Monday, September 28, 2009

Pappy Enoch Dodges Assassination Attempt!

pappy and nuke
Location: Hellbilly Paradise

It's my darned fault. Oh, Pappy, can you EVER forgive me?

I had set up our mainland parcel so that group members in Pappy's group could rez items. Stupidly, I forgot to turn on the "autoreturn" feature for other items.

Pappy visited his Moonshine still today, after doing some hard undercover reporting for the Alphaville Herald about the deaths of Sion's virtual chickens in SL (hence the chicken-suit).

Someone moved a few items from nearby onto Pappy's land, including....

A virtual nuclear weapon.

Yes, that red sphere in the photo is a "Plasma Nuke," a nefarious SL device that can go off to make a server crash. But I think that Pappy's readers at the Alphaville Herald were just showing their opinions of his fine "Ritin' Skils an' elly-cushion in jineral," as Pap puts it.

In all, I returned seven items to one unnamed SL resident. I don't know if they were all nukes.

Pappy would have been one big fried chicken, otherwise. Seems like overkill to me: get him dead drunk and you could pluck him with ease.

Update for Sept. 28: Bomb removed & neighbors warned. I fear that the big store next to Pappy's junkyard, not our Moonshiner buddy, might be the target of a business rival. Now only members of Pappy's group can enter the plot of land and no one can move items onto the property from nearby. In short, lesson learned.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Thinking About UT and Second Life

Location: In the Throes of Campus-Envy

When Pathfinder Linden announced that the University of Texas system would, in a year-long project, be bringing all 16 of its campuses into Second Life, a turning point occurred in the history of virtual worlds. Pathfinder and Dr. Leslie Jarmon (SL: Bluewave Ogee) are shown above (image cribbed from the Linden Lab blog).

Pathfinder's interview with Jarmon has a few points of real import for educators using virtual worlds. Jarmon notes what SL provides:
[I]t's what I've called an embodied rapid collaboration platform, providing researchers, instructors, students, staff, and administrators access to one another in very new ways across geo-spatial and brick and mortar boundaries. Second Life itself is an open-ended complex learning system, with massive user created content, continuously moving the horizon of what known or understood. Finally, and powerfully, Second Life gives educators and students the developers tools, thereby making Second Life a tool-making tool itself. It has inherent robustness.
Perhaps my recent post about increased stability in SL is not merely personal perspective. I will be watching the UT experiment to see how students with laptops fare in SL, as well as how admins react. Many of them have only heard two-year-old press about lack of scalability and rampant adult content.

Yet Jarmon must have anticipated just such pushback. She salutes the " foresight and boldness on the part of the Chancellors," and that may carry the day during this experiment. I'm also encouraged by the systematic approach at the UT system. With IRB involvement, as well as campus leads meeting to plan for the development of their archipelago in SL, it's a good guess that faculty development will be happening for classes, activities, and student-orientation.

If those pieces are in place, the outlook is strong for UT's experiment. It's a far cry for the gold-rush days of 2006 and early 2007.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Stability (Achieved For) Now

Usher Tapestry
Location: House of Usher

At times, Second Life upgrades resulted in the sort of chaos that reminds me of the violent tapestries I'm hanging in Richmond's House of Usher simulation.

Not right now, however; the troubles of random crashes, broken teleports, and oddball graphical effects seem gone. I'm even tempted to check my settings to see if I can again capture video from the Mac client, something that left SL for Mac users over a year ago.

I was even able to perform an in-world search for something...and I found it quickly. SL's long-reviled search engine may have improved a little with the latest upgrade.

M Linden promised more stability in the user experience when he became Linden Lab CEO. I'm seeing it, from my limited perspective.

As my slam on Linden Lab's lack of a slimmed down client for laptops indicates, I'm not a cultist in the Society of the Eye and the Hand. Nor am I a Linden-basher.

I'm just an educator who likes virtual worlds and their potential for embodiment for simulating what's difficult or impossible in the world of flesh. Right now, SL is the best "game in town," so to speak, for simulations of that sort. And when it works well, it feels less like a poorly written game and more like a world.

What a good feeling, as we get ready for Burning Life 2009.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

House of Usher Update: Second Life Builder Poetry

House of Usher Prim Work
A Prim Within a Prim

Linden Lab, help me now!
As I wrinkle my weary brow,
Thus much let me avow
You are not wrong, who deem
That my builds have been a dream;
Yet if hope has flown away
With deletion, or foul play,
With poor textures, or with none,
Is my item the less gone?

