Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Some Shakespeare Quotations for Linden Lab

Save Our Shakespeare
Location: Virtual Globe Theater

The Lab will have an even harder time winning back disaffected educators and non-profits if they let The Virtual Globe Theater close.

Here's hoping that the CEO will let Ina Centaur have access to her account again. As "nexus burbclave" pointed out at New World Notes, the treatment of debtors by the Lab is Kafkaesque. Centaur does owe the Lab a great deal of money, but one wonders about the PR value of magnanimity from the godlike powers in-world? Even one month's extension of the death penalty?

Be wary of portents, otherwise, Linden Lab. You'll get all the academics hauling out their Riverside Shakespeares for appropriate quotations. Here are a few about those who dwell overmuch on money:
  • Nay, take my life and all; pardon not that; You take my house, when you do take the prop That doth sustain my house; you take my life, When you do take the means whereby I live.  Shylock, Act IV, scene i, The Merchant of Venice.
  • Thus do I ever make my fool my purse. Iago, Act I, scene iii, Othello.
And of the foolish decisions by those in power:
  • I wasted time, and now doth time waste me.  King Richard, Act V, scene v, Richard II.
  • Men’s judgments are a parcel of their fortunes; and things outward do draw the inward quality after them, to suffer all alike.  Enobarbus, Act III, scene xiii, Antony & Cleopatra.
  • As flies to wanton boys, are we to the gods, — They kill us for their sport. Gloucester, Act IV, scene i, King Lear.
Of course, Mr. Humble and Linden Lab, Ms. Centaur owes you money. She needs to pay it. But wouldn't it be better to work out a deal and give her a reprieve for a few weeks, before deleting her avatar's accounts? Shakespeare's plays contain a great deal of forgiveness and mercy. And remember:
  • All's well that ends well; still the fine's the crown; Whate'er the course, the end is the renown. Helena, Act IV, scene iv, All's Well that Ends Well.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Get Thee to Spivey's Corner, NC: Hollerin' Contest

Location: Hoarse from Hollerin'

Just in case you find yo'self in the Tarheel State next month.

Occasional "In a Strange Land correspondent" Pappy Enoch, expert on all things backwoods, says "git on down, y'all. Hoo whee! Here am the site on the tubes that am the Internet."

I wish I could go, but I'm sure Pappy will provide a full review someplace or another.

And you damn Yankees think we Southerners make this stuff up. Hah. And hoo-whee.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Cloudy Day, Fixed

Location: Hiding in My Fake Office

I was ready to wear Miso Susanowa's head as my avatar, I became so frustrated at being stuck as a cloud.

With both the 1.23 and 2.6 viewers, as well as Imprudence, the forecast remained "mostly cloudy."

My colleague from VWER and moderator-in-training, Grizzla Pixelmaid, gave me a surfer-dude starter avatar. Putting on "Craig" saved me for a moment, even if his smiley gesture messed with my "no perky people" rule.

Soon all was right again with the fake world and I reassembled my usual persona.

Many thanks, Grizzla!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Peak Oil: Should I Be Glad?

One of the most interesting of invented worlds is that of America's auto-utopia of continuous driving. We redesigned...well, ruined...our cities to make them safer for driving and parking cars. What would we do if it cost hundreds of dollars to fill up? Already, filling up my full-sized pickup truck runs $100, the first time I have ever spent that much on fuel. A tank of gas will last over a month, however, given how infrequently I use the vehicle for farm work. I purchased a locking gas-cap, too.

Others drive similar vehicles daily, and they are suffering, often casting about for easy targets to blame. What if geology were the culprit?

It seems that even Exxon-Mobil has come around to seeing that the days of cheap oil are over permanently. I follow Bloomberg's energy-price listing fanatically, given my belief that the data about Peak Oil are correct and we're a year or two from this issue becoming part of the popular lexicon.

As with Climate Change, the transition to public consciousness took a while to realize.  There are a few doubters who believe in an infinitely renewable supply of "abiotic" oil, but the science is just not there.

