Tuesday, September 28, 2010
Location: Reaction Grid, NY World's Fair
Since I'll be doing a feature on Reaction Grid for Prim Perfect, I simply could not resist featuring the build of the 1939-1940 New York World's Fair. It was "The World of Tomorrow," baby, and by 1960 we'd have 10-lane superhighways elevated above robotic farms, planned cities, and 100 mph mass transit running from Pleasantvilles spread over the map like 1000 Greenbelt Marylands.
Heady stuff. In fact, a virtual world rendered in 1/18 scale.
Funny thing, but the first thing I saw in Reaction Grid exists in real life, a few miles from my house.
image credit: Jenosale at Flickr
Iggy materialized about where I’d left him on his last visit: the NY World’s Fair managed by Trivia Tiratzo and built by Joey Cernov. I wrote an entire chapter of my doctoral dissertation on The World of Tomorrow, the Fair’s official name. The entire two-sim homage to the Fair (many sims would be needed to do it all) demonstrates the power of megaprim builds in OpenSim.
Since my last visit, I spotted a new building on the grounds: the pavilion for Belgium designed by Henri van de Velde. By chance, it not only is one of the few buildings left from the Fair, but it was moved to Richmond VA and rebuilt, where it serves as offices for Virginia Union University. It had been the university’s library as well. My dad went to that building to sign up for Navy duty in 1941, a couple of days after the Pearl Harbor attack.
Eerie coincidence, that, but compelling. I pointed Iggy into the building and looked around.
I noted that the entire building is done in brick in RG, whereas the actual structure as it stands today reflects its 1939-40 design, with a slate-clad central tower (notorious for leaking, a faculty member at VUU told me, when it housed rare books!) with radiator-fin décor right out of Flash Gordon.
I'll have more to say about this build, as well as Jokay Wollengong's work in Reaction Grid, in the next issue of Prim Perfect.
Friday, September 24, 2010
Location: About to make a return visit to Reaction Grid
Nighflower's post over at New World Notes got me thinking about academic SLers; her focus is on the balancing act social users of SL make to avoid addictive immersion.
I'm wondering if there is an academic form of that over-attachment, one that leads many SLers in education to make a terrible mistake. Blinded by the comforts of good content and close community, we may forget how fragile any software can be when it's on someone else's server.
I've long contended that too many educators I meet in SL are not learning about other developments or exploring other options.
Here the die-hards who insist on WordPerfect spring to mind. Yes, they still exist. If Corel goes under or simply shutters the project (as they did for Mac OS users a while back), will all those WP files be able to be converted?
Imagine what would happen if Linden Lab shut its doors or simply sold off the business.
I have many colleagues at the Virtual Worlds Education Roundtable who say they have no time to look at other virtual worlds, and I can appreciate that point of view to a degree. With limited rewards for cutting-edge work, coupled with the huge investment of time for developing lessons or building content, why bother branching out?
My approach has been to travel occasionally to other grids to see what people are doing, how stable they operate on my system, and discover what I might do in case SL vanished. Though most of my content could never be imported, I'm always keeping an eye open for a new home, if I have to pack my virtual bags and run.
Perhaps we educators, while not sharing the motivations of social users, be that great shopping or that special virtual someone, still need SL. We need to connect to like-minded folks we don't find on our campuses. I cannot recall a single talk or brown-bag meeting, save one, in the past year that got me in person to mingle with colleagues. Yet in SL there are several classes, talks, and brown-bag lunches daily that could interest me.
If only I had time. Perhaps I should make more time for that, just as my SL-centric colleagues should, say, spend one hour per month on another grid.
Friday, September 17, 2010
As the Mad Max Challenge approaches, I have three Dogs of War (self included) who will attempt to drive through the Wastelands with me in October. Our brave victims…I mean drivers are: Adric Antfarm & AlexHayden Junibalya.
Are they the only brave SLers out there?
Surely not! I’ve asked Viv Trafalgar to be my gunner for this run. We’ll see if she’s crazy enough to let me drive.
Contact me here or in world, as soon I’ll have a starting point, finish line, and even a map!
