SL meets Home and Garden

Posted by jerry on August 10th, 2007 — Posted in Journal, New media, Technology

The New York Times Home and Garden Section has an article on SecondLife homes and gardens, profiling several ‘builders’ and ‘gardeners’ – this is a good change in the media from sensationalist pieces about sex, griefers and terrorists and is starting to bring the old media discussion back to where the majority are in SecondLife.

New York Times

That is, using SL to build the house of their dreams and playing out harmless fantasies that are not too dissimilar from real life – but without the cold wind or the wet holidays.

So bouquets to the New York Times for bringing the discussion back to the reality of virtuality.


Steam vehicle model

Posted by jerry on August 6th, 2007 — Posted in Journal, Steam, Technology

Gakken steam vehicle

A while ago I was intrigued with a short vid on YouTube showing a strange steam car model and an obscure reference to the maker – Gakken in Japan. I searched and eventually found a Japanese hobby store that noted this one as no longer in stock (produced in 2005). I wrote to them and asked to be put on the waiting list for the next one – it appeared to be a discontinued model. I got an email back telling me to order it and if they couldn’t source it in 3 months they would consider it cancelled.

I fully expected that to be the last I would hear from them. Until this morning. A package arrived from Japan 🙂

Gakken steam vehicle

And inside was what was described as a magazine, but it incorporated a box with a beautifully packaged model in its component parts. The accompanying magazine/catalogue had instructions – in Japanese – but clearly illustrated, so it was no problem to follow the directions just from the diagrams. The Japanese do graphic drawings well – although there was a certain Manga style to it, making me wonder if the vehicle belonged to the “Steam Boy” manga series.

Gakken steam vehicle

And within about half an hour I had a tiny steam vehicle. The only thing missing was the wick, but looking at the instructions it was clear that all you needed was a small square of cotton fabric – like from old jeans and then it was just a matter of ensuring the engine ran freely by blowing through a tube, and then filling the tiny boiler with the (supplied) dropper and then fill the burner with meths from the (supplied) smaller dropper, light the wick and in a few seconds it was ready to run.

The engine ran slowly and then picked up speed, but I found a small steam leak from the boiler where I had neglected to tighten one of the screws. And then success 🙂

This is a toy that should be in every science shop – it’s safe, low pressure and clean enough to run indoors on your kitchen table and could be used very effectively to show the principles of steam power. And it was only the price of about one-and-a-half newsagent magazines – about AUS$27.


Talk (and fiddle) in SecondLife

Posted by jerry on August 4th, 2007 — Posted in Journal, Music, New media, Technology

With the latest release of SecondLife comes a talk function – so I was eager to test it out. Anya Ixchel and Ailja Writer were already online and they were testing the talk function too. I invited them over to my modest block of land and was quickly joined by Sharon aka Teal Etzel, and soon we figured out the new menus and talked about talk. The quality wasn’t bad from my end – although the processing speed meant a slight delay between talking and hearing. And as more bandwidth was used the voices became a little broken – at one point I sounded like a Dalek from Dr Who!

But the real test came when I played fiddle through the talk function – it was hilarious! Anya rezzed up a dance object and soon all the avatars were dancing so I pulled out the Guarnerius violin from my inventory and set my avatar playing while I played in real life. And it worked really well – my first live concert in SL 🙂

SL fiddle

Interestingly some of the SL neighbours also flew in to see what the fuss was about, so we gave the function a good test with in the end about seven avatars together and nearby.

Certainly this build is MUCH more stable than the beta “FirstLook” version, and it was easy to set up the talk function. But the sound was much better through Sharon’s MacBook laptop than through the mac G5 as the desktop one seemed to pick up a lot of hard-drive noise. It also worked much better through headphones in order to prevent echo from the mic picking up the voice on its return through the speakers. So it can take a bit of practice to get the levels right. In the end I managed to get a reasonable talk quality.

Living Online – Cybermind and online community

Posted by jerry on August 3rd, 2007 — Posted in Journal, New media, Theory

I’ve seen some exciting news on Angela’s blog: Jon Marshall – a very good friend of mine – has written a book about online communities – based on Cybermind, an email discussion list that began on 10 May 1994. How do I know the date? I was was one of the founding members.

Living Online - Jon Marshall

The discussion list was opened to discuss the philosophy and psychology of the internet, and in the process became one of the most remarkable online communities. It was founded and co-moderated by artist/musician/poet Alan Sondheim and film theorist the late Michael Currant began and could have gone the way of many academic online communities – exchanging a few theoretical snippets and eventually moving on. But it didn’t. The list was waiting to happen, and within days had more than 500 subscribers. There were a few fairly academic exchanges of a more or less formal nature, some discussion about the name – should it be capitalised or split into two words, and a few opening thoughts on the nature of community in the abstract.

The sudden death of Michael Currant was a physical and emotional shock, and abruptly the list went quiet, with a few bizarre appearances of response from Michael himself, that had been held up n this or that server and finally delivered. Soon a few started to write about their feelings about Michael’s death and the list transformed into a community of people sharing their feelings as well as their academic thoughts – a new phenomenon in the online world.

Cybermind went on to spawn physical meetings in cybercafes – flesh-meets – and an academic conference in Perth Western Australia which was the first of its kind probably in teh world – a discussion-list conference with simaltaneous chat being projected behind the speakers and the whole thing videoed and streamed live via cuseeme onto the web – and this only two years after the worldwide web was made fully public domain. At the after-conference party I played my first live-streamed fiddle concert onto the web. It was an extraordinary effort by many people working behind-the-scenes to keep the technology running throughout the conference.

And one of the early members was Jon Marshall, an Australian anthropologist/academic who lived among the online tribes, and one of the few who kept a good archive of the early days of Cybermind. I’ve met him several times and deeply respect his intellect.

