simon Davies

  Jargon Watch

CUOA (Compulsive Use Of Acronyms)

The tendency to reduce well-known phrases to acronyms in order to speed up Net chat. "Can't think of a great example OTTOMH, but IMHO this jargon thing is FUBAR."

ILOOLI (pronounced ee-loo-ley)

"Inner Labia Out, Outer Labia In": BBFC (British Board of Film Classification) mnemonic for deciding what can be included in an X-certificate film.


Trundling around the office on your wheelie chair, propelling yourself with rapid leg movements. After the mobility-impaired leader of the Daleks.

UGE (pronounced yooje)

Unifying Graphical Element: design feature that unites disparate parts of a layout into a harmonious whole. "That site doesn't hang together, somehow. Couldn't you UGE it up a bit?"


Habitual overuse of irony, eventually leading to a total inability to be straightforward about anything. "Tony's got a severe case of ironitis. I can't tell what he really means any more."

Thanks to everyone on Haddock and the UK Jargon Watch team.