Sunday, June 28, 2009

Tale of Two Iggys: Who Inspired My Avatar

Location: New World Notes

Hamlet Au posed the question after he noted Zoe Connolly's post about who inspired her avatar.

I'll join the game and continue the meme. I wish that someone as inspiring as Diana Rigg, Raquel Welch, or Sophia Loren had been my muse for SL. No, I went for the Godfather of Punk, Iggy Pop, and the strangest curmudgeon/picaro this side of Don Quixote, Ignatius J. Reilly.

Both figures spoke to me as ways to approach a world that, for the outset, I could see others taking far to seriously.

Whatever the excesses of Punk, it was about rebellion for the hell of it and questioning reality. Those are both hallmarks of SL. It suits those of us who want to subvert a popular culture on this side of the screen that seems vapid, consumerist, and doomed. times I think, "maybe it's both sides of the screen?" but then I get in my fake car and go for a drive.

Ignatius, the Rabelaisian genius of John Toole's A Confederacy of Dunces, likewise raged at the world around him, in his longing for simpler times (read: the Middle Ages).

If Iggy is the muse for my desire to poke fun, Ignatius is my muse for avoiding being too self-important. He was, in the end, a lazy and self-centered slob in the midst of a sea of stupidity.

So far, SL has proven smarter and edgier than I'd thought it might. I hope that continues. I find neither the Iggy nor the Ignatius in me coming out to play that often. That's a good thing.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Marinetii Checks out Virtual Worlds

Location: Tate Modern, Futurism Show

“Do you, then, wish to waste all your best powers in this eternal and futile worship of the past?”

Old zealots can sill teach us lessons about the dangers of enthusiasm.

Marinetti’s ideas were everywhere, but especially in my head, as I wandered the gallery in the former Bankside Power Station in London: the sort of Nietzschean temple of electricity that the Futurists considered the most appropriate houses of worship. I don’t care for many things about F.T. Marinetti’s ideal of Futurism, but I do wish that the old war-loving protofascist could come to life for a few days, join me for a cappuccino, and log on to Second Life. He and I have one thing in common: a craving for tomorrow.

Futurism, for all its ideological warts, led to some original and dangerous art. Isn’t that the only sort of art that ends up as dorm-posters and cocktail-coasters?

The Futurists idealized speed and made a fetish of technology, which is not far off from how we all get “in the zone” when SL works well on our systems. I felt it on my last road-trip in SL, when the physics introduced since my last upgrade let the car coast and even drift, a level of verisimilitude I associate with console gaming.

When we log on, the past, of our bodies and our civilization, falls away as we roar (or fly) off into a pixilated sunset. There is no carbon-footprint in-world (though all those SL servers give pause, but that is a worry for when we log off).

Whatever the future holds for Second Life, enough of our population will crave tomorrow, or at least an idealized and streamlined version, to log on to some virtual world. Let’s face it: the masses never got flying cars and jetpacks. Such a future is only available to Spaceship 2 customers of Richard Branson—on the telly just this morning—or those with 20 million dollars for a ride on a Soyuz into orbit.

Feeling denied? Then, onward, transhumanists! You’ve nothing to lose but your sagging flesh, on that glorious day when you upload your intellects to the grid. Is it not true that “Time and Space died yesterday. We already live in the absolute, because we have created eternal, omnipresent speed”?

Of course, the Futurist impulse glorified warfare and considered women a nuisance, at best. Then World War I came and complicated matters. The best laid ideologies! One piece I loved, “Rock Drill” by Sir Jacob Epstein (shown at the top), recognized the dark side of worshiping the Machine. The piece began as a Cylon-style warbot atop a miner’s drill. Only a bronze of the torso and head, and photos of the original, survive, but it’s a warning sculpted of a nightmare about technology out of control.

As I looked at Epstein’s sculpture, a shiver ran up my spine. The things eyes wanted to light up, the steam-shovel head wanted to swivel in my direction on its metallic giraffe’s neck.

“What have YOU done to help make way for me and my kind?” It seemed to ask.

