Saturday, August 27, 2011

An Illusion of Distance For Immersive Learning

Usher Tricking the Eye 2/2
Location: Nevermore Island, Jokaydia Grid

Immersion in a roleplaying setting means that, while exploring a doomed family's mansion and grounds in the year 1847, one should not glimpse Tesla Coils and trees the side of skyscrapers. When I did, I realized that raising some mountains would be in order.

My neighbors in Jokaydia Grid have some well conceived builds. I just don't want my students to see them, as they take on the role of Poe's narrator in "The Fall of the House of Usher."  Unlike what I did in Second Life, here I'm not interested in having them experience a world: I want them to experience a closed simulation. So I began to raise the borders of the sim; gradually the Mountains of Nevermore got very steep.

When my geomancy was finished, the result amazed me. The borders of the sim now seem very far away. This too will become part of our roleplay.

Parts of the island are now very hard to navigate, and the difficulty increases as an avatar walks toward the mountains that ring all of the island except near rocks where the shipwreck of Grampus rests. That hulk contains some important clues about the dark history of the Usher family.
The Captains Ghost
I've been playing with the idea of having several ghosts near the ship and on the land, instead of simply in the house; most of these spirits will help the students by giving them hints and clues. I may have one or two who are malicious. I've also hidden clues in the swamps and woods near the mountains.
Usher Tricking the Eye 1/2
When we run the simulation, I will turn flying off on the island. In the end, I hope we have a place where avatars who leave the House will get lost in a space that seems larger than it really is.

When I ran the Poe build in Second Life, in theory anyone could come by the site. My fears were that some exotic-dancer avatar, in pasties and g-string, would burst in using IM-doofus text chat during a crucial moment of the roleplay. I suppose we'd have pretended she was the ghost of some mad Victorian harlot.

Second Life users are mesmerized by the coming of more advanced mesh items to that grid. I am curious on several levels, but in particular I wonder if the added complexity won't slow to a crawl any systems save for high-end desktop computers. That would be a terrible outcome for educators who remain there. In leaving SL for my work, I've given up many things--namely, the loss of great inventory available at very low prices. But going back, at Linden Lab's rates for tier, is simply not an option.

And, gradually, as the Jokaydia Grid sim comes to life, with content mentioned in my prior post, I think we'll have ourselves a wickedly immersive time in our new home, even without the bells and whistles SL can provide to those with very fast computers.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Mr. Wild Frontier Man, Roderick Usher

Location: Jokaydia Grid, Nevermore Sim

Okay. I get it now. It only took a friggin' hour to make my AO work. I now know how an AO script works.

But I am giving away barrels, darn it. This is the joy and frustration of working in an OpenSim grid. In Second Life, I'd run to some store or the Marketplace. Here, if you want something, you either turn to the wisdom of the community or you learn to DIY.

In my case, being a somewhat experienced builder but the worst scripter in history, at OpenSim Creations I found what I needed for some interior bits for The House of Usher.

Then I gave Vanish and his buddies a copy of my House of Usher barrel.

Admittedly, this frontier trading-post is rough and ready. It's a place where we belly up to the virtual bar and slap down our coon-skins in exchange for local knowledge and a bottle of rot-gut. Even a guy like me, who never got better than a C+ in a computer-science class, can at least offer a few objects and some witty descriptions...if you cannot blind them with brilliance...and so on.

I was telling my literature students in my Invented Worlds class that some peoples define themselves by the presence of a frontier. That's the lore of Americans, Aussies, and perhaps the Russians who brave Siberia to make a life for themselves. For lots of other folks, however, a physical frontier is not as necessary.  They find that thrilling encounter with the new online, making things.

I suppose that, as a greenhorn, I'd have "died" out on the OpenSim frontier already, without the experience of the other pioneers. But so far, with two months to go before the students rezz in Jokaydia Grid, I'm thinking that the frontier may be opening up at last.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Back to School: Good EDU Sites in Second Life? Other Worlds?

