Saturday, October 31, 2009

Virtual Worlds Story Project Creators to Talk to Educators

Marty & Jenaia
Location: Story Book Island

I'm pleased to be the host for an event next week, at the Second Life Education Roundtable, for two very special guests, Martin J. Keltz (SL: Marty Snowpaw) and Jena Ball (SL: Jenaia Morane). We'll meet on Montclair State University's virtual campus in Second Life [direct teleport link] from 2:30-3:30 SL Time (PST) Tuesday, November 3.

Jena and Marty will discuss, in voice chat, their project to "develop and produce immersive, interactive, and educational Story Quests where people of all ages can embark on learning adventures."

Think of their project as a vast network of collaborative storytelling. And why stories? As Jena told Pathfinder Linden during an interview about the project, stories "engage, encourage creativity, and free the imagination. They help us make sense of our worlds." The Quest that I have begun concerns Uncle D, a man diagnosed as HIV positive, and I've read some of the work others composed as part of this project to educate collaborators (for there are no tourists in this project) on HIV/AIDS.

Jenaia and Marty encouraged me not only to plug their talk but to produce a creative piece linked to the Uncle D story. I plan to have something here and at their blog before the Tuesday meeting.

There is simply too much about this amazing project to capture in a single post here. So get a sense of the project from the trailer here and the longer film here.

Come join us Tuesday; we have two very talented individuals bringing their gifts to SL:

Jena Ball is a writer and journalist with extensive experience with new media, print publications, and creative writing. She's worked as a technical writer and editor at Sony in Japan and she founded The Nature of Writing, an online school for high-school and college students that emphasizes new media, virtual worlds, and online collaboration.

Martin J. Keltz came to SL with an impressive resume of more than three decades in publishing and media, including time as co-founder and President of Scholastic, Inc. and a long career as an Emmy-Award-winning producer for projects such as the films The Indian in the Cupboard and The Baby-Sitters Club as well as programming for ABC, CBS, HBO, PBS, CBC, and other networks.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Heritage Key Tut: The Mummy's Curse?

Technical "Issues" in HK
Location: Heritage Key

My students are in Heritage Key, and we are encountering some interesting "issues" to share with Rezzable's staff. I've not encountered most of these problems, but I'm running HK on a more powerful Mac laptop than my class members use.

Links to student "tourist report" blogs follow. They are to do another assignment with HK's Tomb of King Tut. We'll soldier on, but some technical issues below are likely to hinder student engagement. Every problem below disrupts the enjoyment of the virtual world, thus limiting immersion in the simulation.

Given how they've only recently gotten comfortable in Second Life, I'm wishing that Rezzable's SL Tomb of Tut still existed to finish my "Saving Isis" assignment.

  • Content: They like the idea of a virtual world dedicated to education. Antoine notes "Given that I love history, I was very excited to be able to explore some of the things that Heritage Key had to offer."

  • Changing Clothing: At the welcome area, Chelsea found that "I like how all you need to do is drag the item from the inventory onto your avatar as opposed to Second Life where you need to drag the box into a space."
  • Lag: The lag has been enormous for a virtual world with only a single avatar present in a given area. My students lack the experience to tweak their clients' graphics settings, so Rezzable has a great deal of work to do in this area.

  • Graphics Requirements: Two students on PC laptops report how their avatars misbehaved. One result, visible on my system, appears above. In the words of Antoine, "My avatar still looked like a zebra in a gay pride parade and then his face began to turn gray."

    To be fair to Rezzable, neither Antoine's nor Fierce's Dell laptops--both brand new--met the minimum system requirements. If, however, Rezzable wants faculty and students to see its content, it--and Linden Lab--must work harder to make their worlds viewable on a wider range of current systems (especially laptops).

    All of my students use laptops, mostly slower but brand new Macs and a few PCs running Vista or, in one case, XP. It would be interesting to see what happens if they finish the assignments on more powerful desktop systems.

