Saturday, December 24, 2011

Iggy & Pappy Swap Recipes

Location: Watching the Meat Thermometer

Well, it's that time again...for country ham. The real thing, Yankees: not some water-and-smoke-juice-injected mild ham but a smoked-in-the-smokehouse-by-rugged-and-somewhat-tipsy-Virginians ham.

Rule one for all-day cooking, such as that required for perfect ham: keep the drinks handy.

At the recent VWER holiday party, both Iggy and his ol' pal Pappy Enoch showed up to cut the rug and do some ice skating.  Pappy tried to give out Iggy's recipe for a perfect Martini, but Iggy needs to restate it here for those who could not attend. If you visit Richmond, you'll have to go to Thai Diner Too with us, so Yoko and her husband Jack can mix you one of Richmond's finest drinks (and best-kept secrets). Iggy's recipe is a pale shadow of theirs.

Ignatius' Almost-As-Good-As Yoko and Jack's Martini
  • It's best to begin with liquor, shaker, and glasses that have been in the freezer or at least in the refrigerator. Cracked ice is better so, after shaking, one gets little icebergs in the mix...yum.
  • Do not cheap out on the olives. They lose their savor fast, so look for gourmet ones with not get yuppie with Kalamatas, please. Spanish olives such as those from Serapis have been Jack's secret for a while.The company has an olive museum: 'nuff said.
  • Per drunk: 2 oz top-shelf Gin (Tanqueray and Hendricks are Iggy's faves). Heretics may substitute top-shelf vodka (and if so, use more pearl onion than olive on the skewers. Martinis are not meant to be sweet).
  • I rarely make a "dirty" Martini, but if so, I tip in some of the olive brine in the next step. Do not add more than a splash.
  • Add liquor to shaker, where about 8 cubes of ice made from filtered water lie in ambush.
  • Allow Gin and ice to become acquainted for 30 seconds or so, while gently agitating the open shaker.
  • For very dry Martini, pour in a splash (perhaps a teaspoon) of dry Vermouth. My version of "dry" is about a tablespoon, but some tipplers add even more. I prefer merely tipping the Vermouth bottle in homage to the Gin and ice.
  • Install the shaker top and check for leaks. They can be a heartbreak. Then shake it like it's a '72 Chevy Vega driven at 70 mph on a washboard road.
  • In your glasses, add a skewer with at least 3 olives or, for Iggy's favorite, two olives with a pickled cocktail onion in the middle.
  • Pour the martinis. Repeat at own risk.
"Well, that am some rite good city-boy White Lightnin'," Pappy notes, "But a natural-born human bein' man gots to eat too. Write 'er up, boy."

You will find these smoked hams, ones that can store without refrigeration until sliced, in country markets and gourmet shops (they do exist!) throughout the South.  Yankees and other unfortunates can order them and when prepared properly, as the chef at Edwards shows us in the video, the results are dramatic and delicious.

Our chef does not consider how to soak the ham. Doing this loses much of the salt but keeps in the smoky flavor. It may still be too salty if you slice it thickly, so practice thin-slicing on some lesser meats, then proceed.

Here's my advice for this year for getting yonder ham ready:
  • After scrubbing any mold from the ham and rinsing, store it in a cooler. Cover with water and close.
  • For at least two days, but no more than three, change the water twice daily. Flip the ham over when you do.
  • For the last turning, add 2 liters of Doctor Pepper to the water. This is the Pappy Enoch way, y'all.  Then you are ready to follow this gent's advice:
Pappy: "Whee Hoo! Let's eat!"
Iggy: "What he said. Where are the olives?"

VWER Christmas Party
The only ham I've had that I prefer to real country ham is Jamon Iberico de Bellota, and that costs $30 per pound, if it can even be found in the US. Jamon Serrano is close, and vies for my love of ham, but I digress. Must be that Martini!

Boxing Day Update: the ham was astounding, the best in years despite overcooking to 165 degrees. Several pounds have been hoovered up by hungry Southerners. Note to self--new meat thermometer, then recheck near end of cooking time with my digital one.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Awry in a Manger: Merry Christmas, Y'all

Location: Checking Baby Jesus' Head

It is time for Rebar Jesus again. Welcome to a journey not to Second Life or OpenSim, but just down my street.

I will not name the local church, but they set out a series of stick-figures, apparently made of welded metal rods, drape them in Biblical costume, and poke their pointy bits into the ground. The entire ensemble of Wise Men, shepherds, and proud parents flutter in the breeze to show the lines of the metal skeletons beneath. The manger, such as it is, looks like a soccer goal with a few 1x6” boards strapped across.