His book deals with issues of identity and gender, the nature of community and online ethics. I shall be in the queue when his book launches – forget Harry Potter! Buy Living Online 🙂


BlogHer07 Conference – plenary session

Posted by jerry on July 29th, 2007 — Posted in Journal, New media, Technology, Writing

BlogHer07 Conference is one of the biggest RL blogging conferences to date, and one of the first to deal with non-SecondLife issues with a significant SecondLife participation. The real-life (RL) part of the conference is taking place in Chicago USA with about 750-800 attendees in Chicago and an unknown number of SecondLife and WWW international attendees. SL participants had the advantage of being able to interact directly with the speakers via instant message – over those just watching the live video stream on on the world wide web.

Speakers last night included:

This was a fairly free-ranging discussion among the panelists, and the discussion was streamed by live video into SecondLife.

BlogHer07 panel discussion

Blogs and news media
Some key points included:
a discussion of whether blogs had moved beyond the ‘echo-chamber’ effect of the blogosphere – in which bloggers were essentially talking to themselves about themselves.
There was broad agreement that blogs are now part of mainstream media – breaking news often as rapidly as mainstream media channels.

There is no longer a single blogosphere – some blogs have remained inward looking, while others are more outward focussed – there is no longer a single mode of blogging (if there ever was). And there is a large expansion currently underway in new media of all kinds – flickr for photos, podcasting, YouTube, Facebook Twitter and others.

All of which could be argued to have arisen from Maslow’s basic needs hierarchy – notably the need to communicate. The internet has developed/evolved a very wide range by which people can find communities of common interest. One symptom of this that has been picked up and taken out of proportion is the capacity for such communities of interest to include a focus on physical aspects of representation – including pornography – and this goes back to a basic need for self expression.

Is blogging weird and elitist? Or is it more like literacy? – becoming increasingly an essential aspect of how people relate to each other. Certainly there are things that are more elitist than blogging, and there are also elitist bloggers – as there are in other walks of life. But there is no doubting that online communities can be strong.

While the IT industry is increasingly credential-driven, self-taught geeks are still contributing greatly to the shape of new media technologies.

It is important for women to break into the technology industry. This is not a gender issue, however, because first and foremost, technology needs to be tailored for people. The problem is not one of women lacking a voice in technology, but getting people to learn to listen – everyone, male and female has a role to play in shaping technology.

And sometimes that takes a thick skin – you need to be a bit Aspergers-like to become desensitised to the emotional social cues that serve to exclude those less confident with the technology.

There is also a real need for new media literacy – it is important to know who owns the media you use, and this is often buried deep within terms of service agreements. It is important to read the fine print of your terms of service agreements on social sites as many require you effectively to sign over the rights of your content to them so it can be (re)-used as they see fit. But if you find clauses you don’t like – blog it. Spread the word – and do so in nice simple terms, like ‘never mind reading the whole thing, look at these two sentences in which you sign your life away’.

One speaker focussed on the ‘power of one’ – if you don’t like a feature, or if you would like to see a new feature implemented, then let the big players know. The first responder may not be equipped to deal with the issue – or even understand that there is one – but persevere up the food chain. People who build the new media do care what people think – it is the basis of their business.

Another speaker focussed on the ‘people power’ aspect of blogs, noting that ‘mesh’ networks a re really taking off in China, as the Chinese authorities’ power to act against a million small voices is very limited. Mesh networks are able to provide people with an alternate voice, to amend the messages being given by those in power.

BlogHer07 conference

SecondLife and News Media
It was noted that virtual world SecondLife is a real space with real people – so it’s not a game (pre-scripted and bounded) – but a real community. So news in SecondLife is real news.

SecondLife is about building networks of people across the globe and across timezones, with a common visual environment. But with the current old media hype about SecondLife many are coming into SecondLife that don’t ‘get it’ – that don’t understand the concept of social networking.

One presenter noted that most politicians just use SL to gain real life publicity – to demonstrate their connection with progressive youth culture.

Ironically the person credited with the conceptual basis for SecondLife, writer – William Gibson will be entering SecondLife to promote his new book, but he refuses interviews from in-world real journalists on the basis that he doesn’t want to promote SL as a vehicle for promoting his book. Perhaps his initial negative experience in coming into SL has helped to shape his attitude towards SL.

For real journalists in SecondLife there are both challenges and opportunities. One major challenge – common to all writers – is that remuneration is within a micro-economy. So reporters writing for SL media are paid (when they are paid at all) in the order of US$4-5 in real money. But they can earn between 10 and 40 times that writing for real life media.

But the fact that the avatars are driven by real people has enabled genuine voice-of-the-people interviews with those who would otherwise be severely subject to censorship in conventional media. And the emergence of voice as part of teh chat function means that genuine vox populi news has become more widely available.

In response to a question from Sharon (as Teal Etzel) on whether the panel viewed themselves as recording the early history of the emerging 3D web, and as archiving a significant moment for future historians, there was a mixed reaction.

Some new media sites were storing broadcast quality copies of podcasts for archival purposes. Others couldn’t see that history was in the making, or that SL was in any way a significant event/activity.

One view was that SL is like a village – with parochial interests and local interest for residents, but of no greater significance.

Another view was that yes it’s not the fact that SL inhabitants are ordinary people with ordinary lives, but that these ordinary people are in extraordinary circumstances, taking the trouble to learn a complex interface at the beta stage of its development – and on that basis, such people were indeed on the cutting edge of something new and emergent, and that will shape the future of the technology.

Overall the discussion was stimulating and SL has provided a unique opportunity to participate actively in a conference in Chicago, and to hear some world-class academics – while sitting at home in Australia 🙂