All in SL, every whim
Is but a prim within a prim.
I stand amid the piles
Of 4000 items in my files,
And I hold in fingers slim
One tiny, ornate, sculpted prim
How sad! As I watch it creep
Through my fingers to the deep,
Abyss of lost & found –
While I weep! While I weep!

O God! Can I not grasp
My prims with a tighter clasp?
O God! Can I build quicker
And seams join without flicker?
Or is all I craft or merely shim
But a prim within a prim?

Iggy's note: Apologies to the forlorn shade of E.A. Poe, now more forlorn than ever if he read this. This is what happens, gentle readers, when you spend too much time building.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Linden Lab Needs a Laptop Client

scavenger hunt

Location: Reviewing Students' Scavenger Hunt Entries

While it thrilled this Macintosh cultist that most of my students (11 of 15) had Macbooks, all was not rosy. The Lindens don't seem to place any priority on coding for laptops, since their system requirements are steep and get steeper with most upgrades. Yet a laptop is the computer of choice for my students.

If Linden Lab wants educators in-world, they face some tough choices and need to spend some money on this issue. They run the risk of running off not only social SLers like my friend Tenchi, whose computers don't run SL well any longer. Linden Lab could also kill what seems to be one of its cash-cows, the education market.

As for my students, all four Windows users, two with brand new machines, got informed that their systems did not meet minimum SL requirements. Luckily, they clicked past that and continued. One of them, with a new Dell tricked out with 4GB of RAM, still had problems because of his graphics card. Using wireless (the connection of choice for on-the-move Millennials) was painful for him and several others. I gave them Ethernet cables.

That is, frankly, ridiculous to me and I once again ask LL to release laptop clients for the three OSes they support. While I'm wishing, how about a VERY stripped-down client to run on netbooks? The students are having a good time and learning the moves of academic writing and research in the Linden metaverse. For now.

If it gets impossible to use laptops for SL, I'll find another world--and quickly--to continue my classwork.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Teaching with Second Life: Student First Impressions 2009

Location: Ready to Carry the New Media Consortium Staff in Triumph on My Shoulders

Reading through the old-timey "composition books" my students use for notes and (nearly) private writing, as well as their blogs at this site, reveals some interesting differences from my last class to use SL. Pictured above: a writer at the SL Globe Theatre.

1) Coming in at the NMC orientation area led most of them to see, right away, that their notions of SL were limited. Many had expected less education and more "Sims" in SL. As one writer found out:
"The interesting thing about the [University of Caledon Oxbrdige] is that it is set up like an actual college would be [for SL]. . . .there is the College of Camera Control and College of Communication. This is very helpful, especially for a new resident like myself because it teaches you about the basic controls that are in Second Life that can help you assimlate into the society more readily."
2) My avoiding "gee whiz" rhetoric about SL, and stressing equally the joy of creation there and the academic reasons for using SL helped, as it did in 2008.

3) The first hour remains crucial. Using NMC Orientation for our first steps eliminated the "noise" of having noobs run past with boxes firmly on their heads, but otherwise naked. I often saw that, as a Linden Mentor working the public Orientation Islands. Instead, my class started well and moved more quickly to explore the Metaverse.

4) Taking my students, one by one, to a freebie store was a wise move, rather than sending them alone. On a second visit, one of my class got approached multiple times by a male avatar who wanted to "go chat some place private." Had this been student's first experience in SL, she might not have ever wanted to visit a store again. I swiftly sent them my page on warning signs and responses, such as how to mute avatars.

5) I've so often been dismayed by students' unwillingness to take intellectual risks, but so far the class seems to enjoy exploring, with the aim of learning how to use SL better for more demanding assignments. One of my writers summed up her SL work this way:
"For me, typical homework can be considered boring and tedious, but Second Life allows me to release my inner curiosity while having the courage to step out of my comfort zone with homework."
6) So far, they are not competing for the Linden Dollars I assign for the scavenger hunt. Only three writers have remembered to e-mail me when they post pictures of a completed task. Does this mean that the Lindens mean little when compared to a grade, or do they just prefer to be on Dr. Freud's couch at the Virtual Theorists Project, trying to get advice for dealing with a crazy professor with an avatar?

Thursday, September 17, 2009

What Makes a Good Educational Build? Ask NASA!