It is not Scroogey of me to deplore this Yuletide atrocity to one of the world’s great monotheistic religions. My disdain comes not from a lack of Christmas Spirit: our house features window-lights that go up on Solstice night, the longest of the year, to remind us that the light will return. I pick a cedar and we cut ourselves each year, with my grandmother’s and great-grandmother’s ornaments placed lovingly there. put it up on Christmas Eve, the old-timey date for putting up a tree, and take it down on King’s Day, January 6, when the Melchoir, Balthazar, and Caspar laid their gifts before the baby Jesus.

I am fond of the old customs, some from times before Christianity: we even walk outside to wassail our fig tree, then come inside by the fireplace to watch the Charlie-Brown Christmas special, as we drink egg-nog and wish for peace. But there is no peace to be had from Richmond’s bad Nativity scenes. At one time, the cultural doyens of our city could rein in our excesses, so that homes, under the Spartan rigor of Williamsburg’s simplicity, featured only white lights, one to a window, and any excesses, such as real pineapples, were placed in the wreath on the front door or kept entirely out of sight. Has the reader ever spotted a dancing Santa or string of red “tube lights” along Duke of Gloucester Street? No. If such a thing were to rear its ugly head, some matron whose family went back to Jamestown would rip it down and have a man in Colonial garb burn it up in a cresset.

Now, in these fallen and consumerist times, the Misses Propriety and Prudence Decorums of Richmond are long gone, and look what has happened. Just down the street from the Rebar Holy Family who could not find shelter at Home Depot, there is “Flatland Jesus” jig-sawed rather artfully from half-inch plywood and painted well. I almost like this one, until pass it in the car. At a ninety-degree angle, the parents of the Christians’ Savior of the World vanish. The church should have sprung for one-inch plywood, I guess.

The phenomenon of terrible Nativity scenes has spawned a Web site, as all things awful do, featuring Star-Wars-Lego nativities, Peeps crèches, and Elvis mangers. My favorite, pictured: all-meat Nativity with Jesus as a Vienna sausage.

Click and you'll find that the rest are there, glittering in their foulness like the tree-lot full of abominations that Charlie and Linus navigate until they find a little green tree, still made out of wood, making Charlie realize “I think it needs me.” Christmas needs you, Richmonders of taste and restraint, to save it from your fellow citizens on the tacky-light tour. Slow down from your shopping and manic preparations, like Snoopy on Crack, to watch that TV classic again. Then act accordingly. Trust me. I know Christmas. I trod the boards in the role of Scrooge for our sixth-grade holiday play.* Other cities manage this. New York, that place of craziness at all seasons, puts on the dog, rather than looking like one, at Christmas. The nativities of Midtown, not to mention the live one in Radio City’s Christmas Spectacular this year, were magnificent in 2011. There was not a bobble-headed goat to be seen. And as for the long-legged Rockettes angels? Well, I’ll be good so I can go right to Heaven.

Yet there’s one more tacky manger story to tell: my own.

Under that big cedar we cut, I lay out my remnants of my parents’ Nativity scene. It was once nice, or should I say, they once were. The set consists of about ten different ensembles from several decades and in all sorts of scales. My late mother was rough on Christmas ornaments, including a clay Holy Family I picked up for her in Madrid. One of the Castilian shepherds is now missing his left hand, and when I went to adjust Jesus’ crooked halo last year, his neck cracked and his head fell right off. Thank God, in all His or Her names, for teaching humans how to make Gorilla Glue. The baby now rests peacefully in his little bed of Spanish straw, surrounded by old Woolworth’s plaster magi, a handmade sheep that I think comes from the late 1800s, plus a Major-Matt-Mason Astronaut and plastic Santa.

Christ’s halo rolled under the corner of a large bookcase and I’ve yet to fish it out. But that child’s smile is still as divine, as if the little baby is laughing at our follies and our scurrying rush at Christmas. Someone far older and wiser is looking through those infant eyes. Come, and adore Him.

So if a pink flamingo or cement lawn-gorilla ends up in you neighborhood’s Nativity scene, don't blame this Unitarian-Universalist. I have an alibi ready.

*Scary Factoid: Novelist James Howard Kunstler was also a sixth-grade Scrooge. I wrote Jim about this, and he assures me I'm no Scrooge. But I'd bury every tacky-light contestant with a stake of holly through their hearts! Humbug!