  • Navigation: This problem can be addressed more simply. Students prefer to have choice, so HK should offer a more intuitive system to go to any point in the simulation from any other point. I'm to give a tour of the Cosmic Gallery for EDUCAUSE next week, and I cannot find the room!
  • Stability: Fierce and I tried to meet in the welcome area. We got one snaphot, shown below, before I began to crash, repeatedly. I was on a high-end iMac in our classroom, optimized to run Heritage Key's client. Chelsea likewise reported repeated crashes on her laptop when she reached the Tomb of the Boy King.
    Appearing in HK

  • Fashion: It may sounds silly to educators, but my students are already spoiled by the greater range of avatar customizing in SL. As Sarah wrote, "Coming from Second Life, I now feel the need to have my avatar resemble and represent me; but was unable to do so in Heritage Key." HK should add some better hair and skins for their newcomers. I'm surprised how quickly this year's class of writers "got into" fixing up their avatars. In past years, perhaps because of SL's more limited graphics (I know- that works against system compatibility) students did not "pimp their avatars" as much.
It's Halloween, and the Mummy seems to be after us.

The students are still excited about the prospects for HK and specialized virtual worlds. They also enjoy writing for a real audience--Rezzable's staff and CEO. We hope that Rezzable can resolve these problems so the amazing content of HK's sites--Tut and the new Stonehenge project--will work well for future explorers.

Update: You don't often get a company CEO to write back when you post a blog, but I'd like to thank Jon and Meral at Rezzable for quick replies, as well as Pavig and Viv.

My students will be told to read this post and the comments. We're prepared for the work-arounds to finish the project. Jon noted that newer versions of the viewer code will correct some problems we've been seeing, and given the improvements to HK since my first visit, I've little doubt of that.

Student Slideshow, Burning Life 2009

Location: Koinup Profiles and Blogs

It's fun to get a second-hand look at my students' experiences in SL. They got an assignment to take them to the next stage of encountering a virtual world: to go to an event.

This avoided the "SL is always empty" feeling that so many reported in earlier blog posts. I'm saddened that so often our best educational content in SL can seem empty, save when a "flash mob" shows for a talk, tour, or class. So to see the range of SL avatars, as well as experience how it feels to be in a crowd, I encouraged them to visit Burning Life 2009.

Slides follow. Readers can also have a look at the class page for blogs, wikis, and Koinup pages (where many of the students place their photos).

One upshot of this is a renewed appreciation for how the Lindens managed lag at the event. My writers are complaining heartily of lag at Rezzable's Heritage Key virtual world, where they are all alone. Look for a future post on that adventure.

Last year, I found BL to be quite laggy. This year, performance was far better, even on wireless connections. So Linden Lab earns some praise amid my usual grousing about other issues.
<a href="">Koinup</a>

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Generosity of Content Creators in Second Life

Morris Mertels Shop 2/2
Location: Morris Mertel's Shop

As the House of Usher Project has evolved, I took short-cuts to avoid trying to "make it all myself." Even where I have the skills to do things, I can lack time. Luckily for me, a number of talented builders make great themed content.

I've sung the praises of Viv Trafalgar here before, and Viv is making costumes for actors and visitors at our simulation. Now I want to praise Morris, whose shop 3Dreamworld Studios led me to all sorts of everyday items to make a Victorian mansion look more Poelike--that is, a bit worn, Gothic, and massive. One trick for such a build involves not going for the over-the-top Goth look that is so popular in SL; it parodies for dramatic effect actual Victorian homes that Poe knew and that still stand in my and his home town.

I've imagined the House to be in England, perhaps an old family manor that may have been a castle in the dim past of the doomed family. That seemed to call for a mix of heavy retro-medieval pieces as well as more dainty Victorian objects.

Morris Mertels Shop 1/2

Morris' fireplace, pictured below, came to us free of charge. It was bundled with a number of the period cottages I have seen on his property, and when I contacted him, he gladly gave me a free fireplace. We're using many of his items in our House of Usher, but the idea of helping an educational project seemed to appeal to him.


The fun of working in a community--that Burning Life spirit--keeps SL's creators creating. And I'm glad to support them with my Linden Dollars.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Before They Pull it All Down

<a href="">Koinup</a>
Location: Dreaming of the Playa

Olivia Hotshot says that the builds will be around until week's end, though no events are planned beyond a final burn.

