Re: Some Questions About VRML

Andrew C. Esh (
Fri, 24 Mar 1995 10:01:40 -0600 (CST)

On Fri, 24 Mar 1995, Gavin Nicol wrote:

> >Yeah, many Oriental written languages are still based on ideograms. Look
> >at all the trouble the Chinese are having with computers, and
> >typewriters. It's easier to learn English.
> This kind of thinking is rather problematic. Imagine if you were
> forced to learn Arabic to use a computer. The solution is not to force
> everyone to use English, but rather to provide an infrastructure that
> supports all languages.

This is exactly the sort of thinking I cannot abide by. Why should we
halt all progress on a system just because a certain segment of the
potential users have a history of doing things differently? Why should we
bend over backward to accomodate a group of people who may not even be
aware that we are trying to help them?

I have nothing against the Chinese, or any other oriental culture. In
fact, I am very interested in them. I also did not say anything about
"forcing" anyone to learn English. I said it is easier. Many Japanese
switch to English when they use a computer. The keyboards are easier to
build because the character set is smaller. It's just more convenient than
trying to build a computer system that works in their native language,
because of its unfortunate written form. I think it is we who are at a
disadvantage, since we are allowed to remain monolingual, while they are
able to understand us, and still communicate in their native tongue.

If the Chinese are interested in developing a system which more naturally
represents their system of language and communication, then they should
use that interest to put together the effort to build such a system. I am
sure that in the interests of common good, and international good will,
many experts from our culture would be glad to offer them assistance. I'd
jump at the chance to help, especially if I get to learn Chinese and
travel there. I actually helped a local Vietnamese software engineer in
the early design of a system to help create Vietnamese symbols using
Windows and a normal ASCII keyboard. I learned that there are many
existing ways of doing this, and many folks on the western side of the
Pacific are working on it. This engineer also treated me to a GIF image
tour of present day Viet Nam. I'd have liked to seen it firsthand, but a
VR tour would be great too.

We need to stop thinking in terms of perfection in design, or technical
"utopia". There is no such thing. Progress is a process. First we write
lame little imagination ticklers like Doom, and then build on what we
learn. We cannot allow ourselves to be hobbled by the idea that VR and 3D
have to be perfectly designed, with all the loose ends discussed to death
before we can write one line of code. Think, Design, Model, Build,
Evaluate, and then go back to Thinking. If this cycle stops inside any
phase, the system ceases to function, and progress halts. There is death
in that.

We need to push ahead in this, mainly because it is going to be the killer
app of computers and the Internet. VR breaks down all language barriers.
Watching the sun come up is something we all understand, regardless of our
background. VR begins to represent things in a context-free, and
especially language-free way. The network brings us together, and allows
us to trade ideas. We can help each other to build better solutions to
problems like ideogrammatical languages.

It may be that the Chinese will tire of trying to understand our twisted,
symbol poor language, and break into VR themselves. They may wind up doing
it better than we do. It sure fits them well.

Andrew C. Esh       
Computer Network Technology (finger for PGP key)
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Maple Grove MN 55311          612.550.8229 (direct)
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