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Usher Returns to Second Life: Adding What Students Want

The Return of the House of Ush... 
Location: Glasgow Caledonian University

Thanks to the kindness of Evelyn McElhinney and her colleagues at GCU, I have a large and tier-paid parcel and many prims to use. A Version of the House of Usher from the Jokaydia Grid build, plus the Visitor Center from Richmond Island, is now returning to Second Life.

Though I won't be teaching Poe for some time, starting this Spring I will have the House open for others' classes if they wish to explore on their own. With some warning, I can gather the Ushers and some new characters for improvisational acting in the simulation.

I am delighted to be back on the Lindens' grid, because SL offers affordances that OpenSim does not, yet. That said, I'm a two-house educator now. I will maintain and continue to improve the Jokaydia Grid simulation, but I can bring in some features that SL offers to address a few student concerns.  In this post, I'll focus on what students said about the physical nature of simulation and its setting, rather than the preparation or execution of the tasks facing the actors and their guests. That merits its own later post.
  • More interactive content for more immersion. Students wanted easier navigation in places, and more confusion/claustrophobia in others. In the earlier SL sim, I'd learned that the House's Crypt was too straightforward, but even with the OpenSim build, some students noted that the rooms were too large and the layout too easy. Only one asked for a map. I will also add more moving walls, trap doors, and cul-de-sacs. Students wanted more of a sense of danger, too. As Jake said, "Adding more animated noises and trap doors would add to the whole enveloping experience." 
  • Simpler movement: One problem singled out were the spiral stairs to Madeline's chamber. I was quite proud of them at one time, but once put inside a tower these proved hard to climb for non-gamers, now replaced by Enktan Gully's 1L Elizabethan staircase (shown below). 
  • More gloom: Others noted that lighting was too bright, and rooms too large to match the oppressive feeling of Poe's tale. That's easy to remedy, with some new walls, doors, and dead-ends. Griffin, who regularly plays games, enjoyed the sandbox nature of the simulation but suggested that the island did not seem dark enough. The SL build will be inside a huge, starry bubble and the lighting will be as dim as possible.
  • We need to die, Prof. Poe's characters are often in mortal danger, and at least half of the 15 respondents said in their final exam: give us a combat system. Elon claimed that "giving Roderick true ways to threaten his guests would make the experience exponentially more fascinating. What should be done, ultimately, is that the user should feel that they might 'game over' or that their avatars can die."  
  • HUD time: I am looking at purchasing some content to provide a HUD and, in one or two places around the house, a scripted ancient weapon or two for the avatars to use if the simulation demands it. SL's many roleplaying HUDs provide opportunities to be drowned, burned to a crisp, shot full of holes, or impaled on pointy things. Something like the Spellfire system would be perfect.
  • Fashion! Three of fifteen respondents mentioned that they wanted to be able to customize their avatars more.
  • Quote the Raven (but just in text chat). Tucker stated what he and at least three other classmates felt about text-chat, noting "As practical as the chat system was, I believe that it would create a greater sense of immersion if we had headsets on and were able to private chat through typing instead." 
  • More special effects: A lack of sound was lamented by five participants. Other than creaking doors, I did not have time to record the variety of sounds I had planned for the Jokaydia Grid simulation. In SL and OpenSim I will add them, plus some stock sounds for the SL build that we used in 2009 and 2010. As Lauren put it, "lightning, rain, thunder, screams, ghoulish noises, creepy piano music would have been a nice addition to the setting the virtual realities of the Ushers."

Friday, December 9, 2011

OpenSim Exam: Cautionary Tale, Happy Ending

Madelines Chambers
Location: Jokaydia Grid, Virtual House of Usher

With some glitches along the way, six groups of students completed their final exams, or at least the immersive experience upon which they'll base a take-home essay exam.

It all began very poorly, and that's a warning to those working in OpenSim for classroom work critical to students' grades. The first day, the grid would not load, but I was in luck: the one student in the lab happily delayed his journey to the House of Usher and joined a group later in the week.  Jokay Wollongong, our grid manager, was thenceforth online for every exam: thank God. We had a serious crash later in the week, but Jokay restarted the region and we all relogged.  In fact, we roleplayed the disorientation within the scope of Poe's story, and odd things do happen to Poe's characters.

The culprit for our crash may be the old server software that runs Jokaydia Grid. Jokay cannot fix that, but the owners of the servers at Reaction Grid can. The good news is that Reaction Grid plans an upgrade next week. I'll hold them to this...I want to restore hypergrid availability to our build.