Location: Planning VWER meeting

I'm going to crowd-source these tips before Thursday's meeting of the Virtual Worlds Education Roundtable. It's a back-to-school special, and I want to compile must-see sites in SL or outside it for education.

In the comments, list the site, the grid (and Web link to its site). If it's in SL, please supply a SLURL. For any grid's content, please type a few lines about why the content seems worthwhile.

I don't mind content on the 2D Web, but it should in some way be helpful to teachers in planning to teach in immersive 3D environments. I've given an example below.

I'm interested in the arts, in science, in information resources such as libraries or coding help, even builds in virtual worlds that merit a visit simply for their exemplary content. Flag anything that might be adult, just so our educators don't get into too much trouble :)

I'll stir the pot with two sites:

OpenSim Creations: Tip of the tophat to Vanish, who showed me the way to this archive of open-source files that can be downloaded as .zip archives and then uploaded for use in OpenSim worlds (and I suppose SL as well). Proper attribution should be given to the creators of content, and the creators should be informed when a member gives away the content again.

Svarga: As close to a living museum as one will find in SL. It showed many of us what is possible in a 3D world. Though technology and design have passed it by in some respects, Svarga has a place in many hearts as capturing the unique ethos of Second Life as it began.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Educator/Avatars: How to Dress?

VWER Aug 11, 2011
Location: VWER Meeting 

Last week, the weekly meeting focused on this topic, and I'd like to share the full transcript.

As one might imagine, the topic proved rather contentious.  Some felt that self-expression trumps other concerns.

I'm not convinced, at all. My own position boils down to this:
  • Human avatars in professional clothing work best for introducing a virtual world to those who don't know it but may have a stake in one's career, evaluation, or funding (such as a demo to admins or colleagues)
  • The same approach works best with students new to these worlds. Since I'm at a school filled with non-gamers, I dress conservatively at first as Iggy. Later on, I might "Steampunk out" or appear as a robot. Not at first, however. As students got more comfortable in-world, I found they too wanted to wear flaming tophats or become cardboard-box people.
  • Even when one looks more or less convention, I feel that details can send the wrong message. In the picture below, Iggy is wearing an "Uncle Gabby" T from my favorite, and very politically incorrect, cartoon, Maakies.  Gabby is drinking and driving. Yeah, I'd wear that IRL to work.
VWER Aug 11, 2011

What do you readers think? Are forms of appearance rhetorical stances, when you can be anything you want in a 3D world?  If you are a nonhuman all the time in SL, are you obligated to change that to impress a skeptical audience you wish to woo?

Friday, August 12, 2011

Grandpa's Box: My Thoughts on the Future of Our Computers

Location: Using Obsolescent Computing Tool

I don't know how many of my friends among Second Life's digerati are in contact with young people on a daily basis. I am, and I am stunned by how fast they are abandoning the personal computer.

The other day, I got a briefing from a Writing Consultant who works for me. She reviewed our Writing Center Web site and, while polite and praising the content, noted that the organization is all wrong for a student audience. "I no longer use my laptop," she admitted. "The iPad is my primary computer."

Much of our content, developed over many years and going through a vetting process with several bureaucratic levels, is all wrong.

It has happened with hyperdrive speed, this shift.  We are not an engineering or arts school: our students reflect typical affluent users.

Should I cheer at this funeral?

Iggy in the Confessional Booth, Before St. Steve

As a Mac-OS fanatic, I take no comfort in Apple's victory with portable devices. Windows-users, we are in the same boat, because the iPad is no Mac. Or Windows PC.

It's the anti-Mac, or better still, the final realization of Steve Jobs' dream of 1984: a sleek and closed-down platform with an elegant interface, but where one pays a price: Apple controls every damned thing. The iPhones and iPads are also hip examples of industrial design, just as the Mac of 1984 was no bulky (and sturdy) IBM PC of the sort I then owned. The IBM was for office-clones who had reluctantly given up their Selectric typewriters. The Mac was for artists and freaks.

