Thursday, June 30, 2011

Facebook's UI and Second Life

Location: Facebook Account

The user interface is laggy at peak times, even on a fast connection. The ability to customize it is so limited that several Facebook users have recommended third-party products to improve my social networking experience.

This all sounds very familiar, doesn't it?

A couple of months in with Facebook, I can only say that I like it because it let me re-introduce myself to a few old friends with whom I've lost touch. I'm going to have a beer with one of them as soon as we can agree on a day and time.

On the other hand, I get a lot of spam from folks who know me and think I actually care about the little happenings of their daily lives. So other than the "stay in touch with old friends" business, what is the appeal?

Now that Google has launched Google+, its latest attempt at a social networking tool, one wonders how much traction it will get. Facebook enjoys the sort of reputation that Second Life 2006. That can, of course, change quickly, as the former owners of MySpace discovered.

We'll see how Google does...ah, yes. Just blocked the FB apps "smiles" and "causes." I can smile in person and am involved in several environmental causes already.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Treasures of an Arcane and Monastic Craft: Scholarly Editing

image credit: Encyclopedia Virginia site, University of Virginia. Fredson Bowers, standing, works with Matthew Bruccoli  at a Hinman Collator.

This entry began as a reply to a recent post by Tateru Nino about the preference for physical or e-texts.

Somehow, I stupidly fumbled my posting and it vanished into pixeldust. That is, frankly, an apt beginning for this post, where I state my preference for reading physical text. Now, with a few days behind me, I've had more time to think about why.

For a brief time in graduate school, I considered heeding the siren-song of textual editing, a small but valued part of academic publishing. My mentor and PhD advisor at Indiana, Professor Don Cook, was a noted scholar in this field. Along with a band of similar-minded editors from universities, Don worked on editions of the works of William Dean Howells and other American authors. Sanctioned by the Modern Language Association's Committee on Scholarly Editions, the CSE imprimatur of "an approved edition" meant that these books were felt to represent the best possible edition available.  By comparing a proposed edition to an author's corrected manuscript or perhaps a first edition, the new text would embody, as closely as possible, the words and arrangement an author wanted.

Debates raged about what to do when someone like Scott Fitzgerald rearranged Tender is the Night completely, making a new version that many readers detest. Which text do we follow? Scribner's first edition or Fitzgerald's rewriting? When new editions appeared and an author assisted, how to tell which changes reflect an author's work, and which that of a lazy typesetter?

A Life Defined by Books and Bookishness

In the end, I chose another path. I am an awful and easily bored proofreader, racing on to the next paragraph and, only later, coming back to tidy up the mess I have made. Yet the crystalline purity of a CSE edition has always been a strong lure as I've built my personal library over the years. I'm also the sort to hunt down a good hardback copy of a book I love and then donate the paperback I used for teaching or that was my first encounter with a life-altering text.   Let's see what those might be...pressed to answer right now, I'd cite Toole's A Confederacy of Dunces, Adams' The Education of Henry Adams, Abbey's Desert Solitaire, Cather's Death Comes for the Archbishop, Eco's The Name of the Rose, Wharton's The House of Mirth, Bowles' The Sheltering Sky, O'Connor's Wise Blood, Faulkner's The Hamlet, and anything by Dutch writer Cees Nooteboom.

Not a one, except Nooteboom's shorter travel essays, would feel right on a screen. I like my "reader's" copies with my marginalia, as well as my second copies which I return to reread for pure pleasure. Most of the latter are hardbound. Blame this fetish on my work with scholarly editions.

Perhaps we can enter a world in which a fine printed edition can coexist, as a luxury item, alongside a reasonably correct e-text. Don Cook predicted that book collecting would become ever more of a niche activity but it would be enriched by computers. He envisioned luxury editions printed to order, for under $100, on great paper and perhaps with a choice of illustrations.