A word about the talented folks at Reaction Gird: the company has switched emphasis in recent months to Jibe virtual world technology. Jibe is promising for ease of use and the ability to run inside any Web browser. On the other hand, it's not for those who wish to build collaboratively in-world and in real time with students. That's a killer app for my use of virtual worlds. Jibe's protocols for 3D object design, like those of SL's recently introduced Mesh technology, are beyond my and my students' skills; Richmond lacks enough advanced arts students who might wield Maya or Blender.  And there is no incentive for faculty here to learn.

On the other other hand, prim-work in OpenSim or Second Life are within my skills set and those of the student-builders I train, often in teams working together, so that's where I'll stay.

As for getting hypergridding back? It offers special affordances for educators. That, after all, is how edutech works: we share and link to each other.  Even Blackboard, the course-management behemoth, is now moving to a more open model with the arrival of a "share" button.

The closed-grid model, on any platform, is that of the video-game world. It protects IP and functions for gamers and socializers, but it's not best for many of my colleagues in education. I give my own content away with Creative-Commons licensing or in the Public Domain. We are even considering whether we have tech support, locally, to host an OpenSim grid on our campus, as schools such as the University of Bristol are doing as they pull their work out of Second Life.

As we move forward to new engagements in an OpenSim grid or Second Life, I still need more data. From my students' essays, I plan to gather data for an article about effective educational roleplay and types of student roles. But I've already learned one lesson: without Jokay Wollongong's hands-on help, I'd never have trusted Reaction Grid's old version of OpenSim for something as crucial as a final exam.

Next up, I'll finish the Usher series from Jokaydia Grid with reflections by the students, from their exam essays. And a surprise twist right out of Poe: Usher is coming back to Second Life!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Virtual Worlds A Distraction? A Reply to Jon Himoff

Cast Pic 
Location: Reading Jon Himoff's Blog From The Ivory Tower

It has been a while since I've written about Rezzable's work, but I came across a post by Jon Himoff, the CEO, in which Jon asks,

"In the age of Facebook, do avatars add value or are they time-consuming distractions?"

I replied at length at his blog, but I'd like to repeat what I said here.

I'd argue that Facebook is more likely the distraction...students rarely, on my campus, use social networking for course-work. Avatar-based virtual worlds, on the other hand, provide an unparalleled ability to build simulations, Jon. Ask the US Army about MOSES, for instance.

Having just finished a final exam project in an OpenSim grid, my class loved the exerience because they were helping to shape what future classes will do. 15 of my 17 students opted for the OpenSim exam/improv session, and they had fun and learned more about the subject matter by seeing it, and more importantly, interacting with it, in 3D.  A number of observers have noted how users don't mind less-than-photographic verity in online games. We don't need "serious game" level graphics if Millennial students understand how the experience links to goals and outcomes in courses. Every demographic study of that age-cohort showed exactly this finding.

That was always the promise of something like Rezzable's Virtual King Tut experience. It saddens me that you moved on from a great bit of work that never got the marketing it merited.

Virtual worlds are a niche technology, not one for corporations to fatten the profit line. But that's not the mission for institutions of higher ed. We are in the business of helping students develop critical-thinking and content skills so they'll be better citizens and employees (in that order). I'd agree that the technology was over-hyped mid-decade, and many educators rushed in themselves, without clear pedagogical goals.

As the decade continued, and Internet use meant students using mobile devices, the niche continued to be ruled by firms with gaming and I.T. experience. Educators in the niche, however, began gaining skills to develop and deploy virtual worlds locally or in hosted settings. The emphasis could then shift to how to apply best practices to teaching, instead of how to make the tech stable. Truth be told, as with Web 1.0 and 2.0 sites, in a few years we won't need corporations to help or even host the content.

But then, many specialized apps on campuses work that way. Virtual worlds will be but another of them. They may never be mainstream, but that's not important. Mathematica and GIS software are not mainstream, either.

Friday, December 2, 2011

More on Motives & Missions

Wireframe Usher 
Location: Peeking Behind the Stage Curtain

I recently wrote of a change to this iteration of the Usher experience: my students all received a motive and a mission before they began their "expedition" to meet Roderick and Madeline.