It was a machine with a personality. Over time, it acquired a soul after Jobs' hammer-lock on hardware design was yanked away. Except for Extensions conflicts before OS X. But we won't go there...Jobs' "second coming" swept away the Old Order.

Jobs is a man with Olympian ambition and an insanely great idea or two: his ideal factory would take trucks of sand in one end and ship out computers at the other end. He wants to own the whole system. Henry Ford was smiling from plutocrat-heaven when he looked down at St. Steve.  Tim Wu understands this well in his book The Master Switch. Wu takes some well aimed swipes at Jobs.

Sorry, Steve. I really adore your OS, but I'm thinking of backing Google with an Android purchase. And--horrors--I think I'll be playing Mass Effect on an Xbox 360.

Confession #2: I'm going to buy that in several months, mostly to play the latest Mass Effect.  Let's give the Devil his due; Microsoft kept their corporate wet-blanket culture off the gaming division, and out of that we got the Kinect.

Trouble for Granda's Box

My "Nerd-Night" tabletop RPG group consists of one Mac-guy (me) and a bunch of Windows-based gamers who get away from their MMOs to go "old school" and roll some d20s. Some of them own console games, but not a one uses a smart phone or tablet.

They are dinosaurs as surely as I am. They don't get why the next generation of computer users are eschewing desktop systems for portable devices. I, on the other hand, get it.

Millennials want to always be in touch with their hive. They need self assurance and confirmation of their choices, and they do their social planning on the fly. That's impossible from a tethered desktop or even a laptop. I've yet to see more than a scattering of students use a laptop outside, as university promotional photos often show. Instead, they compute as they walk across campus. Give them data glasses that look just like sunglasses, and they'd use them too. Just don't make them stop, even for a nanosecond.

I recently had an epiphany that the wider culture is also getting it when I saw this Scott Adams' cartoon.

Dilbert.comMy buddies and I are Dilbert. My students, the young fella.

I don't know how Apple's closed system will fare against the Android OS from Google. Poorly, I secretly hope. But as a Microsoft-hater, I am also pleased that Windows will be the biggest loser of all. The company, except for its Kinect, has been no innovator in recent years. Was it ever? Steve Balmer has the cool-factor of Dilbert.

Whatever our desktop OS, I think we old timers with our grandpa boxes will look back at the System Wars of the 1980s and 90s with nostalgia. Like many other hobbies I embrace, from model-building to boardgames about World War II, the rest of society has moved on and I'm in this eddy of forgotten time.

I see a future in which content creators will use powerful computers in some form. The rest of the public--the consumers--will want to be close to the Machine. Machines as easy to use that they are ubiquitous, a part of our bodies.

It's what Sherry Turkle of MIT has called "always on, always on you" technology. Get ready for it.

But I still don't own a cell "dumb phone," a pay-as-you-go model, expired in April.  It won't be missed.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Iggy's Rules for Moderating Virtual-Worlds Meetings

VWER 21 July 2011
Location: Um...virtual-worlds meeting, perhaps?

Photo credit: Sheila Webber

The good folks at the Virtual Worlds Education Roundtable are training new people to host our meetings, and AJ Brooks has asked us veterans to share our ideas. I will run this post here and at the VWER site.  I'll focus on interviewing guests in another post.