NASAs eEducation Island
Location: NASA Toy-land

GeoFrank GeoFrank Taurog, of NASA's eEducation Island [direct teleport link] , will save many educators the private agonies I experienced as a new builder when he talks about what makes a good build. His presentation, in text chat with plenty of room for Q&A, will occur next Tuesday, September 22, from 2:30-3:30 SL time (that's US West Coast time).

The meeting, in Second Life at the Montclair State University virtual campus [direct teleport link] could apply to other virtual worlds. Immersive pedagogy is immersive pedagogy, after all. GeoFrank's talk is part of the weekly SL Education Roundtable, a group of educators and academics that holds forth on various topics and brings in special guests.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Second Life's Viv Trafalgar: A Portrait

Location: Any Place Steampunk

When I told Viv that New World Notes had listed her among SL's up-and-coming creative minds, she was pleased. When I told her that I now know a "SLebrity" who hangs with the likes of Filthy Fluno, she essentially said "oh, pfffffffft, Iggy."

That describes Viv's personae well. As both "stuffy Viv" (her term) in human form or "unstuffy Viv" in the form of a sea-dwelling Dark Mer, she's not pretentious. I encountered her first in the Steampunk region of Armada Breakaway, where she was one builder of its original incarnation. That work impressed me enough to beg Viv to provide pro-bono support for Richmond's House of Usher project, and since then I've introduced her to Rezzable's CEO, for whom she does paid builds and consulting.

I'm fond of Viv's sense of humor, patience when I or my avatar get flustered doing some prim-work and start fuming, and her sense of how utterly alien and beautiful SL can be. Here is "unstuffy Viv" with a strange creature on HP Lovecraft Day 2008:

Viv and Critter

When I asked Viv for a curriculum vitae, she sent these facts, and they don't capture the sparkle of a brilliant mind at work or play.

Viv notes that she's the founder and co-host of the Aether Salon, which is celebrating its first year anniversary in October, and has featured brilliant steamland experts on topics ranging from weapons and corsets to 18th century submersibles, engines, and Victorian Exhibitions. In addition to contributing to this blog, Viv is:
  • a hardworking writer in the Primgraph and Prim Perfect offices
  • a print commentary maven (see Team Tut)
  • a just-getting-her-feet-wet student of machinima.
  • a builder and scripter. favorite recent builds include - Vernian Deep (with Ianthe Farshore); Curious Seamstress in Port Babbage (with Jasper Kiergarten); The Heliodrome in Wheatstone Waterways (with Jasper Kiergarten); and the Caledon Library Teleport HUD
  • a creator of various victorian, steampunk, and western fashions: "I like the new wollstonecraft gown in particular, The safari outfits for men and women are a hoot; the clocktoppers are amusing" with a main Viv Trafalgar Outfitters store in Port Babbage, in between Brassworks - a shop of detailed devices she co-owns with Jasper Kiergarten, and Brass Needle - Storm Thunders' shop
  • a teacher and student; a storyteller.
And always a good friend in both worlds.

Real World Artists, Virtual Spaces

On Wednesday, September 15, 2009, Second Life visual artist and artropolis co-founder Filthy Fluno and book artist and virtual world art critic Artworld Market addressed a packed room of 55 professors, students, and guests at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia.

Speaking about art, the art marketplace, and the design possibilities of Second Life and Virtual Worlds, Fluno and Market described new directions in the creation and marketing of art, innovative learning experiments, global outreach through virtual museums and libraries, and the uses of virtual spaces for distance learning and community development. During the first hour, Filthy Fluno captured hearts and minds with a lively explanation of making art and capturing the flavor of the arts community in Second Life, before taking the audience to a live concert at artropolis [slurl: ] and holding their attention with Mr. Fluno's stunning dance skills. In answer to audience questions about the impact of the recession in Second Life, Mr. Fluno pointed out that major art sales and international gallery show schedulings had come about because of his presence in the virtual world. He reiterated that the opportunity to work with nonprofits in helping others, as well as many opportunities to provide affordable cultural events during the downturn was a benefit of virtual spaces.

Artworld Market then took the podium, showcasing more than 600 inworld galleries and discussing with the audience issues of promotion, creativity, and intellectual property. He visited Danycote Antonelli and explored the new stage of the Zero-G Skydancers, and met with Juris Amat, to discuss her group, VIPO - Virtual Intellectual Property Organization. Artworld also paid a visit to Stanford University's archives, where he showcased how digital archives could come to life in a virtual space.