Get by while you still can and admire the work.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Weekly SL Educational Roundtable Voice Transcript Test

We talk assessment
Iggy's Note: Though I can enjoy the slow process of wrangling text-chat into the useful format of a chat-transcript, that may not reach all readers who have visual impairments. Thanks to Margaret for hatching a plan!

Thus, the members of our weekly Educational Roundtable that meets in Second Life begin her experiment. I'll just quote my good friend AJ Brooks. We'd love your feedback. This comes from AJ's "Got Social" blog:

In an effort to make these transcripts available to those who would normally need to use screen readers, or those who just prefer to listen to them instead of reading them, the SLER is experimenting with converting the text chat transcript to a voice enabled version.

This entire effort is the brain child of Margaret Czart (SL: Margaret Michalski). Not only was this her idea, she is also the one who has invested the time to re-edit the written transcript to make it more listenable and taken care of the conversation and upload process, as well as putting the test web page together. HUGE thanks to Margaret for her work on this.

As you can imaging, this work does take time. In order to be sure that time is well invested, we are going to post the next few text-to-voice (t2v) chats here into this blog. The purpose of this is to provide you with an opportunity to provide some feedback, which we think is really important.

If you love this idea, tell us. If you hate this idea, tell us. If you see or think of anything that can make it better, tell us. No matter what your thoughts are, please tell us by responding by leaving comments below. Even if you just write “hey, great idea” – it will let us know that there is a demand or interest in this. We will use this feedback (and site traffic) to determine if the beta-test on this project will continue.

Here is the link, we look forward to your input.


Reflections On Usher For EDUCAUSE

Location: House of Usher

Colleague Mirt Tenk asked me to reflect on the House of Usher build, for her talk on SL case studies at EDUCAUSE. I'm a head-case, so this will be easy. I need to take stock anyway of what we have done, or not, at the House of Usher.

Mirt asked:
"I'd like to ask if you'd be willing to share information about your House of Usher build. Specifically, I'd like to ask WHAT you would have done differently, and WHY, and what you learned from doing it the way you did it (if not covered by the first two)."
I learned a lot from helping with the Usher build. Here's what I would avoid or repeat:
  • Megaprims: We should have started with them. I stupidly did not do enough research on the issue at Linden's Labyrinth...I mean wiki [read the entry on lag and megaprims]. It turns out that one may use megaprims on a private island, but not on the mainland. Replacing hundreds of 10x10 prims has been tedious in the extreme, but the results can be dramatic: a fivefold reduction in prims for some walls. The House began as terribly laggy and over-primmed. It still is.
  • Student Skills: Our I.T. folks picked a talented student with no SL experience. She became a good builder (the crypt entrance she did is a masterpiece), but I should have done more early on to educate her about lag and over-primming. This is solidly my fault.
  • Sketchup=Messup: Partly we ended up this way because we started with Google Sketchup file and imported the files to SL using a tweak first discussed in New World Notes [have a look at one implementation from Eightbar, a UK site]. I would instead do a rendering on paper or online and then build IN SL from the start, with prims.
  • Tedium? Why Not?: I'm comfortable with it. I love crawling through bibliographies, for instance. Students are impatient, including our builder. I think the Sketchup shortcut comes partly from student discomfort with the painstaking steps of building in SL. Our initial builder had to go back and recheck hundreds of prims so they were properly set to "share with group" and I could texture them. Most of these prims later got replaced by megaprims.
  • Test Build: The House is huge. I wish the team had built something smaller together first. We might have learned the steps to avoid sharing issues, include megaprims, and rethink design by starting smaller, perhaps on an Edgar Allan Poe Visitor Center at ground-level.
  • Up Up and Away: Here our Estate Manager, Kevin Galbraith, had a stroke of genius. We wanted to separate the content from our island, so we put it on a platform far in the sky. It's now inside a big bubble textured with stars and clouds. It keeps the always-midnight feeling of a Poe tale alive, whatever the island's day/night settings.
  • Bring on the Gloom: Textures became my best friend here to keep things dark. I used dull textures and made them even duller by tinting them in grays or browns. Even at midday in SL, the interior is appropriately gloomy. The candles and lamps actually do their work. We used copper sheathing in the crypt, as in Poe's tale, and in the story is gave off its own luminance, so the ambient SL lighting helps retain the effect without the walls having to "glow" (an effect that's easy in SL).
  • Faculty Involvement: Though I will beta-test the House with my first-years, I am still concerned. The first teacher to use the House after me lacks the building skills to see what we needed to change. I wish I'd coerced him to take a building class, so he'd have a sense of the pedagogical necessities of certain features. I could have used a second faculty builder on the site as well. I spent at least 100 hours on this project, time I could have instead spent on writing another juried article or SF story for publication.
First Steps
All that said, I am glad to have gone through the process because it was invaluable to me.

