Tuesday, February 28, 2012

A Literary Close-Reading Of Oz Linden's Post on Third-Party Viewers

Location: Faculty Office, Already Nodding Off

Hamlet Au provoked his readers to crowdsource the meaning of Oz Linden's post on Third-Party Viewers. I am paid, in part, to teach students the art of literary exegesis. I have a spare 30 minutes on my hands...so here we go!

If you find this soporific, then it may help because we all need a good nap from time to time.
  • Oz begins with a moment of uncertainty, purportedly with his recording equipment: This resembles the existential ambiguity faced by Vladimir and Estragon, at the start of Beckett's Waiting for Godot. At the same time, this builds a dramatic tension essential to any literary work.

    Thus, even thirty seconds into the recording, we have an existentialist text, though we lack Camus' dead Arab on a beach or Bowles' tongueless madmen, wandering the Sahara.
  • "Four new clauses" added to the policy: this is classic theater. We have a play in four acts, but it remains to be seen if the drama will be tragic or comic in nature. Farce may be likely, given the history of earlier texts from Linden Lab.
  • That Linden Lab no longer distributes the Snowglobe viewer:  clearly a reference to Welles' Citizen Kane. In this landmark film, at a crucial moment, namely, his death, Charles Foster Kane drops a snow globe, redolent with memories of his childhood home that he lost, along with his innocence. He then went on to become a titan of his era's information industry.  Could the loss of this Snowglobe be a parallel moment for the utopian and youthful Lab, as new products take it into fame? Or portend a titanic fall?
  • LSL will only return true presence data: This marks a curious turn to New Critical hermeneutics, as popularized by the Well-Wrought-Urn school of scholars such as the Nashville Fugitives. One must not seek outside the object of art to find meaning. One must only consider the art itself.  While such a stance is consonant with Second Life as a walled garden, this reference could, ironically, foreground the inherent contradictions of Oz's message.

    Postmodern hermeneutics teaches us, however, that all works self-destruct. In Oz's case, ambiguity has mingled with "true presence." This, as I am about to show, descends into the realm of horror.

  • "It is a different bug" and "if it is not fixed, we will deal with it as a bug": We are back to Existentialism again, but with a surreal turn as we venture into Kafka's "The Metamorphosis." But who is to be the hapless Gregor Samsa? Perhaps SL educators, since we have been neglected or squashed, like bugs.
  • "The User can say anything they want...the viewer cannot do it for them." This is classic Reader-Response Theory at work. Oz notes that the user, like the reader, can make interpretations and statements not contingent of the text, or in this case, the viewer. Each reader must struggle on his or her lonely road to finding meaning, if any can be found, in the text. 
Thus, and in conclusion, Oz's text contains no hidden message identical for each of us.
At this point, I began to drool and fell heavily on my keyboard.


Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Spaceports Saved, ISTE Island Closes

image credit: Scott Merrick's Flickr Photostream

Today, welcome and sad news in one dose. First, the International Spaceflight Museum was saved, by the action of "a higher-up Linden" than the staffer who denied Katherine Prawl's request to restore her sims. See the comments at New World Notes for more details.

Thus one door creaks open while another door slams shut. Alerted by a Tweet from Jokay Wollongong, I discovered that the island for The International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) in Second Life will close as of March 1.

Scott Merrick's blog makes it clear that while ISTE will lose a region, the organization's virtual-worlds initiatives will not end. Scott notes that "The task force that examined options recommended two of them to the ISTE administration and and they accepted one, which involves rental space for ISTE" at Eduisland and a new ISTE region at Jokaydia Grid.

ISTE has long been a major player in the SL educational community, and it provided a popular orientation spot for new student and faculty avatars seeking to avoid the freakshows of the public welcome areas.

Now ISTE appears to be making the same moves I saw in my survey of educators: a smaller spot in SL to support educators and a larger one outside it.  This will save ISTE money, while maintaining their work with 3D immersive learning, given that tier fees for Jokaydia Grid run about 1/12 of what one would pay Linden Lab for a similar product that does not offer offgrid backups.