Questions from the audience addressed addressed everything from inworld performances to the human condition in virtual space, and opened the door at University of the Arts for additional discussions on the use of virtual worlds as a platform. The event was sponsored by the University of the Arts Corzo Center for the Creative Economy.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Metaplace Adds Custom Avatars: Get Out Your Gold

After picture at Metaplace
Location: New You Store

I logged on to Metaplace to bug Raph Koster about speaking to our Second Life Roundtable group, when I saw that customized avatars were available. Finally, I had a way to spend some of the gold coins I've acquired through the Beta-test phase of this virtual world.

The New You offers free hair styling for the rakish Metaplace bobble-head, and I found at least four other avatars there who were awake. I wanted to change my look to more of the mad-scientist style I've been craving. I think I ended up looking like Hamlet Au's less-cool cousin, but somebody will invent a Metaplace lab coat!

Next to the salon I found a clothing store with men's and women's departments. As I chatted up a few visitors, a few others dozed, including this poor woman, who had removed nearly all of her clothing and was standing around in her Metaplace "whitey-tighties." At least she wasn't naked, as so many are in Second Life. The Metaplace avatars, like those in SL from the New Media Consortium, have sprayed-on underwear!


Clothes! It's a nice way to blow those gold coins. Of course, unlike SL, one gets gold and "levels up" simply for exploring the worlds created by others and by writing reviews. For those in need of a quick-fix, Metaplace lets players buy gold just as they would Linden Dollars in SL: with the swipe of a credit card.

Now Metaplace has crossed a boundary of sorts; like SL, it has an exchangeable currency and may have to deal with all of the drama, rage, and peevish complaints for those whose inventory goes missing, whose items never arrive, and so forth.

Cost for my all-white outfit, the building blocks not of a fake Hamlet Au, but of a mad scientist? About 30K Gold of my 80K stash. Time to write more reviews and go play a few Metaplace games. Then I can have a death-ray and giant killer robot.
Hair for Iggy O

No mad scientist should leave home without them.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Koinup How-To: From Second Life to Wiki to Blog

Location: tangled up in code

A year ago, I would have been hard-pressed to explain WHY one uses a photo-sharing site, adds tags to Web 2.0 objects, and the like. Now, however, I get it.

If for no other reason, writers should use photo-sharing so media can be embedded in multiple sites. This makes our Pbworks wiki pages load faster and avoids a terrible issue I saw last fall: students giving photos similar names, uploading them to the wiki, and overwriting each other's works.

I've posted a new page to our class' Getting Started in SL guidebook: How to Upload to Koinup and embed the photos elsewhere, including at this blog client.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Second Life for Class: Help Us Look Different!

Go, Spiders!
Location: Milky Nine Freebie Store

My poor students. One problem I've found--the only one--of bringing them into SL at the New Media Consortium's portal is the lack of choice. One gets to choose "female" or "male" and that is it, until a faculty member shows how to change things up.

Here is a "before" shot of three students who created avatars today:
Oh dear me..triplets (before)

This needed some fixing. So in addition to giving the students landmarks for their first assignments, bringing them to our virtual campus, showing them the basics of movement, communication, and socializing, I took them shopping. Here's the same trio in my office, after our trip to Milky 9:

triplets (after)

I was pleased to see that fairly modest clothing can be had at these stores. That is a pleasant change from last year!

Monday, September 7, 2009

Second Life For Class: Day One

Class in session!
Location: Virtual Office

I think it's working again this year...the one-on-one mentorships that proved productive last year are helping my first-year writing students overcome of their fear about SL.

We began at the New Media Consortium's Orientation area, and after friending my students and providing landmarks, it was off to learn how to walk, sit, run, and fly.

All writers get a survival package of freebies (note to self--Richmond Spiders shirt replaces the one labeled "Addict" ASAP).

Everyone teleported to my office, where they have a landmark for future visits. This home will be a handy escape from any oddball strangers they meet in-world. Now, with their first hour in-hand, it's on to do some writing about technology and communication for my brave explorers.

I enjoyed seeing the smiles on their faces during our orientation. That joy in a new world was always part of SL's promise for me.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Academic Bloggers: How to Present Your Brilliant Ideas?

Location: Real Life Office...Should Be Working in Second Life!

I'm taking a break from slapping up more walls at the House of Usher to consider a reading that I assigned, Dustin M. Wax's short but informative "Nine Signs of an Effective Blog Post." My first-year students are just beginning their first blogs at this blog-client's site.