Test yourself: if you find yourself in London, get by the Tate Modern before this show ends on 20 September, 2009.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Team Tut: Ideas for Assignments

Nile Post Card
Location: Rezzable Kings Region, Second Life

Tuxedo Ninetails and I toured of a good bit of the Nile section of Rezzable's build in Second Life. We clowned around, striking poses while enjoying the stunning vista of the virtual Nile and the hippos that, luckily, did not live up to the ferocity of their real-life counterparts.

The ideas that follow are Tux's; I'm just doing my best, like Thoth, to act as scribe!

An Engineering Problem on the Nile

Tux first suggested that some sort of puzzle might enliven the granary area pictured just below. She thought that were the activity timed, with a penalty for not repairing a working mill from materials on-site. Thus students would learn about Egyptian technology and how the Nile was the "breadbasket" of the ancient world.
Eqyptian Granary

A later tour of the OpenSim Nile area with Viv Trafalgar led to us speculating about visitors doing the bidding of one of Pharaoh's ministers, who is trying to avert famine by getting a new mill into operation. The minister might lose favor in court if his servants--the visitors--could not repair the mill in time.

Plans for Tourism and Hospitality Students and Faculty

I stupidly deleted Tux's and my chat log, but she sent along these remarks after our tour. I have only edited them slightly.

Something else that makes sense to me as an authentic use of the Tut exhibit for those training for the tourism and hospitality industries:
  • Plan tours and role-play virtual historical tour guide and museum docent roles. This might be very simple stuff, or they might have to plan and research a whole bunch of things like how to move groups of people around in virtual spaces, how to keep them interested, planning little activities for them so they aren’t just looking at stuff.
  • Using the existing audio texts as models, write, record and upload further scripts to add to areas or objects that don’t currently have them, such as many of the objects in the museum and cosmic gallery.
  • Add these audio texts to builds undertaken by class members, such as the granaries area we toured.
If Rezzable can’t see themselves having student work incorporated permanently into their build, then maybe learners could ‘buy’ copies of some of the artifacts, and add audio to their own copies. Maybe each school could have its own gallery where they have augmented versions of the objects on display with the students’ voice-overs attached. Rezzable might run competitions for visitors to develop commentaries for different objects, and include the best ones into the exhibit.

Media-Creation by Visitors

Learners could:
  • Set up a ‘postcards from Kings Rezzable’ business, collecting (or creating) a bunch of good poses and animations so that people could get really good photos of their visits rather than the normal not very good ones that most of us tend to take. Learners could also make a video documentary about the site, using stills with voice-overs and nice transitions in MovieMaker or IMovie.
  • Make a machinima documentary about the site, a la Kenneth Clark in ‘Civilisation.'
  • Write a play and perform it, using the Tut build as the location. The performance could either move around the sim, or scenes could be rezzed in a holodeck setting so the audience didn’t have to go anywhere. The performance could be promoted across SL the same way the SL Shakespeare Company does.
Closing note by Iggy: I hope that several of these assignments, and more developed by Team Tut, can be fleshed out in a wiki so Rezzable can link to them from an Educational Kiosk on the SL and OpenSim sites.

Team Tut: the adventures of a curious clicker, part 2

[widescreen version, parts 1 & 2 here]

Linden Lab Investor Sells Shares

Whisky Sim: Tower of Noobs
Location: Rezzable Blog

Has Linden Lab made itself a house of cards?

As I read about Team Tut at Rightasrain Rimbaud's blog, I found this news and followed his link to another dispatch, "Stratim Capital Buys Stake In Linden Lab." And I began to wonder if the cards won't fall soon; if they do, who will reshuffle the deck?

Key take-away points made by Rightasrain:
  • [I]n general, now would not be an ideal time to sell shares in anything unless 1) you had to for personal financial kinda reasons or 2) believe that even a depressed value is better than what might get worse.
  • Maybe the fears of OpenSim or other competitors like Microsoft, that device-less thing is cool enuff, are getting more serious than LL would like anyone to believe?
I'll soon post something about OpenSim here, and my thinking about why Linden Lab should be very, very concerned about developments on that particular front.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Back to Open Life: Much Better Results!

