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.

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 🙂


BlogHer07 Conference Opening Session

Posted by jerry on July 28th, 2007 — Posted in Journal, New media, Technology


Originally uploaded by Aiji Ducatillon

I attended the opening session of the BlogHer07 conference last night. The conference – one of largest blogging conferences to date – was also streamed live into virtual world SecondLife at “Hyperstring Island-2”.

BlogHer07 conference

The opening panel comprised Vint Falken, TheDiva Rockin, Koz Farino and was moderated by Queen Tureaud and video-logged byRobyn Tippins.

The live conference being held in Chicago, USA has around 750 registrants, and there were about 60 in-world at the main site, but it was also streamed into two other sites as well as video-streamed into

You can get the schedule of events here

Here is the audience at the opening session in SecondLife
BlogHer07 conference

First impressions
This is pioneering use of the technology – so stability issues were to be expected. It took a while to set up for the opening session and the change of sound streaming channel actually decreased the quality of the sound – but I think this was so that all panel participants could use their conference mics to talk.

I ended up taking the sound output from the headphones channel on the computer and running it through an external amplifier and into external speakers – and the sound levels were good then for the remainder of the session.

The panel were introduced by the moderator, Robyn Tippins and each talked a bit about how they viewed their own experience of blogging. This was a good session, as it emerged that Koz Farina is podcasting pioneer, and the inventor of blogHUD – so there was some good discussion of real-time versus asynchronous communication with blogs versus pods.

Then there was an ice-breaker session in both real life (RL) and SecondLife (SL) For those of us in SL we had to find out various kinds of information about our fellow attendees, by checking out the avatars’ profiles and by instant messaging others to ask whenther they met this or that criteria – like did they speak more than one language, were European based, blogged about their family and so on. It was a fun – if chaotic session – in the midst of all this activity the strain on the servers showed and several people’s computers crashed so there were avatars appearing and disappearing all over the place!

Despite the timezone problem – it was well past midnight in Australia by the time we finished up – the discussion certainly made me think about the potential for this form of social software and where it might lead in the future. I suspect increasingly that SecondLife is the equivalent of perhaps Mosaic – to use a worldwide web analogy. This very early days, but it shows the potential for a real 3D web with real-time interaction and enormous creative power.

You can see more images from the SL part of the conference here

I met a couple of other musicians and other interesting people at the conference session, and look forward to more sessions tonight 🙂


Second Life – social dimension

Posted by jerry on July 22nd, 2007 — Posted in Journal, Music, New media, Technology

One of the aspects of virtual world SecondLife is the social interaction it enables between people from different real locations. I was curious as to how live music performances worked, and, having joined several live music social groups I quickly found a live performance in progress and teleported to a club lounge, where I found about 15 avatars dancing or standing around, and one with a guitar on stage animated to play the guitar, while the sound was streamed live into the sim.

The lone singer-guitarist seemed bemused that the host had vanished offline (perhaps their computer had crashed) and one of the audience indicated that they had a club and everyone could transfer there.

The new club “Sound Factory” was well set up with a dance floor, and several avatars were already dancing before the music had begun to stream.

Sound Factory SL

Conversations were broadcast across the screen and when the sound came through the performer, Mr Jonze, spoke in response to several of the comments being broadcast. He interacted with the small crowd and conversed between songs, as though there was a small gathering in his lounge-room.

I asked the crowd if there were any tutorials on sound streaming, and got a rather abrupt response from the club owner, Politically Beck to say “it’s so easy even a caveman could do it”. Perhaps its not etiquette to ask tech questions of a probably knowledgeable crowd in a social setting, but I found that a bit unhelpful.

Nonetheless the music was good and the sound quality was surprisingly good lending a good club/restaurant atmosphere to the scene. It differed substantially from any Real life (RL) situation in that you could dance, converse and interact with the performer to a far greater extent than you could in RL. I had a good dance and conversation with Marieke CLoetens and laughed at the antics of Peet the monkey 🙂

And with it being evening in Australia, the performer Mr Jonze had just been up for an hour in the US and others were there in the room from the UK and from NZ – quite a mix that you wouldn’t find anywhere else.

I learnt a lot about the social side of SL, and look forward to checking out a couple more of the music venues.