Cyberspace: Beijing Hotel

After selecting its location from a map, Johnny is now in front of the virtual entrance to the hotel. The virtual Beijing has a new color scheme, mostly orange with some red.


The “entrance” is another tetrahedral shape made from geometric blocks. It is actually another numeric keypad. Johnny taps the blocks to enter a sequence of numbers.

The tetrahedral keypad


Note that there can be more than one digit within a block. I mentioned earlier that it can be difficult to “press” with precision in virtual reality due to the lack of tactile feedback. Looking closely, here the fingers of Johnny’s “hands” cast a shadow on the pyramid, making depth perception easier.

Something is wrong, and Johnny receives an electric shock.


He reacts as if the shock is real, pulling his hands back and cursing.

In the 1980s and 1990s cyberpunk books such as Neuromancer and Hardwired and roleplaying games such as Cyberpunk and ShadowRun suggested that future virtual reality systems would be able to physically attack users, the dreaded “Black ICE”. While the more vigilant Internet copyright enforcers would probably be in favour, it seems unlikely that the liability lawyers at any computer manufacturer would allow a product that could electrocute users to be released, or that users would agree to put something like that on their hands. So this is most likely  just Johnny expressing the same frustration as a current day video gamer who loses a life in a first person shooter.

The last necessary step before being granted access is, for some reason, to reshape the pyramid.


Here the pyramid serves as a combination lock or puzzle as well as a keypad. It’s not obvious, but Johnny does make a small 3D rotating gesture on the entire pyramid before pulling and pushing blocks around. You can also see a second layer of structure underneath the moving shapes.

Is this an effective security system? Not really. Two-factor authentication systems rely both on knowing something, here a numeric code, and either having something, such as a specific mobile phone or token generator, or being someone, with a specific fingerprint. Reshaping the blocks is just a second thing the would-be user must know, and is just as vulnerable to being guessed as the numeric code. On the other hand, it might be enough to keep out simple-minded attacks that only try the first step.

The floorplan

The “interior” of the hotel site is first displayed as a flat plan view. This builds up incrementally, a transition known among VR developers since the film Tron came out as “rezzing up”. The completed plan then rotates into a 3D structure.


We hear the voice feedback announce “General accounts selected” but don’t see how Johnny did this. A window expands out, and Johnny splits it in half to reveal some tabular data.


The fax and phone records are displayed in a simple tabular view, which would not look out of place on any 1995 or indeed current day desktop computer spreadsheet. There’s no need to use 3D graphics for such this.


There are new interface elements here, overlaying the tabular data in pink. At the top we can read SEARCH > FAX CHARGES: FOUND. And on the right is a set of inscrutable numbers with headings GRID, LEVEL, MENU, and XYZ. This could be some orientation within the data, but it doesn’t make sense. In the lower-left we see a label for elevation, with data as “coordinates in sector 4.”

Below that a 9-key arrangement with arrow shapes. Perhaps this is a navigation aid for people using conventional 2D desktop interfaces rather than full virtual reality equipment, allowing them to move around by clicking the onscreen arrows or pressing the equivalent keys. If the keys are similar to those used in computer games, the up and down arrow keys move forward or backwards and the left and right keys rotate, assuming movement is predominantly in the horizontal plane. The other keys might be for banking or vertical movement.

Johnny searches for the outgoing fax. He does not use any graphical gestures for this, instead specifying the search date and time ranges by speaking. Words and operators are more precise than graphic symbols for this kind of database query, but typing on a virtual keyboard would be more awkward than speech.

When the particular table cell is found, he uses the fingertips of both hands to expand the contents, one of the standard gestures described in the Make It So book.

Not surprisingly for a Beijing hotel, the internal records are not in English. Johnny again uses a voice command to ask for translation.


The hotel record is just the metadata, not the actual images he’s looking for, suggesting that “fax” system is fully digital and the faxes themselves are treated like modern email messages and deleted once sent. The metadata does tell Johnny that the images were faxed to a online copyshop in Newark. Since it is network connected, Johnny can jump straight to it in cyberspace.

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