Iggy's rules are not the same as Ann's or Ev's or AJ's. But these principles have worked fairly well for me over the past few years.
  1. Open Forums are not completely open: When I host one of these, I let the crowd set the flow of the conversation, but I begin with a question such as "so, what news, ideas, or issues about virtual worlds would the group like to discuss?"  I have a fall-back topic if everyone is sitting on their virtual hands.  This week I'd say "So could virtual pets be of any use in education?" and let the crowd take it from there.
  2. Expect some chaos, but rein in the digressions: I don't mind a bit of off-topic talk, given the nature of synchronous text chat. It tends to be multi-threaded. But if a digression starts to become the dominant topic,  I'll come back with something like "let's get back to XYZ's question about lag in the latest SL Viewer." I'll even IM those digressing, if it gets bad enough and someone complains to me in IM.
  3. Topical forums need a "pump primer": I learned this in the 90s with Daedalus Interchange in my writing classes. The moderator will start the group with an initial issue or question, then let them run with it. In this transcript, about machinima, I began with " how many of you have made machinima? Answer yes or no." That's great for establishing a knowledge base, but it's not enough. I followed up with "To those who answered “yes”: What is the one resource (aside from SL) that you like best when making machinima? Add URLs if you have them."  This really gives the transcript some "meat" for those who are not present or who wish to consult it later when making their next machinima.
  4. You can send one or two questions out in advance. I don't often do this, but on occasion I will send a note in-world and to the e-lists with advice such as "Come prepared to share your favorite site for education in virtual worlds and to tell us why."
  5. Get the crowd to keep the talk flowing. In both sorts of meetings, I either ask a follow-up question such as "so XYZ, how did your students like entering Second Life through the New Media Consortium's portal?" or one that gets everyone to reply, such as "can we share one tip for making effective machinima?" These tactics make participants feel acknowledged and lets them do some of the moderator's work.  As much as possible, I want everyone at the meeting to chat. I'm a big-mouth and a fast typist.  This tactic helps shut me up.  
  6. Recap. Early on in the meeting, I often will sum up the points made. As with #2, I learned this from AJ. I might say "So far, people are saying they prefer chocolate, vanilla, and butter-pecan. What flavors did I miss?"
  7. Watch the time. Several moderators remind the group when we have 30 minutes left, 15, and then 5. These points are great for forming up an unruly herd of cats. At the 15 and 5 minute points, I often ask "so what issues have we not covered yet?"
  8. Go easy on ban and eject. I've done it but rarely. Instead, a temperate IM to someone causing grief can work. I might say "Do you really mean that? It could greatly offend some here" or (black hat on my head) "That remark really offended some of the folks here. Please be a little more temperate."
I am thrilled that we have a new group of moderators. Running a virtual meeting is a specialized craft. I wish our new moderators luck!

Monday, August 1, 2011

A Political Post

Location: Waiting for a Vote

This began as a reply at Tateru Nino's blog. I'll share my thoughts again on this debt debacle.

The USA is a plutocracy with its paid politicos in both parties; the GOP is merely more naked about its ambitions. Many Democrats kowtow to old Counterculture ideas, but that part of our culture never had a unified agenda beyond ending the war in Vietnam, whatever the right claims about Socialism etc.: the US Counterculture was a coalition of utopian dreams (many of which I cherish, foolishly perhaps).

Our plutocracy was only under serious threat in the years between Teddy Roosevelt's Progressive movement and the end of the Vietnam War.  Then, starting with Eastwood's and Bronson's pop-culture vigilantes acting out against coddled criminals, the pendulum began to swing back to the right.

Finally, Ronald Reagan set us back on track to let the plutocrats rule again from behind the scenes. Now the rich rule more openly. Corporations are people by Supreme Court fiat and can make unlimited donations in complete anonymity.

Given this brutal set of truths, it's best to stay quiet and live a productive life, then retire.

Marcus Aurelius was correct: "What is even eternal fame? A mere nothing. What then is there for which we ought to take serious pains? Only this: to have thoughts just, acts social, words which never lie, and a disposition which gladly accepts whatever happens, as necessary, as usual, as flowing from a principle and source of a familiar kind."

Few men other than Aurelius, in his era, knew something was deeply wrong with the Empire. Just as then, history will remember US libertarians, liberals, and fundamentalists, even as the sands of time bury them all.

Our time will pass.