Thus, the SLexodus continues. Go by ISTE Island to thank them and bid them a fond farewell.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Get Your Wallet Out, Mr. Steely-Eyed Missile Man

Location: PayPal

Even if the International Spaceflight Museum leaves Second Life for more edu-friendly spaces in OpenSim, they need assistance in the interim.

If you are waiting to see what sort of crowdfunding options emerge, don't. Go to their donate page and help out. I used PayPal for a donation and it went through smoothly.

If you have political objections to PayPal (/me cues Miso and my other OWS pals) contact Kat Lemieux in SL for assistance in how to help the ISM pay Daddy Lindenbux his back tier and reopen the museum.

Then the real fun work begins, I hope: getting whatever content that can be exported, exported. Then off to the real frontier in virtual worlds and away from the closed playpen for breedable Gorean vampire-bunnies that is today's Second Life.

I was unable, through childish wishes, to save the real-life Apollo Program. But we SLers can at least save the dreams of a better, vanished era when humanity still had the will to climb the ladder to the heavens.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Second Life Teaching for Students With Disabilities

Location: Virtual Worlds Education Roundtable

I ran a transcript of a talk by Georgia Tech faculty members Robert Todd and Chris Langston. VWER moderator Grizzla Pixelmaid moderated.

 The information is very useful and provides a good case for using virtual worlds for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) courses. Special thanks to Grizzla for pulling this event together on Feb. 2. Readers can get the full transcript here.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Ballardian Fate for Virtual Spaceport?

Apollo 11, 40 Years On  
Location: Spaceport Alpha

I'm a space-program junkie...I wanted to see a Kubrick-style future like that of 2001 so badly that it afflicted my childhood.  Those who are not what Eric Strobel calls "Children of Apollo" and remember our young American gods in space suits cannot imagine the sadness of seeing humanity withdraw into the inner spaces of our networks and, yes, "places" like Second Life.

Update for 2/16/12: I located Strobel's article from SpaceDaily about those whose early impressions were profoundly shaped by the Space-Race years. Today we Children of Apollo "are uneasy; feeling vaguely cheated that the nation that went from Kitty Hawk to Tranquility Base in a single lifetime seems likely to go no further in their lifetimes. This sense of uneasiness is aggravated by the distinct potential of a less-than-mediocre future."

Now a virtual tour of that elusive future, SL's Spaceport Alpha, is threatened with closure. I loved sending students there, but part of me knew that these were not the technological dreams of their generation. Kudos to Hamlet Au for running this story, but he's a techno-optimist. I'll pour some Neo-Luddite tea for readers about this.

The potential closure moves me in some profound ways because it rubs an old wound. Since 1969, being a space-junkie has been a lonely addiction. I do not believe that government programs will give us that long-heralded "Third Industrial Revolution" and the Space Age is, in fact, in its final act. As a Peak Oiler, I fear that we won't be able to travel 100 miles easily on earth in 100  years, so going even 100 miles up will become a whispered legend.  The International Space Station will deorbit, the Russian and Chinese programs wither as energy crises consume all our ingenuity. Meanwhile,  climate change will bankrupt us even as it wrecks our coasts.  I don't think the US will ever, in my lifetime, build a new launch system beyond, perhaps, a few initial missions. Congress, public apathy, and national bankruptcy will see to that.

It might have been different, with solar-power sats and asteroid mining in the 1980s, had Americans not lost their reach. But we did. We might have made money up there and opened that final frontier. We are left with comsats and sub-orbital space tourism, plus a space station that is little more than a floating janitor's closet for the folks who service it while doing little useful science and no exploration at all. The wonderful unmanned missions carry the torch of exploration, but they do little to make us a spacefaring race living on many planets. This is the goal all Children of Apollo share.