I’ve begun on my own interpretation of what Humungus drove in The Road Warrior, with a secret weapon I designed myself, based on many fun hours playing Steve Jackson’s Car Wars game. It's too damned slow. I need to transplant over some components from a faster vehicle for my battle-buggy.
As for premade vehicles, I’m finding some potential at Xstreets’ marketplace: I don't have links to the new SL Marketplace yet, and who knows if these folks will move their content over. That means BUY NOW.
Mad Sax truck:A nice tribute to the Lord Humungus’ nitro-powered muscle truck. The blood stains are a clever touch.
Max’s interceptor:This is as close to Max's Interceptor (new and shiny from the first film, before it gets weathered in the desert) as we are likely to get.
The Tanker Truck:This thing has so many prims on it I wonder if it will even move, but it is a good reproduction of the tanker truck Max drives in the final chase scene.Now all I need is a hockey mask. And compressed-air tanks for my crossbow. And a can of Dinky-D dog food.
Tuesday, September 14, 2010
Photo of AJ Brooks (L) and Terrence Linden by Olivia Hotshot
Last week Terrence Linden, Manager of Customer Strategy and Development at Linden Lab, joined nearly 70 of us for an in-depth talk about education in Second Life. Given the interim CEO's kind words to educators, we expected a respectful visitor. Terrence was just that, and he shared some quite interesting facts with us:
- 800 educational institutions, 550-600 of them colleges or universities, currently in SL.
- of all land owned by organizations and not individuals, 50% is owned by education, a figure that does not include museums or libraries. No one comes close to education, with non profits coming next.
- Edu growth more than 10% since last year.
- Education sector is about 5% of SL and about 10% of avatars in-world are associated with education.
- An education hub is "parked" at the moment, with the islands in Terrance's name.
- Off-grid backup "not on roadmap" but has been discussed by Linden Lab. Terrence advises us to "keep pushing me" on the issue (I will). AJ notes that some with grants must produce copies of all materials, so backup is essential.
- A Linden education product has been under discussion; there are no concrete plans for this. Terrance notes, "we ask for patience," as LL discusses this idea.
- Interoperability with other grids is important to LL, "but before we look at that we want to make sure we have operability, so lets make sure it works well here first."
- In response to a question about Linden Lab's view of OpenSim, Terrence concedes that OpenSim grids have an advantage of being more focused.
You can read all of AJ Brooks' chat with Mr. Linden at this link.
Sunday, September 12, 2010
Location: Dancing my way out of trouble
This post began as a comment in New World Notes, where Hamlet Au notes the 20 most popular places in-world this August. Sigh...better that he had not.
College Dean: So you are teaching in this "Second World" thing again?
Faculty Member: I am. It's "Second Life," too.
Dean: Yeah, I read a little about it. We have a replica of our campus there?
Faculty: It's more of a series of projects on a virtual island...
Dean: Island? Well, can students walk to the rest of this place?
Faculty: They can actually fly or go from place to place by a teleport...kinda like Star Trek.
Dean: Really? One of our I.T. guys e-mailed me a link to some information on what's popular in The Second Life. I saw this list of places that you can "teleport" to visit. So what the hell is a "Bondage Ranch?"
Faculty: Um, that sort of content is adult zoned and has a lot of bots.
Dean: Lot of what? So what about "Sexy Islands" and "Lesbian Paradise"? I.T. says we are paying something called "tier" to this Linden Labs company.
Faculty: We have four faculty using the campus island for class-related work.
Dean: Good, but to continue this experiment we'll need assessment data you've collected that shows it improves retention and performance on our communications-skills rubrics as compared to similar courses. And then we'll call a meeting of the Academic Computing Committee...
Faculty: I'll let my colleagues know. See you.
Dean: (when door closes, picking up the phone) "Can you get me the Director of Academic Computing?....." (under his breath) "Bondage Ranch???
Thursday, September 9, 2010
Location: New World Notes
image: "Arcadia's Boneyard," from BlueMarsOnline's Photostream
What a drama-fest Hamlet Au's decision to start a Blue-Mars blog has caused, with one grump calling him a "traitor." Au is just looking out for his career. If Blue Mars is an up-and-coming virtual world, and the maker, Avatar Reality, is willing to pay him for his reports, he needs to be over there.