Monks in The Alderman Library

The work of scholarly editors continues electronically and without the bulky collator, but there was still a wonderfully Medieval feeling to the craft in the 1980s. Before tablets and dedicated e-readers become mass market consumer items, I had the sense that this arcane craft was already waning, though its practitioners remained tenacious, rather like the monks in Miller's A Canticle for Leibowitz. Once in the Alderman I peered over the shoulders of a foreign ambassador and his wife as a curator of rare books showed them Faulkner's carefully typed and corrected (his handwriting was very precise) manuscript for The Sound and The Fury. I love Faulkner's work for two reasons, first because he invented an entire fictional world; hence the relevance to this blog--Faulkner was a consummate world-maker. Second, he was the first writer who challenged me to read and read again, each encounter taking me deeper into a landscape that, while Southern, was nothing I knew. Yoknapatawpha County might as well have been Burroughs' Barsoom.

So seeing a Faulkner manuscript was like being shown the Shroud of Turin.

There's a romantic idea that the types of projects with such treasures transcend the "and now this!" culture of online communities. Neil Postman coined the term for the culture of television, but in fact it's more true than ever for the torrent of Tweets or Facebook status updates. In fact, the meditative work of comparing editions and manuscripts to remove errors that creep in is an act of passive aggression against the very spaces such as the one I use to compose this text.

It's with a bit of a shiver that I look at the photo of Bowers, a senior colleague of Don's, and Matthew Bruccoli, a contemporary of Don's for whom, many years ago, I wrote a few short bibliographic entries for a scholarly reference work. I know exactly the section in the Alderman where they are working.

I studied there as an undergrad, more than 30 years ago, and in 2002 went back to that part of the library to work on my own editing project of Antebellum Southern Humor, The Spirit of the Southern Frontier (have a look, but it's a bit of a ghost town). I was able to teach with the site twice, so I think the grant money was well spent, and the student who helped went on to her own PhD. There is a great feeling of "standing on the shoulders" of, if not giants, one's intellectual ancestors when working in such a place.

For a while at least, this aspect of monastic life continues. As our culture, the part that cares about serious reading anyway, passes from difficulty to difficulty, I think that we'll end up thankful to men and women who spent many quiet hours preparing good editions.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Luring Back Educators: A Different Revenue Model for Second Life

 VWER 6/16/11
Location: Prognosticating

I see a very different shadow from the dynamic ones in the new viewer. Some weeks, every other post by Hamlet Au is a "Deathwatch." Recently we have lost, or are about to lose, The Virtual Globe Theatre, the Minoan Empire, The Lost Gardens of Apollo, and the Numbakulla quest-game region. All of these have been long-promoted landmarks in the history of Second Life, as were Rezzable's famous creations.

In each case, the tier structure of Linden Lab's world became an issue, if not the sole issue leading to the loss of content of note. Linden Lab cannot give its world away if it wishes to keep the servers running, but they are losing good content, and I have no idea yet--though it merits a follow-up to my earlier survey--how many educators have left the world or at least reduced land holding substantially. I've a hunch, from our VWER membership, that land ownership continues to decline.

Other worlds survive on a subscription model, and I cannot comment on an appropriate model for other users, something Senban Babii essayed in a reply to Au's post about the end of the Minoan region. I'll consider a model that that might be educator-friendly and emerge to replace tier for that population of users:
  • Free 30-day trial with an avatar of decent design, a working if basic animation override, and some inventory good enough for a professional meeting.
  • Education-only orientation and welcome areas, with a mentor program, on a new education continent zoned for General and Moderate regions.  On the continent it would be "invitation only" to those not affiliated with education, as it is on our campuses.
  • Lower regional pricing than is currently the case, yet higher than OpenSim (in consideration of the excellent content SL can provide).
  • A monthly subscription after the free trial ends, $10US for educators and $5 for students. The student price should not amount to more than a cheap textbook, to avoid too many complaints that would discourage use by education. If the student decided to stay after the end of the term, that would be fine. I could see giving educators one alt account with their memberships fee, students none. Adding more alts to either would cost more.
  • A small plot on an educational continent with building rights, that might be merged with other plots so faculty and students could design simulations. Plots could be traded to make land adjacent but they could not be sold. Abandoned land would revert quickly to the pool for new accounts.
  • Movement toward becoming the de facto standard for all grids, by first leveraging the Linden Dollar and SL Marketplace for use across approved grids.
  • More work on the abandoned interoperability initiative: Perhaps for an extra monthly fee, selected inventory might reside outside the avatar and be downloadable as an IAR file on grids approved by Linden Lab and a consortium of grid-owners.
The educational continent, something that was a dream of ours for a while and a rumor just before the massive and unfortunate layoffs at Linden Lab, would be a powerful incentive to get educators like me more involved. Many of us pay nothing beyond a premium account fee.