I'm a long eagle, sometimes to the point of arrogance about my skills. Had I infinite time, I would have done it all myself, the way I build model aircraft. Then, however, I'd have made different mistakes. Working with a team that included a faculty colleague, instructional designers, and a student builder showed me the potentials and limitations of a major build in SL.

I can now build with a sense of conserving server resources and allowing for how a team should start its work. We had our eyes on the summer deadlines and on the House itself, and though we did include pedagogical considerations all along, we may have become too enamored of our product, during the process.

A final thought: I have long wanted to write an entry here about why online games bore me.

This post could, however, suffice. Slaying orcs or zombies and solving riddles posed in a game pale, for me, next to the challenges of slaying lag and solving riddles in a maze of my own making.

Burning Life 2009: Last Day at the Fair

Bane Riddles Installation
Location: The Playa, With That Sinking Feeling

Remember the day your last vacation ended? Or when you were looking back, out the rear window of your parents' car, at the exit sign, dwindling and then vanishing, that said "Disney World"? Or when you made your way slowly to the exit gate at the State Fair, with that last tuft of cotton candy between your fingers?

I felt this way on closing day at Burning Life 2008, and I felt it again this year. Where else can you interrupt an IM discussion with this: "hold on. I need to catch that flying octopus and take a ride!"
St. Salvador
What can we do with our withdrawal symptoms? A few hints for those of us not regularly part of the creative community in Second Life:
  • Stay in touch with an artist whose work you really liked at Burning Life. Go to other live-music events, gallery opens, and displays of Machinima.
  • Tip your artists. Tip-jars are not permitted at BL, so give now and give often. It helps with texture uploads! I think I'm spent about 1000L already just on uploads for the House of Usher, and that is only one project.
  • Use your social-networking tools and in-world contacts to promote events and creators you like. I know that posts on the SLED list by me and a few others got some educators to Burning Life.
  • Explore. I know that I have been wrapped up in my own work in SL (and outside it) too much lately to get out and about. I plan to change that this year. I've long done a monthly "road trip" dispatch; I'll add an arts-event briefing now at least every other month.
I'll be posting a Koinup sideshow of my last days. See what you missed!

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Burning Life 2009: Arman Finesmith

Arman Finesmith
Location: Big Tent

You know it's a cool virtual world when a bluesman says "Fats Waller" and the crowd not only cheers, but cheers because they recognize the name.

From Arman's 1st Life tab:

"I was abandoned behind a North Carolina juke joint as an infant. Taken in by the proprietess, I worked as shill and cigar cutter, until the age of twelve. Learned guitar from a transient named "Arthur." Don't know anything else about him."

I'll miss Burning Life!

Friday, October 23, 2009

Pappy on the Playa: Enoch's Art Picks for Burning Life 2009

<a href="">Koinup</a>
Location: Here and there, don't you know

Pappy Enoch did his "level best" to bring some serious reportage to the arts department at this blog.

Here's the lowdown from the expert:

Rainbow Flower Power Potty by Naomee Noel

Peace & Love Oasis by Sabrinaa Nightfire

Roma Bumper Litters by Torin Golding

Pollen Nation by Nature Lykin

Beedancing with an animation by Mihai Caldera is not to be missed.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Arts on the Playa: Burning Life 2009

Gulliver Bound
Location: Binding Gulliver

Venturing beyond The Crater, I found an array of fascinating constructs emerging from the baked mud of the Playa like strange and short-lived flowers. From Byrn Oh's "Vessel's Dream," I learned the term "immersiva," which I wish I'd known before. Now I have a phrase for the new artforms I have met, things difficult or impossible in real life.