Disclaimer: Prim Perfect pays me to report on OpenSim and other non-SL grids, so I may be kinder to Hamlet than are some of his regular readers. As for Blue Mars, I'll just have to take a look. Eventually. There are a few concerns I have about it, and if they are correct, this virtual world will never be good for educators.
Cross Platform Failure:
I suspect other OSes will come to Blue Mars, and while I won't visit or recommend any world to colleagues until I can do so without Bootcamp on my Mac, I'm not as harsh about it as some Mac-users. Avatar Reality picked a Windows-only game engine for their own reasons (their CEO is a Microsoft alum, one; they wanted a certain level of graphics performance, two). I'd prefer a cloud-based service for my students, anyhow; we have high-speed access everywhere on campus, and the kids want to do their projects on portable devices, not desktop PCs.
No In-World Content Creation:
The lack of content made in-world by end users has been more a detriment to me than the lack of a native Mac client. But I want to look to be sure. Builds like Usher, for all its warts, began with a team on computers together in SL, making the simulation together. I've spent over 200 hours on the project, and at least 50 of them were collaborative in our Center for Teaching, Learning, and Technology with one or more students present.
I cannot imagine that sort of live building going on with me using a 3D tool, a student nearby using another to make objects, then having to log on to the world to see our work. As clumsy as it is in Second Life, building in-world has some amazing potential for collaboration, and collaboration trumps slick design for me every time.
My students shown here, for all their lack of building skills, stayed up until midnight with me to finish our builds in Fall 2008. They reported having a blast doing this, too.
Second Life and OpenSim permit amateurs in classes not dedicated to design to try their hand at building. That's a killer application of these platforms, and it would be impossible in Blue Mars.
Little Interest in Educators by Avatar Reality and Little Interest in Virtual Worlds by Evaluators:
Nowhere in the Avatar Reality's early materials did they court educators. Now I'm seeing a few nods to us in their FAQs. I'm pleased they have changed that.
Yet it appears, from the barriers to content creation alone, that Blue Mars is not going to be the platform for most of the educators I know, whose skill sets tend to be stretched even for prim-based work. Perhaps those of my colleagues at institutions with architecture, engineering, or large computer-science departments can find student assistants to make good content for Blue Mars. My local CS faculty grin about virtual worlds, and to be honest, the students think these worlds provide lame alternatives to gaming.
We faculty could hire Maya-skilled builders, or learn it, Sketchup, or Blender for builds in Blue Mars, if the interface is all that compelling. I may well begin learning Sketchup or Blender, even though the time required will be detrimental to professional development more readily accepted by my evaluators.
I'll see when Avatar Reality launches a Mac client or opens a cloud-based portal to their world. But like many colleagues, I'm not rewarded annually for learning new software unless it's directly related to teaching or scholarship. I can make the case just as well for having my students blog as for learning Maya, and the learning curve for blogging is infinitely shallower.
OpenSim as a Better Bet:
For now, and with grids like Reaction and Third Rock Grids courting educators, we could figure out how to host our simulations in OpenSim. We can keep meeting in SL and holding conferences there, given its proven ability to host events and conferences.
While the "Second Life" moniker has its own troubles, our colleagues and evaluators don't like the term "game" as it is, and that's how Avatar Reality markets its world.
So while I'm eager to see how stunning this SL competitor is, I don't think too many educators will be investing time or energy there. If you have experience in Blue Mars and an opinion on it for education, I'd love to know how it has gone for you.
I won't conceal my contempt for what came to replace the old Bartertown location in SL.
Where once there stood an homage to the third of the Mad Max films, now one can find for rent little fake tropical islands for blingtard soap-operas or porno roleplay. I went looking for vehicle ideas and look what I found.
Pity. But it won't stop the Mad Max Challenge! Hah!
If the fake world is going to end anyway, we Dogs of War must ride our machines into the sunset and leave flames in our wake!
Tuesday, September 7, 2010
Location: Pit of Ennui
image credits: many come from Mad Max 2 / The Road Warrior Cars and Vehicles
I feel your pain, Diogenes Aurelia Kuhr. I really do. Reading her post, "Has Second Life Changed? Or Have We?" I began to think "why is it that I'm bored silly with SL? Why do I show up weekly for the VWER meeting and not much more?"