The new CEO has wisely tried to get more "buzz" for SL with virtual pets and other flashy innovations. Will Linden Lab find enough revenue there to stay in business, as its older creators and creations vanish? And will the CEO renew any efforts to woo back educators, who do make financial commitments likely to persist longer than the latest crazy for cute pets?

Monday, June 20, 2011

Me and My Shadows

Location: Second Life, Side of Road

Not much to report here except that the latest version of the 2.x client, on a newish MacBook Pro, produces dynamic shadows. The effect is laggy and worked only under "high" or "ultra" graphics settings.

I had to dial the graphics back right away before attending the VWER meeting last Thursday.

Still, for all of the grief I have given Linden Lab since the end of education and non-profit discounts (and before, over other matters) I like seeing them keep promises about features of their virtual world.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Poe Flies a Kite in Kitely

Kitely OAR Test
Location: Writing Annual Report (grrrr)

AJ Kelton has planned a field-trip to the on-demand virtual worlds host Kitely, and to test how it works we uploaded an OAR file from Jokaydia Grid. Not everything has rezzed yet, but that Kitely can support OAR uploads from other grids is a game-changer.

The picture is of AJ's avatar on Kitely.

What a timely application for educators. For a very low cost for a few avatars, we can run simulations when needed. Most of the work I do now does not require a persistent world that is empty when no one logs on.  And I don't plan to send students into large social worlds since my current assignments do not envision that sort of engagement.  I do, however, want them to use premade avatars for literary work in an immersive setting.

Special thanks to AJ Kelton for experimenting with this. I will provide a full report on my work in Kitely next month.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Annual Report Time

Location: Microsoft Word

How do you capture the coolness of working with virtual worlds while using the most boring piece of software imaginable?

For the past four years, that has been my challenge, just in time for my 1 July deadline.

This year, the Usher Project in Jokaydia Grid has some of the same committee members excited about the grant and the potentials for literary study.

I'd be curious to see how other faculty with annual evaluations, rather than tenure, report their work in virtual worlds.  I hope that all of my evaluators will take time to look at a simple wiki with Viv Trafalgar's video of the Usher project that existed in Second Life, to give some sense of what will happen in a different virtual world where I'll have more creative freedom.

Without incentives and rewards, this work will never move forward in academia. It has long been that way for other technologies that are easier to master.

One day, we'll have smart paper with working videos embedded, or my committee will read e-texts on tablets. That's one day, not today.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Maria Korolov to Speak at Virtual Worlds Education Roundtable

Maria Korolov Speaks About Hyp...
Maria Korolov, editor of Hypergrid Business, will speak to VWER members this Thursday, starting at 2:30 Second Life Time. AJ Brooks will interview Maria in voice, and yours truly will transcribe voice-to-text.

Maria has strong opinions and lots of contacts in the world of non-SL grids, and I look forward to her discussing the state of the metaverse beyond Second Life. She's pictured at VWBPE 2011, where she gave an interesting talk on this topic.

Join us for Thursday's event, and put questions to Maria in a Q&A following the interview, at VWER's new home at Bowling Green University's virtual campus in Second Life. We meet 2:30-3:30 SL time at this SLURL:

See you at the Roundtable!

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Machinima Novices, Take Note: Pile o' Resources

VWER meeting on machinima, May... 
Location: VWER meeting

We had a very productive session last week, and many veteran machinima-makers offered advice for free or cheap resources, screen-capture technology, machinima-friendly locations, and examples of best practices and inspiring work.

Have a look at the full transcript; I aggregated the links at the start for your reading pleasure. Then get out and make some movies!