So many blogs, including this one, contain posts that ramble or do not follow Wax's advice. I began to wonder how Wax's rules might not fully apply to academic bloggers.

My students will be writing, from an academic perspective mostly, about their lives as writers and their use of Web 2.0 technologies and virtual worlds. How do we change Wax's advice under those conditions?

Academics & Blogging

Wax's Point 8 "The post is believable" and Point 9 "The post asks for some action" need a little modification in academic settings.

First, experience has taught me that academics can enjoy the play of language (call it "the sound of their own voices") more than truthfulness.

This does not mean an outright lie (the "Sokal Hoax" excepted). Sometimes the words are more believable or compelling than the truth behind them. This habit leads to larger words, clever and conditional turns of phrase such as "XYZ may be true, yet if ABC were to occur."

As for demanding action, I'm not so sure either, unless "keep reading my blog" counts.

Academic articles usually ask readers to consider an idea in a certain way by presenting the results of research. Now there, I'll grant, is a sort of truth that carries weight in Academia.

Wax claims that "Because you do have an action in mind, even if you’re not making it explicit." Some academic writing merely engages in the play of ideas. Many posts at "In a Strange Land" have followed that philosophy for humorous ends (Pappy Enoch's posts) or for sharing the mere beauty and cultural-insights of a setting in virtual worlds (my road-trip entries).

Like most genres of writing, blogs can take many different forms. For instance, my friend Olivia's "Virtually Olivia" is mostly photographs and very little text, yet it is compelling because she is a very talented photographer.

New Genre, New Rhetoric?

It seems so. Blogs are developing a rhetorical style all their own, and it will branch off into many styles over time. Yet the classical appeals of logos (an appeal to reason) and pathos (an appeal to emotion) remain common tactics.

Famous bloggers employ ethos (an appeal based upon one's reputation) as well. For SL, if Tateru Nino, Vint Falken, or Hamlet Au write it, those who know their work tend to give it more credibility than when the brilliant, if cranky, Prokofy Neva pens a similar claim.

I've noted how when Au makes a mistake, he's quick to correct it and make that note right in the blog post with a thank-you to the reader who spotted the error.

That aspect of the rhetoric of blogging likewise has recently developed; when one's blog is as widely read as New World Notes, ethos can be a dangerous thing. We expect Au, Falken, and Nino to be experts on SL. When they slip up, their large readerships catch on quickly.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

September Road Trip: Rune-Racing and Rabid Bears

Dirt Bike
Location: Rune Sim

When I read Hamlet Au's account of Rune, a new racetrack for ATVs and motorcycles, I was interested. When I read about bears that attack drivers, I logged on right away.

Teleport over the Rune, find a rezzer, and hop on their ATVs or dirt-bikes.

Rune does not disappoint. The designers make clever use of physical objects, like boulders that fall to stop racers from finishing a lap. Going off road to avoid mud-holes that slow you down or boulders that stop you cold only works so well: the slopes are steep and a bike can flip right over.

The bears had me howling with laughter. Since the simulation enables damage to avatars, I stopped my bike and let a bear chomp wasn't a race, and I was the only driver. My health rating dropped quickly, and despite my suicidal intentions I roared off again. When I next met a bear, it pinned me to a tree and mauled me until I figured out that I could reverse the motorcycle out of trouble.
Uh oh: A bear

My only quibble is that I'd like an area where I could rez my own bike to run the course. It might be worth a small monthly fee to join a Rune Rampage group, or somesuch so we maniacs could rez our toys and race.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Mona Lisa in Metaplace

Location: Metaplace's Portrait World

With a few moments free, I decided to see what new worlds have appeared lately in Metaplace.

I came across Portrait, focused on da Vinci's Mona Lisa. It has:
  • A giant canvas of the painting
  • Embedded video on how to paint the Mona Lisa with MS Paint
  • Links to the Louvre and Wikipedia Web sites
  • Explanatory kiosks about portraiture & da Vinci's masterwork.
It's all simple and straightforward fun, and for middle school students, it would be a great place to begin learning a bit more about the visual arts.

Update: At tonight's SL Roundtable meeting (details coming soon) I was pleased to hear Tom Boellstorff, author of Coming of Age in Second Life, praise Wikipedia as a non-academic source. One of my students recently said that Wikipedia is like "having a very smart friend." Tom noted its accuracy ranks alongside most printed and online encyclopedias. Teachers...get over your aversion to this tool.