Tao Jones: Hippie Freak
Location: Sandbox Island One, Openlife Grid

I have been getting ready to do a few posts on OpenSim, focusing not just on the Rezzable build for the Tut site but also the very idea of a grid that is dispersed.

Since Openlife is not technically an OpenSim-based virtual world, but a grid much like the Linden Metaverse, I almost left it out of my consideration. Besides, my previous times there were disasters of unrezzed avatars, weird texture-disasters, eternal Ruthing, or all-gray environs.

Then I spotted the icon to open the program as I scrolled through my applications window. For laughs, I tried again to log on as Tao Jones, the avatar I created to rescue Mojobox Kane, my first Openlife avatar.

Because I felt mean-spirited after all the lag in Openlife, I decided to log in from a relatively slow wireless connection. Guess what? It worked great.
Tao Jones: Bad Hair Day
Okay, the hair is lame, but that was easily fixed.

I put "Freebies" into the search engine, found a region called Freeport, grabbed a hippy-looking free male avatar, then met a nice fellow who was building there. We chatted about my return to OL and decision to poke about a bit more:

pan bunny: well you should enjoy here, there is difference between here and sl, if need to know just ask

pan bunny:

pan bunny: that's more useful as a guide for places to go and what kind of ppl are here :)

Tao Jones: will do...lots of us in education are looking at other worlds, as SL gets more expensive (and less likely to endure)

Tao Jones: what brought YOU to OL? I may quote you on that :)

pan bunny: yup, well prices are cheaper here, but its still in its infancy so expect bugs lol

Tao Jones: LOL SL has plenty and it's hardly in beta

pan bunny: i needed a new challenge, for creating and here gives me more freedom

pan bunny: 100mx100m prims and 45k prims per sim does help lol

What other advantages does Openlife offer, aside from the ability to use mega-prims for builds?

When they get it working, the search engine for Openlife will be directly linked to their Web site. This means that, potentially, searches for content will be possible with Web-style features such as word strings and Boolean terms. This would be light-years beyond the clunky SL search. The multi-lingual "translate this" pull-down indicates Openlife's international ambitions.

Now that I'm not a cloud, expect more dispatches from Mojobox and Tao.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Team Tut: the adventures of a curious clicker, part 1

[widescreen version here]

Students Online: Their Engaged is Not Our Engaged


Location: Montclair State University Virtual Campus

Photo Courtesy of Olivia Hotshot

We faculty who teach with technology claim we can multitask. Yet there is a bigger question: can anyone really do that? And what does "engaged in learning" mean to the Millennials we now teach?

I went to the June 2 Second Life Education Roundtable with those questions in my head, after hearing our topic from organizer AJ Brooks. AJ pulled off a coup by bringing Harry Pence, (SL: John2 Kepler) to a voice-chat meeting where Harry discussed his ideas and took questions from the audience.

Points worth noting:

  • Harry defines engagement as involving "being focused on the matter at hand"
  • We tended, as a group, to dismiss the idea that our minds can really multitask. Harry noted reading in Howard Rheingold's blog about two types of attention, "multitasking" and "continuous partial attention" (Visit Rheingold's entry on attention, as well as higher-level links to his Video Blog and his Web site).
  • Harry has never had a college student say "that's too much" when he presents using voice and screen, but older audiences often get lost.
  • His college students agree with him when he says that their younger siblings are truly fluent with networked technologies and will replace them in the workforce.
  • AJ Brooks made a salient point I have often found true with my students: they are adept at using but not understanding the technologies. Iggy's examples from his students: how few reallly can solve problems that require alpahnumeric fixes (such as tweaking source-code) or making proper back-ups or hardware hacks that come naturally to old geezers like me who can work on their own cars and build stuff with tools.
  • KZero's diagram of Virtual Worlds by age of users, Q4 2008: shows SL with a smaller, and older, demographic than many of the virtual worlds younger Millennials are using now. The open question remains whether or not they'll take to SL or something like it, with user-generated content, when they get older.
  • We noted how many of the worlds younger users encounter do not permit creation of new content. CathyWyo1 Haystack then asked, "do we want a generation of kids who are passively engaged or actively involved in the creation of their space?"
  • We all grew concerned about a generation "taught to the tests" and not encouraged to do as much collaborative learning. Harry noted a class in high school he encountered, where "Principal put them at the end of the hall b/c they were making too much noise and having fun" and making noise.
I'm fond of Rheingold's maxim that "Mindfulness and norms, my students helped me see, are essential tools for those who would master the arts of attention."