Olivia and the Crater-crew were dancing, but I told them I could not join in because "I am touring the art." Now that is a new verb for the artworld.

I'll run a slide show as a link, but given how the Koinup shows can lag the Web browser, I'll run stills here instead.

Viewed last night:

"Gulliver's Travel Scene" by Ub Yifu and Copan Falta

Pick up the notecard as you begin to assist the animals in restraining the prim-giant. As the creators say "We could have expect[ed] a wiser civilization built by animal spirits but they are just like humans....Greedy, aggressive and armed."

From "Vessels Dream"

"Vessel's Dream" by Byrn Oh

At once it's wistful and nightmarish, a mediation upon what we flee when we go into imagined worlds and what we imagine we have lost as we age in the world of flesh. I highly recommend reading the notecards and watching the machinimas linked from certain objects such as:

Angler Girl: "She is one of the benign abandoned robots who has been forced to catch other robots and steal their batteries in order to survive. She does this by luring them with a lightbulb at the end of a long cord, much like the angler fish."

There was something lonely and terrifying about her and other parts of the build. It's a must-see. Get a peek on Blip TV here.

From "Towards the Future"

"Towards the Future" by Shellina Winkler ande Solkide Auer

Sound, light, and a fireball to ride. From their notes:

"Move inside the space as you like, you can walk to the top through the light blue path or fly through. . . . Don't miss the fire ball at the top, simply click on it and you will roll down through, sounds, music, colorful shapes. . . Once you get the floor you've got few seconds to stand up or.......... roll down again :) and the view will be always different!"

Bottom Line: Repeat "Gulliver" or "Towards the Future" if "Vessel's Dream" rattles you a bit too much.

Here's a complete slideshow of my journeys at these three sites.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Shandon Reads at The Crater

Location: The Crater

Before I get out to see the rest of Burning Life, I thought it fun to run a bit more on the events I have attended at the Crater [direct teleport link here]. Here's a slide show of Shandon Lorin's reading of "The Lifeboat," An SF story from the 1950s.

I am a relative nOOb at Burning Life; 2008 was my first year. I don't, however, recall story tellers on the bill last year!
<a href="">Koinup</a>

Monday, October 19, 2009

Mutant Vehicle Cruise at Burning Life 2009

Location: Burning Life

Remember the old cartoon "Wacky Races" with Dick Dastardly and Muttley? It aired in 1968-9 and has been rerun many times. It spawned its own video game.

I got to live it in Second Life. The cruise will continue tonight at 7pm SL time and, I'm certain, beyond. Heaven help the pedestrians we ran down. Slides follow. I want my own Crismson Haybailer!

<a href="">Koinup</a>

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Arts at the Crater & Beyond: Burning Life 2009

Olivia in the Big Bubble
Location: Camp of Olivia Hotshot and GeoFrank Taurog

Well, I had a whee of a time with my friends yesterday. This post shamelessly plugs their build at Burning Life, that of their neighbors, and pokes readers with a sharp stick to urge you to "get over there!"

I was pleased to meet their neighbor Bane Riddle whose "The Interactive Mandala" installation stunned me; great reactive art and a fun trampoline ride! [direct teleport link here]. Sorry Bane--when I used your landmark I started on the I moved the landing point back just a few meters!

Bane then sent me to meet another artist whose site he recommended, Lorin Tone. Lorin did sound-work and made the snakes for the Serpentunes interactive art installation [direct teleport link here]. I'll let the visitor figure out how to jump out of the volcano where you appear.

Here's a run-down of events at Olivia's and GeoFrank's camp [direct teleport to it here]:

SUN 10/18: West of Ireland's Shandon Loring (Story Teller) 8 pm Reading : "The Lifeboat Mutiny", a story about a used lifeboat on spaceship that kinda runs amok.

