Wednesday, August 29, 2012

A Killer App That Killed iPhone for Me

Location: Verizon Store

image credit: screen capture from Google Streetview, on my campus near Westhampton Lake.

I'm not a gadget boy, but soon I'll make the shift from a flip-phone to a smart one.

And it won't be an Apple product. Why? Google Street View.

When Apple, for perfectly logical reasons, dropped Google Maps from their iOS 6 plans, they dropped me. I tend to by loyal--fanatically--to the Mac OS, and I'm a long-time hater of stodgy, backward Microsoft (Kinect and their fabulous two-button USB mice excepted).

As a tech user, there are some features that I refuse to abandon, and Street View is one of them. I have used it when traveling abroad to find a car-rental place or hotel that I'd never have found in the maze of York, England's medieval streets. Before Street View, I once walked to the wrong town looking for my car, just outside Bath. After Street View, I led a bunch of friends directly to the right restaurant in Istanbul, London, New York City, and San Francisco. My e-mail to Apple reads:
I am about to get my first-ever smart phone. My wife loves her iPhone 4, but without Street View being integrated into the OS tightly, Apple has lost me as a customer. I'm a 20+ year loyalist to the Mac OS, but I'm drifting away with iOS.

Just a word of advice to the geniuses at the Genius Bar: give me back Street
So yeah, it matters, Apple. I don't want to have to leap through three hoops to get Street View. I want it instantly, when I click on an address. The Phone app on the iPhone does that so well, with a "call" button in Google searches on Safari.

Instead of working with a competitor or launching a bunch of Apple vans to canvas and photograph the planet (how DID Google manage that?), Apple gives us a "flyover" view that won't help me find a restaurant or business from a human's-eye perspective.

Make my new phone an Android, please, Mr. Verizon Man. And if you show me a Windows Phone, my next post here will be written from jail after a headline reads "Professor arrested after stomping on crappy phone from stodgy company late to party where they never innovated anyway."

But Google? Bring  it on.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Who IS a Virtual Worlds Educator?

Location: SLED List

It may be easier to say who is most assuredly not.

A few weeks back, a colleague in VWER asked me "who is an educator" in a private IM.  I replied "well, if you teach at an accredited school..." but then I realized that some folks provide education to others in informal circumstances.

A story about Saj, one of my best students ever, came back to me. Saj is an Indian national who graduated to become a well known economist. He credited his considerable talent in mathematics to informal tutoring done, at a dining room table, by a retired professor who would work out equations by hand for a dozen Indian boys.  The teacher used recycled "green bar" computer paper for the teaching, and one by one he would write down equations and solve them for a horde of pupils who watched and memorized. They had a hunger to learn: Saj learned his "maths" by this method, and he had to watch the professor's work upside down, since Saj was the newest pupil and could not get close enough at the table to see the equations in their proper orientation.

So an accredited position does not an educator make, the material or virtual worlds.

But what makes  you NOT a educator? In the recent SLED-list discussion of Linden Lab's decision to offer SL through Steam, many participants fretted about rising graphics requirements for the virtual-world client. Then one soul chimed in:

"Game gfx have always been scalable. Just for the few that plop down a couple  hundred dollars on a new GeForce will gain the full experience.  Best $200 I ever spent!"

Easy for him to say! Imagine an educator telling students, "to take the course you must own a desktop PC and have this graphic card, or buy one, for something you will never, ever do again while enrolled here."

I have begun to reply to this SLED participant several times by e-mail, but I don't think I could do so politely.

Clearly, this person has not recently taught at a college, where nearly all students employ laptops of various, and usually middling, sorts. Nor has this person taught at any K-12 schools, where budgets are strained and computer replacement cycles run in the five-year range. While volunteering at one middle school in our city, I found that to order a replacement USB mouse from Central Office took six weeks.

Sure. Drop in a new graphics card, class! While a professional might spend that amount for a desktop upgrade...let's be serious. This is not the voice of any educator I know.

So let's try this an a definition: an educator is someone who not only works in an educational setting, be it a lecture hall or a dining-room table. An educator also understands the facts on the ground in these settings: what students need, what they can or cannot do, their level of motivation.

I am sure that a student like Saj would find the money to buy a new graphics card, if that were what he needed to excel in his studies. But most of my charges? It would mean dropping the class at best, grumpily slogging along and slamming me in my evaluations, at worst.

Now here, from the same discussion, in the voice of an educator:

"Interestingly the lowest res graphics game incredibly popular...I don't think kids expect good graphics as much as they expect engaging learning, challenges that are relevant to their lives and acceptance that the world today (Google and the information repository it can search in your pocket) is different from the world 50 years ago (where you had to remember a lot of stuff). "

A new graphics card is a pain in the butt; engaged learning will pull the learner alone to all sorts of challenges, including those posed by rapid technological change.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

A Favorite Merchant, Rediscovered

Morris Mertels Shop 2/2 
Location: Second Life Marketplace

I'm not fond of Second Life Marketplace. It makes the virtual world less a world. I do use it for last-minute purchases as well as window-shopping for a visit in SL. I salute creators like Laufey Markstein of Trident, who keep a storefront going. I like to stroll through 3D objects and not simply look at photos of them.

The closing of Morris Mertel's in-world store, some time back, saddened me greatly. But there is good news of a sort.

Back when I was first building the House of Usher,  Morris was kind enough to supply it with a nice fireplace! After sitting on a few demos and buying items from Morris, I blogged about the good designs and let him know. He reciprocated with some nice gifts. I don't know that we'd have "met" in quite the same way had he not possessed an in-world store.

Linden Lab made a mistake in forcing so many creators to abandon in-world commerce. After all, the Marketplace commissions are paid in the money the Lindens themselves mint. That pricing scheme only means that merchants earn less.

But at least Morris maintains a Marketplace storefront. So visit 3D Dreamworld Studios for your medieval and renaissance furnishings, including the rats I have so enjoyed using at the Virtual House of Usher.  If Morris does not have it, I bet Laufey does. So go do some shopping!

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Bringing SL Back to the Conference Room?

Location: Virtual Worlds Education Roundtable

Celia Pearce image from her Web site
Tom Boellstorff
image by Olivia Hotshot

I'm pleased that VWER will again host Tom Boellstorff, author of Coming of Age in Second Life, and Celia Pearce, author of Communities of Play, will be guests at a special meeting on August 30, 12:30 SLT. To teleport to the venue at Bowling Green State University in SL, click here.

Tom was an excellent guest before, and we'll all put questions to him in a voice-chat event hosted by AJ Kelton. I'm reading Pearce's Communities of Play now, and I'm looking forward to the two scholars next project, Ethnography and Virtual Worlds: A Handbook of Method.

This time, with two noted scholars and a venue that could be comprehensible to those without avatars, I have offered to show the meeting in one of our conference rooms on campus. Faculty and staff should then see the potential of virtual worlds for the sorts of meetings that would be hard to arrange and moderate on the fly in real life.

Given my experience with conferencing software, I also feel that virtual worlds offer a better venue that encourages less passivity. There is something powerful about embodiment, even as a cartoon character, that gets folks to talk back in a meeting.