And even Space tourism? So far it is a stunt for the wealthy....despite Richard Branson's good intentions, it remains bungee-jumping in a private rocketship. One lost rocket and it will end, too.

I hope that the fate of US space artifacts--physical proof that we are pygmies after an age of giants--is not as squalid as that of our old Russian enemies. Their space shuttle complex, storing the Buran orbiter, collapsed in 2002 after budgets for maintaining the building vanished. Under snow load the huge building came down and obliterated the relics of that project. What remains of the complex for building space shuttles now? "The former orbiter manufacturing plant was reportedly converted to produce buses, syringes, and diapers." (from an Aerospaceweb article).

Syringes and diapers.

Unless we get that long-awaited signal from space that shows us that we are not alone in an indifferent universe, I recommend a new monument in Second Life.

We need a J.G. Ballard "Memories of the Space Age" Museum, with decaying shuttles lashed to rusty gantries that sprout Spanish Moss.

Until I see humans climb to the heavens in any number, I fear that our space fever-dreams will prove as ephemeral as those of Spaceport Alpha. Our current techno-fetishism of thumbing our little phones is, compared to the Big Science of the 60s, pitiable.

It involves a downward glance, not the horizon-defying gaze of the rocket men.
To quote a Gordon Lightfoot lyric, "the Space Shuttle ends where the subway begins. There's a tear on the face of the moon."

I heard that in the 70s, reading it as a lament for the end of Apollo. And now we may lose the first virtual monument to that Golden Age of space travel. So, ISM, as the book jacket for the Arkham House edition of Ballard's Cape Canaveral stories proclaims, "Hail and Farewell!"

Friday, February 10, 2012

Poll Results 2012 of Education and Land Use

Here we have the results from 35 recipients who took the poll. Last year, I did leave the poll open longer, and as a result in 2011 I had 104 responses.  Perhaps this poll might have included the option that one respondent noted, namely "we own the same amount in SL as we did a year ago."

I like that idea, but I wanted to 1) repeat the questions as posed last year and 2) abide by the nine-question limit that Vizu provides for free polls. Here are the 2012 results:

And the 2011 results:

I hesitate to draw conclusions from a small sample size of 35, for a poll advertised on two e-lists related to virtual worlds. The data suggest that more people are paying out of pocket and more people in the past year, as compared to the  year before, have given up land in Second Life after the tier-discounts for education and nonprofits ended. 

I do not know who to interpret the "own no land" results. It's possible that many of the respondents are new to virtual worlds and have not made a decision. They may, in fact, be sharing parcels or islands with others, a result that is little changed from 2011.

An educator in the VWER group suggested that I poll educators again in the summer, when the two-year contracts for reduced tier end.  I would also like to know where educators have do their work, both in SL and outside it. Some questions worth asking:
  • Do those remaining in SL use mainland parcels? University islands?
  • Where are they going? To OpenSim grids? To Unity 3D and Jibe? Somewhere else?
  • What factors most contribute to their decisions about renting server space (or hosting it locally) for a virtual world?

Thursday, February 9, 2012

GUEST POST: In Spite o' Cheapskate Linden Rascals, Why I Still Loves Me Some SL

Lokashum: Drunk

Now ol' Hamhock Au done commenced to a-fussin' and a-hollerin' (which am fun) about how them Linden Lab go-rillas am horrible cheapos who won't pay you nuffin' for writing them a blob. It am a reg'lar catty-wumpus of a fight over why them San-Fran rich tech-weenies won't pay us poor fat nekkid men in trailers and basements nuffin' to write down a blob for them.

Well sir, Iggy am cheap and a rascal, too, but he do let me and my rotten horrible family squat on his land in the fake world o' Second Life. Keeps us from killin' folks on the highway, though we do still beat 'em up and take their fake money.

So why in the Sam Hill do any real natural-born human-being person stay in this fake world, after them Linden go-rillas am always screwing stuff up?