Here's what would un-bore me, along with a challenge to prove to our Linden buddies how badly SL lags behind our dreamy-dreams:
I've long been jonesing for a Road Warrior simulation with the famous tanker-truck chase scene, across the Wastelands sims of SL and with a horde of vehicles.
No way in hell that Linden Lab's clunky platform would support such mad fun. But we should try, damn it. I get to be Wez or The Humungus, you puppy.
Okay, you readers. I challenge you....I implore you...just walk away if you are not crazy enough to take my challenge.
If you have a car, we need a Death-Match road rally. We'll try to drive each other off bridges, into buildings, into Prokofy Neva's hairdoo. Oh, yes, we'll bring the magic of SL back in the burned rubber of our passage.
Seriously. Contact me about Mad Max Rally 2010. I'll do it as the October Roadtrip. Any vehicle will do. No ARs allowed if we run your butt into the shrubbery. Send mail with your avatar name to iggyono -at- gmail -dot- com if you wish to see if you can haul that fat tank of gas out of the wasteland. I'll e-mail you with a date, time, and starting point for the chaos.
If the Bartertown sim is still around in SL, please talk it up there, too.
Lindens, you TOO may enter with your God-powers and heaven-knows-what vehicles.
What a puny plan, for I am the Ayatollah of Rock and Rollah!
Sunday, September 5, 2010
Can a once-hip technology find a niche market and thrive? Just go to the record stores to find out. I did, and I think I've found a lesson for Second Life.
A Recent History of My Record Collection
Like most teens of the 70s, I amassed a huge stack of vinyl by the standards of the day--300+ disks. My older brother only bought 45s--in a way the MP3s of his day. I came of age, however, in the era of Album-oriented rock and FM stations before the horrors of modern commercial radio and their "drive time" morons with limited playlists and smaller minds. For all its "welcome back my friend to the show that never ends" excesses and triple albums, that era also featured amazing work and great cover art, from Pink Floyd and Brian Eno to The Ramones and X. I've Brian Eno's and David Byrne's "My Life in the Bush of Ghosts" in the first vinyl issue (the song "Qu'ran" was removed later, after objections by Muslims), plus two different CD versions. I'm that sort of geek about Eno.
My collection has dwindled to about 100 disks now, played from time to time. They are in good shape; I was so finicky (and poor) as a student that I'd play a new LP just long enough to tape it onto a cassette for the car. Now I find the warm sound of vinyl worthwhile for Floyd, Yes, Sabbath, Tull, or CCR. Most of my punk and electronica, ironically, came to me later on CD.
I'm no musical luddite: mostly I spin CDs or, ever more often, songs I've ripped from them onto the iPod / stereo connection or laptop. I believe I have purchased five songs from iTunes and have never downloaded a "shared" MP3 file. Why bother? The sound does not compare to what I get from a real stereo system, even when I connect the subwoofer and external speakers to the computer.
Before the revival came, I sold off records for a lot of money on eBay, in particular some near-perfect copies of "Dark Side of the Moon," with the trippy posters, and an import of Hasil Adkin's "Rock and Roll Tonight," with the world's only hillbilly tribute to decapitation, "No More Hot Dogs." My best-ever sale went to a rabid fan of the Richmond shock-metal band GWAR. I owned a rare EP of GWAR-predecessor Death Piggy's "Love/War," bought from the band's guitarist Russ Bahorsky when we worked for the same bookshop near VA Commonwealth University. Telling the poor eBayer that I actually have met Dave Brockie several times (my nephew worked for Slave Pit Inc., GWAR's production company) I felt stalked: the GWAR fan was ready to worship me and kept e-mailing long after he got his record, as if I'd send him some dirt where Brockie had walked. Such is the power of music.
I figured, at the time, that these lucky sales were mere flukes for collectors eager to get something not available on CD.
A Turntable Breaks and I Reenter an Old World
Now I'm convinced something more than a fad is upon us. When getting up to flip a Stones LP, I discovered that after only 25 years, my JVC L-E600 linear tracking turntable needed a new belt. I set out in search what I assumed to be an elusive rarity, a record-player repairman.