The next time some guy wishing for $1.00 gasoline to fill the fat tank in his Chevy Suburban blames the President or even OPEC for high gas prices, try this. Hand out a little card with this URL from Energy & Captial:


When investors start recommending Peak-Oil portfolios, one realizes that the transition to a "new normal" is well underway. I've know "it's over" for a long time, and my proof came in a Guardian story based on a Wikileaks report.  Though the Saudi official who warned US diplomats later denied making alarming remarks about his nation's supply of oil, everything said seconded Matthew Simmons geological evidence for a permanent decline in the Saudi oil reserves.

Meanwhile, Jim Kunstler keeps up his own litany of doom about an America unable "to make other arrangements" than what his loves to call "happy motoring." Jim's prognosis is gloomier than mine, but neither of us know the timing of the disruptions that a permanent decline in the global supply of oil might cause. I suspect, unlike Kunstler, that many Americans will still own cars, but they won't define our lives and places of living as they have done.

Gas prices are dipping, for now. I doubt that will last, given global demand for oil.  And whether global supply permanently peaked in 2006 or whether it will in 2016 (my bet is somewhere in that range) we'll enter a new era of human history. The automobile age, barely a century old, will become a short aberration in a longer story, as driving returns to being an expensive luxury.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Turning an OpenSim Bug Into a Feature

Location: Falling Into an Abyss

One side-effect of "lifting the skirt" of Nevermore island to make mountains has been to reveal an OpenSim bug. I have not encountered this in Second Life for a LONG time: falling off the edge of the earth.  I've asked Jokay Wollongong for a history of this fascinating bug.  If you know more, share in comments.

The avatar steps or falls into a space that is no space, a void that gradually darkens as the Z coordinate races into the negative. Soon, the screen grows black and still the avatar falls into infinity. A teleport or logout solves the problem. But why waste such a delicious doom?

With the flaw in mind, I have found a way to kill unwary student-explorers who venture too far in search of hidden knowledge. If a student falls into the abyss, we will assume that the simulation has ended for that participant, and the team must venture on without that person's help.  Roderick may even wish to lure one or two meddlers to their deaths.

Of course, hints and clues abound, as do stone markers near the verges of the island, inspired by an actual warning sign I saw, a decade ago and more, in rural Wales:
While a quotation from Poe himself might be best for this situation, something from "Manuscript Found in a Bottle" or "Descent into the Maelstrom," I think I'll leave the evocation of mood to Poe's literary descendant, H.P. Lovecraft:

We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far. from "The Call of Cthulhu."

Just remember on your journey: mind that gap. You have been warned.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Waitin' For the End of the World

Location: Unpenitent

I'll take a break from invented worlds on screen to one that is happening in the flesh now: the myth of The Rapture. A Unitarian-Universalist like me, who disbelieves in Hell or Satan, who feels all faiths lead to the same destination though along different error-strewn paths, scratches his head at the invented world of The Rapture.

But some folks believe 100,000 (or so) souls will be taken up tomorrow, and Twitter is abuzz with jokes. I asked William Gibson if he is "taken up," could I have the typewriter he used to compose Neuromancer?  Pranksters in large cities are going to leave empty suits of clothing here and there on the sidewalks.

My one Rapture Tweet: "You got Raptured and all I got was a lousy 1983 Chevy Cavalier."

Even when I was a Catholic, I learned that this notion of Rapture is not only a Protestant "heresy" but also a recent one not based upon biblical ideas. The notion started in America.

I won't belabor the point or even allow comments on this post. I'll just editorialize one point: whatever holy books (inspired by God, edited by humans) say, any god who would create a hell and then cast people into it is not worth worshiping. I do believe in a God of love, not an angry old man on a throne who would cherry-pick a few humans. Perhaps oblivion awaits the evil: that's a mystery to me. Enough Catholic teaching remains with me to be comfortable with the idea of Sacred Mystery.

I believe that we were given this good Earth as a gift and it won't go up in fire and Tribulations unless we bring them down ourselves through poor stewardship. And if that occurs, I feel that God would be the first one to weep.

So see you all on May 22, while the End-Times calculations get reset yet again.  And we can get back to the cheerful nonsense of our daily lives.