Now I will tell you, I still enjoys the hell out o' Second Life. It am the most fun you kin have as a hillbilly hellion.

Cornsider my fake life. I done me time in jail...with my horrible rotten sister who beat me senseless wif a 2x4 wif nails in it.

And that were when she were happy wif me. We done won in fake court, of course. I gots me the best fake lawyer in Second Life and his legal assistant, a two-head prim baby I done rescued from a prim-baby graveyard.

Them Lindens am awful...they even dumped a love-child of ol' King Philip in that graveyard and more. So I opened me a prim-baby adoption agency.

But despite that-there horror, I ain't never gived up on Second Life.

I done tried to open me a business as a breedable animal when that were big. I did not have me much luck, even when I lowered down that-there price.

My last antic were to be a hot-hot-hottie male model for the Alphaville Herald. It were last year, for Valentine's Day. My male model career ain't gone nowhere yet, but I ain't done foolin' folks or writin' blobs, neither. So don't let them Linden cheapskates ruin your fake life.

Git out there and have you some fun. Tell 'em Pappy done sent you (and run fast).

Thank you and mighty obliged, Iggy. I'll put out the fire on your fake land now.

I works mostly as a male model now, and am one

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Roadtrip Attempt: Two Wheels Better than Four

Location: Linden Roads

Okay, I got on my bike, bald and de-primmed, unscripted and ready to roll.

It actually went well. Too well. With draw-distance out far but with graphics tuned down, I would even get up to 100 kph on some straightaways.  I did "bounce" at some sim-borders but never wrecked the bike. I even saw one avatar, in the middle of the road, and I dodged her while she changed her appearance. Now why DO folks go to the middle of a road to do that?

Fool that I am, I decided to return in The Machine That Must Be Worshipped, my '67 Black GTO.

Oh, what a mistake. Every baddy-bad from my last attempt returned to haunt me. Fail #2 for Mr. Billy Badass.

But first, while on the motorcycle, what DID I find along those Linden Roads: Crap. Crap. Same old crap as in 2007 or 8.  I've concluded that the Mainland is a wasteland.

First, a billboard that supports the idea that SL is the ideal playground for bored housewives. Say, where is Betty Draper when you need her?

This is not Betty. She's a Betty-bot at a rather squalid place to get money by entering raffles and contests.

Here's another shot from a den full of ugly avatars and "games of chance" that Linden Lab permits under their TOS. To my untrained eye, these scenes possess the wilted sadness of a senior-citizen bingo parlor, without the good cheer or aged avarice (those geezers can get testy...trust me).

Down the road a bit, a pole-dancing club full of blingy girls, ready to go "topless for 150L, nude for 300L." No, thanks.

Funny thing, that. When my campus built a parcel on the Sansara mainland continent in 2006, it was next to a casino with pole dancing. Same old, same old.

The trip home was a mess after I found a rezz-zone and switched rides. At any velocity over 40 kph, I crashed repeatedly into gullies and houses, until I got flung to the corner of one region.  I logged out.

Then today, a message in my inbox:

"Your object 'GB7 67 PMD Goat (Black)' has been returned to your inventory lost and found folder from parcel 'Deadly Sin' at Mitta 96, -1 because it went off-world."

Deadly Sin, indeed. I didn't even tip those dancers!

From a Tripod (remember that?) website, a definition of "Sansara": The rounds of birth and death and rebirth, reincarnation. Cyclic existence, the beginningless and endless wheel of rebirth. The world, the realm of desire.

Yes, and the wheel has turned and turned, but it is still 2007 in this part of Second Life.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Virtual House of Usher Reopens in Second Life

Location: Glasgow Caledonian University

For about a year, the project begun with Richmond colleagues has not been available in SL. Now, through the generosity of Evelyn McElhinney and her colleagues at GCU, visitors may explore a new build of Usher.