Can one be mindful of two things at once? Yes. Do them equally well? That I don't know, but that too is where the norms for my class come in. In fall, if a student is online during class and it's not course related, the norms are this: first time = warning, second time = "skipped class" in gradebook.

You can read the entire transcript of Harry's talk here.

Friday, June 12, 2009

King Tut in Second Life: A Teaser

Wall Paintings
Location: Kings Rezzable Region

I began my educational review of Rezzable's Tut creations with Second Life, if only because it does give a preview to the much larger features to be found on the Heritage Key OpenSim grid. Teleport over to the starting point at Kings Rezzable and have a look. What I've seen so far is very impressive work.

Some initial observations:
  • The Starting Point: nicely arranged. It was an excellent idea to have the survey in several places for visitors who do not return to this point. My students will, of course, hop into the balloon. Then they will stand and fall out and try to walk back to the starting point's platform, which means they’ll fall again, through the desert floor, and plummet thousands of meters, to my great amusement. The balloon should do something if it can be sat in.
Above Rezzables Tut
  • Howard Carter’s Camp: Here is an area where my students could have a lot of fun fleshing out the material culture of the world when Tut was discovered. I’d like to know more about the motivations of the archeologists of Carter's era, as well as those of a wilder earlier period briefly mentioned. Students know these larger-than-life figures through Indiana Jones, so why not give them a diary and some materials about the questionable legal arrangements made to secure some digs? Why not have a hunt for clues to discover Carter’s motivations? What about an assignment over the provenance of many antiquities?
  • The Mummy's Curse: Since Carter knew about the legendary “curse,” and Rezzable notes it briefly in the audio here, why not play that up as a way to get students to think and write about the ethics of what the archaeologists were doing?
A Kings Treasures
  • The Tomb: The artifacts are drop-dead gorgeous, the best primwork I've seen in SL. I’d like to know more, however, about their use in ancient times. Could we have notecards that would appear when an object is touched? Again, some beta-testing students might really enjoy developing these for Rezzable. Finally, the step back into the first room will be difficult for a noob.
  • Room with Wall Paintings: I can see my students playing here, in a writing exercise that asks them to study the images and guess at the meanings before they hear the audio. I like to have students do close image analysis anyhow, so this room would play along nicely with several earlier assignments. The North wall never rezzed for me and the doorway beyond was so short I could not get through it. Should the wall be a phantom texture? Given that the room beyond is empty, that may not be an issue.
My next dispatch will take me to the other parts of the Rezzable build, before I teleport off to OpenSim as "IggyO Heritage" and continue my dispatches. Speaking of...
Carters Camp in SL
Coda: Shades of Ozimandius. As I looked over Tut's tomb, I wondered about the hubris of the Egyptian monarchs--and the occasionally pharaonic ways of Second Life's makers. Huge costs would be incurred to host half a dozen regions in SL, which Rezzable can easily do on their own grid. My one peek so far into OpenSim confirms that the content there equals what I saw inside SL, and it certainly exceeds it in scope.

Signal Interrupted: Tuned Out Since 1979

Kill your television
Location: At Home, TV nowhere in Sight

Photo cribbed from Spyparika's Photbucket site.

The analog signal is gone. Hurrah! One manifestation of a technology gone awry has vanished. May the rest of television and its cable monopolists share the fate of record companies as content goes online.