Update May 22, 2011: The sky did not roll back like a scroll as farmer Iggy (real Farmville, not the game) mowed a field and worked on the backhoe yesterday. The earth did not open beneath my wicked feet as I sipped a beer and listened to the whippoorwills at nightfall.  No final trumpets sounded as I filled an old briar with "And Now to Bed" pipe tobacco, blended on the Isle of Jersey. I plan to go there one day.

Midnight came and went, and those awaiting the Rapture had to recalibrate their Doomsday clocks.

As my pipe smoke wafted up to the stars, so perfect beyond the light pollution of the cities, I gave quiet thanks, which is about all a Deist can do before a Creator who put matters into our hands. I gave thanks for this life, this world, and human ingenuity.

As for human foolishness and the desire to live in special times? As for a not-so-subterranean wish to see others not like oneself suffer?

I did not dwell on those things.

And in the Vault...

Miriam Ushers Tomb
Location: Usher Boneyard

When you Google "headless skeleton," you never know what you'll find.

Now that the Mountains of Nevermore are nearly done, I'm returning my attention to the Island's interior and the crypts beneath The House of Usher.

As Madeline Usher grows ill, her brother refuses to place her body in the family graveyard, to avoid "certain obtrusive and eager inquiries on the part of her medical men, and of the remote and exposed situation of the burial-ground of the family."

Usher Panorama
Well, what might have happened to other Ushers in that forlorn graveyard? Of such voyeuristic horrors are Poe's tales woven.

The tomb was easy to build, and I found a very nice stone-on-stone sound at freesound.org. The lid image is a modified photograph, as is the headless skeleton inside.  The mystery, noted in the tomb, would be how a recently buried person (the Ushers' mother, in fact) became so weathered and lost her head.  Seek in the cemetery and you may find out!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Nevermore, The Wiki!

Students in the Usher Crypt wi...
Location: Google Sites

I'm pleased that a grant from my university permits faster work this summer on the Virtual House of Usher's rebirth (or perhaps "return from the crypt," to be Poesque). The project will be ready in Jokaydia Grid by summer's end, with some finer touches added during the fall term. In late fall, 20 or so students will explore the simulation as they read Poe.

A first step involves setting up a better wiki than the one used previously, so student assistants and actors can collaborate to add clues and other materials to the site. We could, of course, design some brooding Gothic masterpiece of a Web site, but my preference is a piece with multiple authors and an easy-to-master interface. If any dropping to HTML code is needed, I'll shoulder that tedious burden.

Have a peek at the new Google site. Potential actors, as Fall approaches, let me know if you'd like to step into Roderick's or Madeline's shoes.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Case Studies, Project Links, and More at VWER

Location: Virtual Worlds Education Roundtable

Some time ago, Hamlet Au pondered if there were any case studies, with empirical evidence, demonstrating learning in Second Life as compared to other methods of instruction.

I took him up on his challenge, offering the success of the U Texas system's venture. He was not impressed, though we both agreed that Ken Hudson's Canadian Border-Crossing Project did demonstrate the validity of immersive learning.

With this in mind I did a short literature review, a useful "twofer" since I was also doing research for a forthcoming article written with Viv Trafalgar. We have not found any case studies of the use of SL or OpenSim in a literary-studies setting, the focus of our article.

Two studies surfaced. One showed some benefits, but with a small sample size and no control group, and another showed no benefit in an engineering program where, the authors note, they had not provided a good orientation for their students.

With these articles under my virtual arm, I put a question to the Virtual Worlds Education Roundtable in a session called "Making the Case for Avatars": What are the Advantages over Teleconferencing?

I was impressed by the responses, and you can read a transcript of our talk here. Note that for those not wanting to wade through a HUGE text transcript, I aggregated all links at the start.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Bringing Back the Second Life Helpers, Officially

Iggy (L) and Arielion test the...
Location: Linden Lab Blog

I am not quite ready to break out the "happy dance," but good news deserves notice.

I never quite understood why Linden Lab abruptly ended its sanctioned mentor program. Now, in a different form, the company looks to be bringing it back and even acknowledging the volunteer work of several groups that attempted to ease the "first hour" problem new SL logins face.