Then, suddenly, I was cast among the hipsters. Yes, you know them, in their skinny rolled-up jeans, pork-pie hats, and one-speed bikes. In their beards and irony, they might have been me, 30 years ago, except I looked more like "Nirvana meets Mad Max" back then.
These kids are what passes for urban Bohemia in the US today, and they are buying vinyl. Lots of vinyl.
So are old geezers my age, clones of Bettie Page, and Richmond's "trailer punks" who combine tattoos, PBR, anarchy, battered pickups, gun collections, and lots of piercings. A student who became one of our campus area coordinators owned over 10,000 LPs when he and his mountain of vinyl left campus for a PhD program.
In getting my turntable diagnosed, I paid not one but two visits to my favorite CD and DVD shop, Plan 9 Music. They have long had a "Vinyl Crypt," sited in the depths of a basement with an iron gate to seal it off and flames climbing the walls. The operative metaphor here was, before the vinyl revival, to descend into technological hell.
This snarky touch to the shop was a hip joke until, suddenly, the vinyl got more popular than the CDs and slowly, one rack at a time, records began to appear upstairs after an absence of many years. Prices began to climb, and Plan 9 stopped selling vinyl by the pound at an annual tent sale. Soon the shop began featuring used turntables, with a one-month warranty, and other stereo gear.
Making Money on Old Technology
I'm not much of a vinyl collector. I've purchased perhaps 10 LPs in twenty years (as compared to perhaps 80 CDs). Still, while seeing the cover of The Who's "Odds and Sods" in the Crypt, with its remarkably corny but lovable "Now I'm a Farmer" almost got my wallet out of my pocket.
While my JVC was sent off for repairs, a pristine Technics SLQ-200 turntable, the sort of direct-drive masterpiece that I wanted but could not afford in the 80s and early 90s, caught my eye. $80 later, I carried it home. Now I've got a spare turntable, and it sounds phenomenal. Ozzy and "Paranoid" await me, as does Led Zep's "Physical Graffiti."
So, Can Linden Lab Find a New Groove?
The remarkable thing about surviving record stores is how they retain older collectors while basing their growth on newcomers with credit to burn. Like vinyl not so long ago, Second Life lacks the luster it once did. But so did vintage systems like the Nintendo and Atari consoles before their comeback.
What if Linden Lab stopped trying to matter to the mainstream? What if it stopped trying to be cutting edge, technologically? What if the Lab figured out a way to identify its niche, as the vinyl dealers have done, and exploit it by providing a solid and dependable product?
There are some problems with this analogy, as was my earlier consideration of the hobby of building plastic models.
Linden Lab cannot trade on nostalgia, as have Atari and Nintendo. The Lab cannot play to a large group of people who link SL to their golden and misspent youth, as vinyl does for many of us. Of course, the hipsters buying vinyl now have no memory of its heyday. To them, the vintage equipment in Plan 9's Crypt might as well be from ancient Babylon. They may, at best, have glimpsed it in dusty corners of parents' attics.
When Hamlet Au and others call for mass adoption of SL by new users, I wonder if they miss another option: a large audience who would come back to SL under certain conditions. Has Linden Lab thought to use its database of former users to find out why they left and what it would take to get them back, perhaps to a Web-based product? Record collectors and model builders keep adding to their collections, a few dollars at a time. What can get SLers to put down enough money each month to pay the Linden bills fully? What "secret sauce" could keep these customers coming back, as they do to the Vinyl Crypt or to Squadron's hobby shop online?
Tenchi, you are reading this. Di, I wish you were. What would bring you two back as paying SLers?
I'll spin some records now and await your advice.
Friday, September 3, 2010
Location: Rock-->me<--Hard Place
When I'm not on my bicycle, a Mini Cooper S is my favorite ride, a wicked-fast but economical rascal of a car. A scamp but not a cad. It has more personality than would be legal if boring people ran the world. Well, they do run it. . .but they've yet to ban this sort of frugal fun.