Bottom line: I prefer virtual worlds and gaming to TV because I chose the time and place of engagement and, more importantly, it's interactive. When there's a show I really want to see, like The Sopranos, I get a DVD of the series.

My local alternative weekly has yet to run this essay of mine about why I hate television. Here it is. I just resent it to the editor, too!


“Are you in some kind of religion?”

That’s the funniest of all the reactions, over the last 30 years, to my admission that I do not watch television. Now that analog television signals are history, I could care less. Anything I want to watch, or better yet, experience, can be found online.

Despite the tiny stickers I leave about, showing a grinning picto-person smashing a TV set with a sledge hammer, I’m not really the “kill your television” sort. When I went to college in 1979, I just fell out of the habit. That was a time before every student’s dorm room or apartment had cable, let alone high-speed Internet.

I never got back into regular viewing again, except for a weekly ritual of dinner with my parents followed by Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy. In fact, why should I have gone back to television? The 1974-5 season, to my bizarre tastes, had the perfect Friday line-up of shows: Planet of the Apes, Rockford Files, and Kolchak the Night Stalker. Then I got a driver’s license, which meant drinking bad beer, chasing girls, and drag-racing. To my credit, despite my obvious lack of a brain, I had more luck driving than did Jim “totals a Firebird every week” Rockford.

Considering my 90+ mph rampages down a then-lonely West Broad Street, I can conclude that television is not the most dangerous activity for teens, then or now. Yet when the habit left me, it became clear that I’d never again live my life by a schedule that a network and cable set for me. That urgency—stop your life! Don’t miss the all-new episode!—lies behind my disdain for the medium.

Today, however, the coming of television-on-demand, internet archives of old shows, and the end of the analog signal force me to consider: under what conditions would I start watching regularly again?

Though much programming—from Charlie’s Angels to The Simple Life—has been execrable, it was never the quality of content that kept me from surrendering free time to the screen. Good programming abounds, even in series deplored by morally indignant people who would never laugh at a poop joke. Case in point: Stone and Parker’s Southpark satire of World of Warcraft gamers is not to be missed. My wife and I, both devotees of all films Mob-related, are working our way dutifully through the DVDs of The Sopranos. We can watch Tony put “two in the hat” of some goombah at any time and pace we wish, and I plan to repeat that ritual for the critically acclaimed, dark-and-downbeat remake of Battlestar Galactica. Old series return to life in other ways too, as 1970s-era monsters chase Karl Kolchak across my screen whenever I slip a DVD into the player.

What a three-network nation gave us, until cable appeared, was a common popular culture: everyone got it when one of us grabbed his chest, rolled his eyes to heaven, and said in Fred Sanford’s voice, “Elizabeth, I’m coming to join you, honey!”

Since I began watching a few programs on DVDs and online, at least I have something to talk about with strangers. Over the years, I’ve noticed how many casually overheard conversations have focused on shows I’ve never seen. Yet TV is such an atmospheric phenomenon that one seems to breathe it. I can recite facts about series I’ve never watched or have only seen once. Yet TV conversations can get personal when someone says, “you mean to tell me that you haven’t seen Buffy the Vampire Slayer?” The look that follows can be withering. I would like to reply with “you mean to tell me you have not read A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court?” But I don’t. Instead I see enough Buffy to say socially acceptable and conciliatory things like “that Willow sure is a hot hot hottie right out of hotville.”

The same one-episode history goes for Cheers, Survivor, and King of the Hill. They were all fun, except for Survivor—watching that parade of greed and betrayal, I felt my brains trickling out of my ears and was reminded why most of TV makes me gag. I hoped a bunch of cannibals would show up to kill everyone, especially the studio bosses who green-lighted the reality TV movement.

All in all, my limited experience with contemporary television has taught me one important lesson: I don’t think my life is less complete for not having watched all of these shows. For the very best series, I’ll get around to it.