MON 10/19: Celtic Trad and Rock:. West of Ireland DJ Sioban McMahon 6-7 pm .:ELECTRONIC:. Carlos Kirshner, a.k.a. Apocalypse7 7-9 pm
TUE 10/20: .:Mix:. West of Ireland DJ Derry McMahon 5-7 pm

WED 10/21: .:INDUSTRIAL:. DJ Omen 6-9 pm

THUR 10/22: .:BLUES:. KelvinBlue Oh 6-7pm

FRI 10/23: .:INDUSTRIAL:. DJ Omen 6-9 pm

SAT 10/24: .:BLUES:. Connall McGinnis 4 - 6pm SUN 10/25 TBA - will be burning down the joint. DJ Omen promises a surprise. Stay tuned.

Some slides of my adventures appear below. I'll add more today as time permits.
<a href="">Koinup</a>

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Burning Life 09: Faces

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Location: Frogg Marlowe Show, Main Tent

I'll post more on a few arts exhibits soon. I just wanted to kick things off, as I did last year, with some scenes from the main stage.

The faces of SL™ never cease to amaze.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Linden Lab™ Needs to Fix the Events List

Getting Ready
Location: Second Life® Events Page

Even as I get my break-dance moves down for Burning Life 2009, I wanted my students to be ready for this event or others they'll attend as part of a weekend field trip to SL™.

The rest of the story comes from a reply I made to Aracadia Codesmith at Hamlet Au's New World Notes editorial "Only Mass Adoption of Second Life Will Best Address All SL's Major Challenges." Arcadia had noted several areas where Linden Lab needs to improve customer service. including "better event listing categorization with aggressive moderation."

My reply follows.

Thank you, Arcadia. Yesterday in class we saw how broken the events system can be.

My writers are going on a class "field trip" this weekend. Most of them will go to Burning Life, but some may choose the SL events listing as an option, using the LL Web page:

None of my students are adult-verified that I know about, but some of the listings are XXX events. While you can sort by category, there is no way to filter results by rating. Thus "500L THINK PINK @ SEDUCTIVE NIGHTS STRIP CLUB" appears on the unsorted default list along with the tame "A Great Shopping Village - Browse New England."

RIGHT. The howls of derision among my 15 students (all 18 or 19 years old) was [sic] immediate. I joined in, because our larger topic for class was, in fact, "what limits or enables the spread of a communications tool." We had supporting evidence for SL's marginal role in front of us, provided by its maker.

Imagine not a crazy professor but a business considering using SL for meetings, when a curious middle manager clicks on the events listings....yeah, they'd adopt SL in a heartbeat.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Pumped Up for Burning Life

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Location: Edge of Seat

I don't care what they say about lag and pretension. I really enjoyed Burning Life 2008, so I'm very excited to be able to visit again this year. I'll be posting dispatches from the festival, as will many SL bloggers. Don't miss the event! It runs one week only, starting Oct. 17.

Get over to the Burning Life Main Page and Events Schedule and find your bliss.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Student Scavenger Hunts, 2009

Location: Student Blogs

(photo credit: Virtual Harlem, from Ryan's Koinup site)

As I slog through grading, one bright spot comes from reading the blogs done by my class. This informal writing, warm-ups for analytical projects, include a set of lively posts about the Scavenger Hunt assignment they have just completed.

Some stand-out posts:
Most writers noted how empty the education sims looked. I reminded them that edu sites have "flash mobs" when events occur but not usually at other times (rather like our quads on campus--full between classes, empty in 10 minutes).

I'll feature more information soon on the hunts . For educators, I'll add that my project introduces writers to SL while letting them master skills beyond the basics. So the assignment is not merely "busy work" in a virtual world, I ask them to consider how what they find in the hunt might lead to later projects that employ sources.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

News from Rezzable: Steamfish, Stonehenge, and Beyond

Location: Second Life® Education Roundtable (picture by Ponderosafish at Olivia Hotshot's Flickr site for the group)

During our last Roundtable meeting, Jon Himoff of Rezzable covered a lot of ground. I've pulled out some call-out points from his talk:

Call-out Points:

