SecondLife – Same functions different space

Posted by jerry on June 2nd, 2007 — Posted in Journal, New media, Theory

At the risk of sounding polemical, secondLife is arguably little different from any other virtual world or cultural space. When you strip away the hype and the individual modalities of how you navigate such a space, it quickly becomes apparent that SecondLife performs many very familiar functions.

Firstly, it is a genuinely interactive social space. It is a space for people to engage with each other. It has been marketed to some extent as a ‘game’ – and insofar as it provides a creative role-play space it is. But it is also much more than that.

Like the text-based Multi-user Object-Oriented Domains (MOO) of years gone by, SecondLife provides a space in which your proxy character, or ‘avatar’ interacts with other avatars, as well as with objects built within the world-space. SecondLife takes the concept of a MOO a step further by making it visual, and hence more apparently part of the 3D web, rather than a 2D text space.

Of course we are all in virtual space all the time. And arguably, we always have been. The way we articulate the real social space is already mediated by and through language and other systems of signification. Even in RL that mediation is apparent in the dress codes, proxemic codes, social markers, body language and so on. So it is not too surprising that these same cultural codes apply in virtual worlds.

People operating avatars appologise when they accidentally bump another avatar with their own. If an avatar stands too close, others will move theirs back a little to make room.

And that would be an interesting phenomenon but for the fact that behind those avatars are people, and the avatars form a visual representation and virtual body stand-in for the person – just as the screen stands as the matrix upon which we project all computer mediated communication.

Okay, so in SL we are not (yet) interacting tactilely, but leaving aside the technology for a moment, we are really dealing with people interacting with people. Just as we do in RL.

But even in RL we arguably articulate ourselves through avatars based on clothing codes (suits, casual gear, sporting and other uniforms etc) which we change according to the social situation in which we find ourselves.

These dress codes are part of a broader set of systems of signification that facilitate our social interactions with other people within a cultural group. But this is not new.

Moreover, the kinds of social spaces that have been set up in SL remain very much the kind of social spaces we see in RL. Among the more popular spaces in SL are pubs and dance venues – designed very like pubs and dance spaces the world over.

Education and performance spaces are similarly culturally coded – amphitheatres with seats, conference rooms, office spaces and so on reflect designs established in some cases thousands of years ago – suuch as those based on Greek and Roman amphitheatres.

The lack of a roof serves several functions – it facilitiates avatars flying in to the space, making navigation easier. And it isn’t going to rain so the roof is not an essential piece of architecture – other than where you want to connote privacy. And the lack of a roof saves on ‘prims’ – the building material in SL – which would otherwise add to the server space and bandwidth requirements.

Shopping spaces are familiar designs – kept fairly uncluttered to enable maximum display with minimum obstacles for the navigationally challenged.

SL has been described as the ‘Mosaic’ &tm; of the 3D web. And in many ways it is. It provides a visual dimension – in much the way that Mosaic added images to gopher space – the pre-browser version of the internet, before it became recognisably the web we know today. Tomorrow, I’ll explore this issue further.

SecondLife – Navigating realities

Posted by jerry on May 31st, 2007 — Posted in Journal, New media, Technology, Theory

What do we think of when we encounter the concept of ‘Virtual Reality’? Perhaps we have visions of people like myself staggering around the padded podia of the VR Cafe, or perhaps we have visions of sending our avatar out into SecondLife for another kind of immersive social experience.

Secondlife - Blarney Pub

Such immersive experiences position the user/reader in an artificial world comprised of computer-generated graphics. These greet us, perhaps at one end of what Ruthrof (1981) termed the ‘ladder of fictionality’. Ruthrof here depicts the distinction between invented and non-invented narrative as a ladder of varying degrees of fabrication. The steps of this ladder are bounded within authorial structuring of narrative and set in contra-distinction to what Edmund Husserl terms the ‘world-out-there’. I want to argue throughout this chapter that there are strong parallels to be drawn between the reality/virtuality debate, and the figurative/non-figurative debate in contemporary literary theory.