So I had to get a Mini in SL, eventually. Thanks to ALV Rau, I found a Cooper a lot like my RL car, though it's not an S model and lacks the black bonnet stripes and top that sold me on the actual vehicle. Caveat: I dislike red cars, but black is always in style and Mini Me is at least as much black as red. Visit AL Motors in-world to have a look at the typical (but well done) SL Supercars and other unique items, like a Seat 600 (Spanish version of one of my faves, a Fiat 500).
With high expectations, I set out. How did Rau's virtual Mini hold up in SL?
Well, size matters a lot. Compared to the '59 Caddy or the Dominus Shadow I often use for road trips, the Mini can turn on a virtual dime, a virtue that commended my RL car to me as well.
I began my journey at Yadni's Junkyard. I had high hopes of making this circumferential journey back to the same spot.
Rau's driving HUD was a welcome companion on this trip. I could shift, monitor my speed, and do other tricks without losing sight of my driving. It's not nearly as good as using a wheel and pedal that a dedicated game could have, but I'm fast-fingered and can manage a keypad and a mouse for this sort of experience.
The car's interior is also well done, and though not a perfect match for my actual Cooper it shows a lot of care on the builder's part.
Normally, that level of detail would making driving a virtual car an immersive experience, but the Department of Public Works was on lunch break, I reckon. The upgrade to Server 1.42 did not improve sim-crossing much. A few sims, at first, loaded so smoothly I had great hope. But then I came to it: world's end at the Calisto/Atlas sim crossing.
Stuck there, I did something I'd never dream of doing in my real car: I texted. Yes, I got on IM and began to rage against the stupidity of a company that could not get such a basic service to work, especially after spending untold hours of staff time building a highway network in a world where we can fly and teleport.
What can Linden Lab do? Well, fixing it would be a modest suggestion. Hamlet Au reports that Linden Lab has just hired a Kim Salzer, an "an alumnus [sic] of Activision/Blizzard and Electronic Arts" as the Lab's VP of Marketing. Good news, if the Lab wants to "game up" SL, but Ms. Salzer will need to get the coders working hard on fixing the physics of sim-crossings. Otherwise, even a single vehicle cannot make a short run through nearly empty sims.
Otherwise, don't market SL with images of racing vehicles. It won't happen without some major changes, and SL's fleet of cool vehicles will remain simply eye-candy for dream homes and RP sims.
I'll attempt the same route next month and see how it goes!
Wednesday, September 1, 2010
Location: Campus Walk
I'm a big enemy of multitasking. When students do it and try to write, the work usually sucks.
When they walk across campus texting, a requisite part of their avatarian lives of constant ease and narcissism, they fail to notice how nicely we appoint everything to make campus pleasant. We should just pave everything so they don't trip.
I'm on this rant because lately, every third student has this "two thumbs on the keypad" walk and they often bump into others. I'm good at avoiding them. As for texting while driving: instant arrest, impounding and sale of vehicle, suspension of license for 5 years. But I don't see that (even though I love to rant on it) very often. I live and drive in town, where death would be a result of texting and driving, and fast. What those in America's suburban hells do rarely enters my life.
On a less lethal but equally moronic note, this "two places at once" phenomenon supports Sven Birkerts' observation from his brilliant The Gutenberg Elegies, where one outcome of networking constantly would be a "waning of the private self." As I've often said in my rants, perhaps the unmediated moment of self-reflection is simply too much to bear. Being alone with oneself might just reveal an inner emptiness that would make Camus and Satre shudder.
Another outcome of youthful, and for that matter, adult, multitasking is an inability to see chaos and disorder just beyond the membranes of our safety-bubbles. Our bubbles, distractions of consumerist bliss and networked companionship, can pop quickly. I'm going to close with Jim Kunstler, whose blog this week featured this Yeatsian moment:
"what happened to reasonable, rational, educated people of purpose in this country to drive them into such burrow of cowardice that they can't speak the truth, or act decisively, or even defend themselves against such a host of vicious morons in a time of troubles?"
Well, lots of resolvable, rational, and educated young people are too busy checking in with their hive of friends to pay attention. And come November, we'll reap the whirlwind of their wavering attention spans, as the wrathful and ignorant gain influence in our government.