  • Next Steps: Following the work pioneered in King Tut Virtual Experience , Rezzable has developed Stonehenge Virtual and a Victorian-themed game, Steamfish, a race against time for players as a population contracts a new disease.
  • Second Life: Rezzable ended most of its work in SL because of the expense and lack of responsiveness from Linden Lab to their needs. At one time they ran 40 sims in SL; Himoff noted that 20 of them, however, were "abandoned" projects.
  • Greenies remains a playground, pure and simple, but the new ventures for Rezzable seek to something different, a educational experience that museums seem unwilling to try.
  • Reception by Museums: Major museums, in fact, appear to have an institutional culture at odds with projects like Heritage Key. Himoff did praise the British Museum for allowing Rezzable access to their collection. Smaller museums have shown more interest in the project. (update Oct. 12: Himoff added in an e-mail that "not sure we are that much against the Museums, [but we are instead] trying to add value to them by providing context and engagement outside their walls.")
  • Rezzable's Mission: The company does not see itself as a service provider per se, but "as a content creator for virtual experience" in a variety of media online: 2D Web and Open Sim builds, these days.
  • Why Antiquity? The historical emphasis comes from Himoff's passion for Antiquity as well as his belief that real sites and guidebooks don't provide much guidance. As he notes, "you don't understand what you're looking at; you can get a tour from a guide or read a book but not a sense of the original creation of it."
  • Why Antiquity Online? A Heritage Key site, like the King Tut Virtual Experience and Stonehenge Virtual, will allow visitors to do things to enhance a real-life visit, such as reconstruct what might have been at the site in Antiquity or interact with artifacts in ways not possible at the actual site.
  • Builderbot: The controversial Builderbot tool now exists as a resource for builders to port their content from one world to another. Its future is uncertain, "since we're focused on Heritage Key it's hard to allocate resources to maintain the tool."
  • Investors are backing the Heritage Key and other Rezzable projects. Himoff seeks new ways to monetize the experience through premium-level resources.
  • Content at Rezzable: Professional journalists write the Heritage Key copy, and the projects are assisted by professional archeologists such as Zahi Hawass
  • Copyright: Educators may use HK materials in their projects, since "everything is Creative Commons, [but] we ask people to provide attribution but can pull stuff off our site."
The complete transcript of our meeting is now online. Happy reading!

Thursday, October 8, 2009

1939 World's Fair in Reaction Grid

Trilon, Perisphere
Location: Perisphere Interior, Overlooking Democracity

From the Code 1 orientation area at Reaction Grid, a quick teleport takes the visitor to a very impressive showcase of what can be done, at very low cost, in Open Sim worlds.

And how they hooked me with the one event I would attend in a time machine: the 1939 New York World's Fair.

I climbed to the interior of the Perisphere to look down on a perfected and logical city of the future, Democracity, and I clicked a device to have the 1939 script read to me in text-chat:
Only such men and women can make the World of Tomorrow what they want it to be...a world for for freemen to enjoy....
Later on, I did what many fair-goers must have wanted to do: go down and look at the perfect world from ground level.

Soon I'll have to tweak the Mac client for Open Sim to play media. The fair has audio from Democracity as well as FDR's talk at the fair.

The deliberate building of the Fair on Reaction Grid reveals the designers' belief in the positive role the virtual worlds of tomorrow--in particular user-built ones--might play in our lives.

Those who want to join in the building can find a notecard-giver by the bridge leading to the Trilon and Perisphere. There are regular meetings in Reaction Grid for enthusiasts and builders.

Democracity 1

Why this fair? And why am I an addict of the event?

I wrote a chapter of my doctoral dissertation about the fair, a moment of technological euphoria just as the stormclouds over Europe were about to break. There was, then, a race between vision and catastrophe that reminds me of our lives today.

The script for Democracity could well describe our virtual utopias:
The meaning is simple: Consciously or not, we are building the World of Tomorrow; creating the symbols of living; not each for himself, but all together.
Indeed. And from memory of an event I never attended, I'll quote the Fair's anthem. "Unfurl the flag, roll the drum! To the World of Tomorrow we come! See the sun through the gray! It's the dawn of a new day!"