Visitors should begin at the Visitor's Center (teleport link). There are Viv Trafalgar's free Victorian clothes as well as links to the project wiki and student projects from prior semesters.

I have imported the Jokaydia Grid structure, though some clue-locations vary and elements from the old Second Life build make this House the most interesting experience yet. We do not have a full island with attendant dangers and "outside" clues, but some of these  now appear inside the House. Look for those family ghosts! They may help you. And when I get a RP HUD running, some may be purely evil...

Those wishing to bring classes into either the Jokaydia Grid or SL builds should contact me to schedule a time with the actors who portray Madeline and Roderick. All of us associated with Usher look forward to promoting immersive learning in virtual worlds and, specifically, bringing new learners to the world of Edgar Allan Poe's obsessions and artistry.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Notes from the Trough of Disillusionment

Location: Down in the Valley So Low

Next Friday, I agreed to give a short presentation to faculty colleagues in a learning community focusing on new technologies.

My topic: "3d Virtual Worlds: Down in Gartner's Trough of Disillusionment"

Here are a few notes from a Blackboard page I created to guide our discussion. I do plan to log into Second Life and OpenSim during our meeting, as well. At least two of the group tried SL and were not impressed with the platform, for one or more reasons I'll list as detrimental to the spread of virtual worlds.

Readers, what am I missing? I'd love to hear your perspectives on this. My notes follow, except for links to content in SL and other grids worth seeing (from Virtual Ability and Genome Islands to the WW I Poetry Sim and my Usher Project).

All links below will open in new tabs/windows.

The sector for public 3D virtual worlds has fallen into the Gartner "trough of disillusionment" since Fall 2008, just as the global economy teetered on the brink of total collapse. In what follows, I offer some reasons and resources, based on my five years of work in Second Life and OpenSimulator virtual worlds.

Here is their 2009 "Hype Cycle" snapshot:


In 2011, while other technologies advanced, the Gartner authors concluded that "virtual worlds remain entrenched in the trough after peaking in 2007."

For Second Life in particular, several factors hurt:

  • High pricing for content-hosting without offline backups. Linden Lab, SL's maker, ended 50% discounts for education and non-profit customers in October 2010, at which point Richmond left SL.
  • A competing open-source alternative, OpenSimulator (or OpenSim), often hosted locally on campus servers and capable of URL-type linking to other campuses or corporate projects through a technology called Hypergrid.
  • The difficulty of the SL user interface and the steep hardware requirements of the client.
  • The stability of the virtual world and the need for frequent client upgrades (both largely resolved today).
  • The relatively slow pace of empirical evidence for teaching effectiveness in immersive 3D environments. Ironically, this has emerged in 2010 and 2011, but by them many campuses had decided to focus more on mobile technologies and social networking for teaching. Many with an investment in virtual worlds moved to OpenSim instead.
  • A perception that the environment was too "gamelike" for serious learning. SL is more of a "sandbox" that permits user-generated content, including games. One can more easily make the case for using SL in education than, say, World of Warcraft. Ironically, "gamification" is a buzzword for emerging educational technologies in 2012. Was SL too early?
The SL brand's reputation for social and adult-rated usage did hurt, but this proved the least of the problems for my classes. My students encountered SL's X-rated culture and giggled. I made them sign waivers to avoid adult content unless 1) it was after class and 2) they were not representing themselves as members of the UR community. One or two students did research on "relationships" in SL, but they age-verified to be able to go to adult-zoned parts of the virtual world.

What Virtual Worlds still offer, despite their learning curve:
  • A way to build simulations at low cost. I could not make a ruined Victorian mansion appear on campus for my House of Usher simulation (see below).
  • A way to interact for virtual conferences in an embodied way. I do not find teleconferencing and 2D applications such as Elluminate as engaging for participants. SL encourages all participants to become active, in my experience from the weekly Virtual Worlds Roundtable and the annual conference, Virtual Worlds: Best Practices in Education.