At the same time, it excites me that TV may be getting more interactive, even as it loses eyeballs to games and on-demand content online. In 2007, CSI New York permitted viewers to create avatars for the virtual world Second Life. In a subplot for the show, a killer left bodies around New York dressed as avatars while concealing clues in the virtual world. CSI viewers actually became part of the show by looking for leads in Second Life, and the results of their investigations were supposed to feature in later episodes. This is not quite the same as deciding how an episode ends, but it may be a step toward fully interactive multimedia programming that will enter our homes through the same cables now carrying only passive entertainment.

In such a world, one could pick exactly the show one wanted to “be in” and the role in which one might “act” alongside actor-avatars. Friday night we might all become Jim Rockford, Jim Kirk (his Chris Pine version from the new film, for you youngbloods), Dr. Quinn, even Homer Simpson or Jethro Bodine. Even I might tune in, then, and stop having to tell people that no, I’m not in a cult dedicated to pulling the plug on TV. I would be part of a cult making TV a lot smarter.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

June Road Trip: Good Driving, Surreal Content

Low Lag Horizon
Location: Whiskey Sim's Giant Noob Storage and Meditation area

Those Lindens are up to something, I thought, as I barreled along an empty road and this popped up in chat:

Speed Camera:
Dominus Shadow v.2.0.44g,
Owned by Ignatius Onomatopoeia
98.537415 KpH
Fine L$68

Catch me, Johnny Law Linden! I got a license to fly!

And fly I did, only outrunning the roadbed occasionally, though I had the graphics pumped up and was driving fast, even across Sim-boundaries. In the end, I came to a spot where the highway just stopped, and I plunged off the edge into water. Luckily, in SL that's no impediment. The car landed upright and I raced up and down the bottoms of SL's rivers.

I ran across the wonderfully bizarre on this trip: the giant tower of noobs with a meditation cushion at the top:
On the Shoulders of Noobs
A punky griefer-girl in the middle of a snowy field, making chaos with a bunch of friends in a flurry of pyrotechnics:
Roadside trouble

Then I saw the horses, and I pulled over by the Wengen Ski-Runs. I liked the look of the build there a lot. I may have to go back for virtual skiing:
Wengen Ski Runs

So for June, there's not much point to the road-trip except a few moody and pretty pictures. Even a Peak Oiler like me, convinced that the days of the real-life open road are limited, can enjoy some virtual motoring.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Introducing Team Tut: Rezzable's Pedagogy in OpenSim and Second Life

Meeting RightAsRain
Location: Valley of the Kings

I was honored to get a ping from Hamlet Au at New World Notes, asking if I might meet Rezzable's CEO, RightAsRain Rimbaud, as he gathers a team of higher-ed faculty and technologists to look at the pedagogical opportunities of the company's Heritage Key site. The star of this project, as he has been on the other side of the screen, is the boy-king Tutankhamun.

Heritage Key, a Web portal for wonders of the ancient world, includes a virtual experience using OpenSim technology. The Second Life region serves as an showcase of one region, while a much larger virtual OpenSim world is hosted on Rezzable's servers..

After briefly sending Iggy to SL to meet Rimbaud, we moved to OpenSim, where my avatar, "IggyO Heritage," looked a lot like Ron Glass from the old Barney Miller sitcom.
IggyO Heritage and Da King
IggyO did his best noob duckwalk following Rimbaud's tour of the regions housing the treasures of Tut's tomb. We began our tour at a facsimile of Howard Carter's camp in the Valley of the Kings. Some goals for Team Tut emerged:
  • Provide feedback from a variety of academic fields.
  • Note areas where lesson-plans and other materials might work with the Tut exhibits.
  • Suggest interactive parts such as quests and games for students.
That's only the beginning. I'll be sharing my impressions of Rezzable's efforts here soon. For now, I'll just say that my first impression was awe. I took in the Tut show two years back, and even that scattering of artifacts opened a window into a world as unlike our own as anything I've seen in SL. Now the trick, for Rezzable and Team Tut, will be to find ways to engage easily bored Millennial students with the content.
Carters Camp
Rezzable has made some incredible content in Second Life, such as the madly creative Greenies regions. I look forward to taking my class to that, and of course the Tut builds, this fall.