Yes, I am a junkie of an event that occurred before I was born. My poor uncle, who shot himself because of nightmares spawned by his time as a bombardier in WW II, went to that fair. I have a cuff-pin, a little Trilon and Perisphere, that he brought back to his mother. Granny hoped he would become a well-known inventor. It was a time when that was possible; he sold the rights to a machine that sorted mail. Instead of building machines for a better tomorrow, he went on to ride in the nose of a B-24 Liberator and rain death down on European cities.

So much seemed possible when the fair opened its gates out in Queens. On eBay I scored the pin shown here. Every person who toured General Motors' Futurama got one.

They believed so hard in a brighter future, one where good planning and common sense would bring a technological utopia, that it saddens me today. Consider this description of the little suburban villages that would surround the sky-scrapered urban core:
Here it is...and we like it. It's attractive and sensible at the same time. It's pleasant because we've spent a lot of money to make it a low-tax rate, too - because we haven't wasted money. Centerton has the main library, for scholars, while Pleasantville and Millville have their branch libraries.
While downtown:
No new religion has been old religion has been affected...In the hub of a city a great place of worship does not displace is a center for prayer that unites all creeds....Certain things you've become accustomed too, you'll miss in Democracity. You'll miss the slums...and all the crime that breeds in the slums...and all the nervous discomfort of overgrown cities and the smokey air and the dark rooms and sunless streets and the'll miss these.
It makes so much sense, like some travelogue delivered in a measured pace at a Lion's Club meeting. No wonder so many dreamers love that fair.

How, then, did we end up with a pot-holed, polluted, and war-wracked version of that future? Ironically, in virtual worlds like Reaction Grid we might begin to ask some of those questions.

Get on over to Reaction Grid and have a look what what never could have been in real life, yet should have been.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Linden Lab's™ Triple Burden: The Creepy Treehouse

mayroadtrip: Creepy playground...
Location: Reading Student Blogs

This thought came to me after the Jon Himoff talk we just held. Even as educators consider other virtual worlds, Second Life® soldiers on and has successes like the UT system-wide rollout I noted recently. SL™ moves forward, however, with a triple burden on its back.

First, there are the heavy and ham-handed regulations such as the ongoing squabble about educators and the SL trademark. Then there is the issue of trusting the Lab to protect our creations on their servers, without any recourse to backup locally, beyond the textures we create and upload.

Finally, and least accurately, among too many educators, administrators, and fire-breathing politicians SL has an overstated reputation as a haven for sexual activity, sims full of Gorean slave-girls and yiffing furries, or events ruined by squadrons of "flying penises" ready to descend upon serious events.

It's really too bad that Anshe Chung got griefed (warning: link shows sexually offensive images) that way, but that image from the old days of SL sticks. Now such stupidity can be avoided by anyone with a brain and land permissions (which excludes me, given the nuclear-bomb placement on my land). Yet the rhetorical power of SL's first real-life millionaire under siege from phloating phalli made that image definitive for some brilliant folks in educational technology. And beyond the ring of digerati, it's worse.

An editor at the Richmond Times Dispatch said "Second Life is just about sex," when I proposed my old blog at the conservative paper (now in deep trouble, like most print news sources). His Web editor and I convinced him otherwise, but my early posts got heavily edited and any risque references were taken out.

I don't know that Linden Lab will ever shake these sad images, even with the wise move to open the adult-rated continent, Zindra.

Currently, their product offers educators the best choice for simulations hard to achieve on our college campuses or communities, as when my students change race or gender for a week. To have educational value, those sorts of simulation need immersion, or the Uncanny Valley moment when a simulation becomes so compelling or realistic that we forget, momentarily, that we are in a simulation. The usual reaction is revulsion, according to the traditional definition of the term. As I have heard the term used recently, however, it evokes any moment of awe, whether in terror or wonder.

Right now, Second Life offers two great advantages over the competition: a large community in-world and a lot of excellently made content. As the gap between it and other worlds closes, we'll have to make a decision.
mayroadtrip: Creepy playground...

Second Life may simply need a new name: the very term evokes the "Creepy Treehouse" metaphor that we educators need to shed. That level of change rests with the controversial firm with its brick-and-mortar offices in downtown San Francisco.