Read more of this paper on the page to the right, or click here:-)


Amelie – the moped

Posted by jerry on May 27th, 2007 — Posted in Journal, Motorcycling

I have begun a slow restoration of my Motobecane 40V moped. The ped was built in 1970 and I have owned it since near new. I rode it for several years, before putting it into storage for almost 20 years. It’s all eBay’s fault! I finally found some 6V light globes to fit the indicators, so now there is a real chance of getting them to work again.

Motobecane 40V 1970 moped

The moped has been reluctant to start, requiring a squirt of ‘Aerostart’ straight into the spark plug hole before it even thinks about it. So today I took the points out and filed them and reset the gap, and then dismantled the carburettor and cleaned the jets – and now it starts easily and runs well.

The points are located behind the magneto rotor on the right side.

Motobecane magneto and points

Here is a short video of that starting procedure – just turn on the fuel, roll the throttle forward to decompress the engine, start pedalling and bring the throttle to idle and the engine starts easily.

If you look carefully you should be able to see the clever expanding pulley “variator” in action on the left side of the moped. This provides an infinitely variable gear enabling the engine to maintain power even on hills (for steep hills some light pedal assistance is required)

Once I have the indicators working, I’ll start work on restoring the engine – notice the seepage from the head gasket – I’ll strip it down and rebuild it as the historic vehicle it is 🙂 Watch this space!


Semiotics of music – blogged!

Posted by jerry on May 22nd, 2007 — Posted in Journal, Music, New media, Theory

New media researcher Angela Thomas has written a lovely post about my semiotics of music experiment. I have drawn on MAK Halliday’s systemic functional semiotics to develop a schema for music, which can be used to analyse multimodal texts.

semiotics of music

Interestingly there seems to have been very few attempts at developing such schemas. Angela raised a useful question in relation to my schema, namely that there is no listing for an analogue of adverbial phrase – or even adjectival phrase come to think of it. My response is two-fold. Firstly, if an adverb-function were to exist, it would probably lie in the selection of mode – major, minor, dorian etc – which would provide a sense of the manner in which a musical phrase acts/creates drama or action.

My second response is that music, along with other non-linguistic systems of signification, probably doesn’t translate directly into a linguistic model. Sure, linguistic or literary semiotics is probably the most highly developed as a means of analysing texts (however broadly defined), but I’m not entirely convinced that such a model maps all the signifying activity of a non-linguistic or multimodal text. It does, however, form a useful point of entry to any discussion of how we make meaning with non-linguistic or para-linguistic signs. Is there a grammar of music? Emphatically yes, but beyond forms of analogy, I remain uncertain as to how far one can map it directly onto a linguistic model.

But there remains the tantalising possibility that one could develop a metalanguage for analysis of music and how it functions to make meaning within a sign system.


USA – more impressions

Posted by jerry on May 17th, 2007 — Posted in Journal, Travel

This is the land of commerce! Where else in the emergency instruction would you find, not only the emergency escape route marked out in case of fire, but also the

emergency route to the vending machines in case you have a bad attack of the munchies! And all this in your hotel safety instructions…

room sign

Meanwhile the Mall roof references the height of Victorian railway station design. The interplay of line, angle and curve works very well. And the palm trees are reminiscent of the Paris Orangerie – a signifier of elegant fashion.

mall roof

And to add to the sense of being in a gallery of contemporary style there are artworks positioned around the mall – like the cubist violin series, called “Three Violins”. It’s more like what happens when your violin has an industrial accident with a bandsaw… I actually liked the way the violin has been sectioned and displaced, giving the violin a sense of movement and time.

three violins

I knew I should have brought mine to the ‘States – I was offered a spot at the open mic session at the hotel. I said I’d do it if they could locate a violin. They didn’t so I didn’t, but it was kinda fun to think I could’ve started my overseas tour right then and there! I guess they didn’t know who I was…. 🙂