February 5, 1999

My Tiny Life: Crime and Passion in a Virtual World by Julian Dibbell (Fourth Estate, Pounds 16.99, 352pp) ISBN 1 84115 058 4

"Tiny" in this context refers to those consuming, multi-player, text-based, role-playing online games called MOOs. In this book, Dibbell expands on his famous essay on the virtual rape on LambdaMOO to recount the story of the months he spent as one of the MOO's residents. Full of ruminations on the connection between games and maps, real life and virtual worlds, and the nature of online community, this book is a rarity: a portrait of an online world written with eloquence, humour, and intelligence. Highly recommended.

The Design of Everyday Things by Donald A. Norman (MIT Press, Pounds 9.95, 4pp) ISBN 0 262 64037 6

This is the first UK publication ofNorman's design classic, originally titled The Psychology of Everyday Things. In it, Norman examines many principles of good design both in computer interfaces (his main focus) and in common objects in our world such as door knobs and ATMs. The book was hugely influential, and launched a generation of human factors specialists who have tried to improve our interaction with computers ever since. Norman's best advice here: stop buying badly-designed products, so they'll stop making them.

When Things Start to Think by Neil Gershenfeld (Hodder and Stoughton, Pounds 17.99, 288pp) ISBN 0-340-72870-1

Neil Gershenfeld is a physicist based at the MIT Media Lab, where he has done research into using sensors and low-power electromagnetic fields to create intelligent objects that can exchange data in new ways. Except for bassoon reeds, he likes making things - he helped hook Yo-Yo Ma and his cello to a computer, and designed the personal area network. Although his in-person lectures can be impenetrable, this book is the extremely readable tale of these and other quests to make the line between humans and computers invisible.

Futurewise: Six Faces of Global Change by Patrick Dixon (HarperCollins, Pounds 16.99) ISBN 0-00-4-0060

Futurologist Patrick Dixon makes his living by selling his ideas about the third millennium to large companies. This book attempts to do the same for a more general audience. It's a scattershot affair, switching from romance and parenthood among the "M" generation (the kids being born now) to robots treating the sick and the internet threat to banking. A lot is familiar to anyone who's ever read Wired; his belief that year numbers make an instant cultural difference is absurd.

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