In a blog post, CEO/Avatar Rodvik Linden noted of the Resident Help Network:
The program has been in a bit of a holding pattern on the Linden side, while each of these groups continued to do their good work. I’m happy to report that we’re officially bringing back the RHN network and look forward to partnering with these communities and integrating them more tightly into our new user experience.
This is welcome news from a company that has a reputation for not listening to residents. I continue to be impressed by Mr. Humble's efforts, since he took over as CEO. The newest viewer is not bad at all; I've used it in advanced mode with Roderick Reanimator for a while. Soon, of course, I'll have to switch for my main avatar as well.

Linden Lab has a lot to do to regain residents' trust. Helping mentor groups help new accounts is a good start.

Now fix search and we'll be talking. My other big wish, off-world backups such as I enjoy in OpenSim, are, for some well understood IP reasons, presently beyond the reach of the Lab.

Friday, May 6, 2011

The Mountains of Nevermore

Mountains of Nevermore
Location: Doing Geomancy

"So I can move your island," Jokay Wollongong began.

"No, let it stay as-is," I replied.

It's not as though I dislike the idea of a giant Tesla coil visible from my land. Not at all. At the same time, that's not very 1847.  It also blunts the immersion I want on this space.

So I decided, from right behind the Usher family cemetery Poe briefly mentions in his tale, to raise some mountains. The Mountains of Nevermore: sounds like a lost Yes recording from 1972.

The OpenSim terrain-edit tools, just like those in Second Life, remind me of the good old days in Sim City 2000, right down to the bulldozer icon.  They lack subtlety at the strongest settings, hurling needles into the sky much like a Lovecraftian landscape where mad gods flop about to the discordant music of eldritch flutes held in nameless paws.

There. I got to use "eldritch" for the first time since college, when in my D&D game we had an artifact called "The Eldritch Cleaver."   My snark has a long history...

So to make the island of Nevermore more immersive and interesting, I massaged the land ever upward, then put a line of dark pines into the passes between the hills and at the shore's edge. Soon the sparkling coil could not be seen, even by an avatar who wanders into the water at the shoreline. When I'm done, there may be NO shoreline beyond a few rocky inlets. I want that Poesque feeling of claustrophobia and depression to haunt my visitors.  I've enough prims to make things difficult for them by providing no long vistas of the space.

With luck, I'll hide some clues on those eldritch slopes for my fall class that will use Nevermore.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Avination: This Calls for The Grip, Kungfu

Location: Avination Grid

In the June issue of Prim Perfect, I'll run a review of this fast-growing grid derived from OpenSim.  I am still working on the piece, so I will just note a few highlights now:
  • There's an active user-base that recruits new residents by word of mouth in SL.
  • Concurrency runs about 300 and active logins per month run over 4500.
  • The grid offers gambling and adult content without age verification (ouch).
  • Avination has a working currency and easy conversions from Linden Dollars or Paypal (I bought 1000 credits to kit out my avatar, freebies being very scarce, and uploaded some clothing textures).
  • Many well known content creators from Second Life have added stores in Avination, as they have done in InWorldz. Reasons? No hypergrid, strong IP protection, very restrictive freebie policies.  Not a place for educators, but I can see the lure for RPers and social users.
I found the grid's residents eager to have me tour around, something that offset my disappointment that this grid is primarily for socializing, roleplay, shopping, and gambling. Perhaps all of these closed grids will trend that way, as we educators seek something different.

Given that the grid restricts name-choices in much the same way that SL has done, I picked a last name from a list. Seeing "Kungfu" and being reminded of my favorite GI Joe, the African-American Adventurer, I knew what I had to do: Grip Kungfu was born.

The default dark-skinned avatar was nice. I purchased some good hair with a long queue in back, bought an AO called "Danger Man," and I was ready for whatever Avination tossed my way. I can take it. Before I had avatars, a long time before, my bud Gary and I made up tons of stories with our GI Joes.

You can guess who the coolest GI Joe was.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Digital Story: Stop Cyberbullying

Maddie's story was the people's choice in last week's competition.

I'd not followed this story and, despite a lifetime of being jaded, am amazed at human cruelty. There's some cold comfort that the perpetrators could get prison time for doing what they did, though even there the penalty may be less if a proposed settlement of the case becomes reality.

Whatever happens, on a day when some very different justice was done in Pakistan, I'm reminded that most of the time, evil gets its comeuppance.