Students liked this, as we had discussed the literary idea of "backstory" in class. We considered how, for popular fantasy series such as the Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter novels, readers come to realize that a fictional world existed long before the events and it has influenced current events mightily.  Thus Aragorn's Numenorean blood has a history, as does the Ring itself. In the case of really strong television series like Mad Men or The Sopranos, backstory helps flesh out the actions by major and minor characters on screen.

Poe adhered to his own rules for short stories: he had the right, as he invented the genre. "Usher" is a self-contained world, with references to other texts, real and invented for the story. The Ushers and their problems, however, exist in a sort of vacuum. We have hints of ancient family history, some of it dark, but unlike Tolkien's world, we don't get to hear any "stories within the story," though the poem "The Haunted Palace" appears in its entirety inside "Usher."

That's because a short story, like a one-off sitcom episode, has little backstory: we get a set piece that can stand independently of any world revealed in little bits. The short nature of the narratives prevent such complexity.  All we need to know is that William Shatner's character sees a gremlin on the wing of an airliner in the classic Twilight Zone episode, "Nightmare at 20,000 feet," and off we go with Shatner's over-the-top performance.

Lacking Rod Serling's voice or a television studio's resources, I decided to employ these motives and missions. Note that neither I nor the actress playing Madeline knew who got what, and Madeline was partly aware of one motive (I sent part of it to all of the folks in her role).

Here they are, as chosen randomly by students:

Motive: A man was drunk in Whitby’s pub, the Three Tuns. You saw him pay for his tab with a gold coin. The publican (pub owner) let you look at it, after the man stumbled out. It was a newly minted gold sovereign, enough to cover pub-bills for a month. The publican said “The Ushers have a lot of gold. That’s their man-servant, Jenkins.”

Motive: Madeline was once engaged to your brother. It was a secret between her and him, until he told you. She broke the engagement off without any explanation. Your brother, heartbroken, went off to serve as a Colonial officer in Africa and died of malaria. You’ve always been curious.

Motive: You hold a grudge against the Ushers. Their father, Sir Howard Usher, refused to loan your family money, despite their being old friends. The last of the family fortune is long gone. You have kept up a correspondence with Roderick, and from hints in it you learned, over a year ago, that Roderick too is facing financial ruin.

Motive: You had a sister who began to fall asleep at midday. Eventually, she began sleepwalking. She died when a doctor’s medicines went awry and she never awoke. You suspect that your sister might have had her body stolen by ghouls who sell such to the medical colleges in London. From Roderick’s letter, you fear something might befall your old friends…the men who steal bodies have been very active in Yorkshire.

Motive: You are from Cornwall, in the Southwest of England. You knew the Ushers years ago, and have kept up correspondence with them sporadically. A local family, the Ennis family, lost a son, Colin. He was a sailor killed late last year when his ship ran aground…on the island where Roderick and Madeline Usher live.

Mission: Find a way into Roderick’s room and look for family papers.

Mission: Explore the island. You all took ship to the island from Whitby, Yorkshire. A man also staying at your lodging and hearing of your destination, said “there are spirits and secrets outside that old house, and riches too from…pirates in the olden days.”

Mission: You are interested in shipwrecks. You heard about the wreck of the Grampus on this island late last year.

Mission: Explore the Ushers’ book collections. You know that the Ushers own many rare books, and you collect old books yourself and make a tidy sum trading and selling them.

Mission: Find what you can about the medicines Madeline is taking for her illness. Moms Ghost 1/2
Special thanks to my students and the actors in the role of Madeline! Back to grading...

Sunday, November 27, 2011

House of Usher: Motives & Missions for Online Roleplay

More Students at Nevermore  
Location: Ready for Final Exam

When you play a traditional MMO, there's killing stuff, roleplay, and "leveling up." So in educational roleplay, with only the middle element, how to motivate participants?

I would love to have the time to commission a HUD for Nevermore Island in Jokaydia Grid, but it was enough to get a House of Usher "up from the ashes" of the Second Life build in 10 months time. Students in my "Invented Worlds" course opting to do the take-home final begin exploring and interacting with Roderick and Madeline tomorrow.

When I last tried this with one of my classes in Second Life, I chose to give each student character a roleplaying goal, such as "find out if Roderick is giving Madeline any medicine" and a beta-test goal of evaluating some element of the 3D build.

This time, that last goal gets moved to the exam essay, due some days after trip to Nevermore. Meanwhile, I came up with an appropriately gamelike metaphor for each student: a motive, either  benevolent or even hostile to the Ushers, as well as a mission to discover or recover something from Nevermore.

This approach will be fun for me, in the role of Roderick, because I will assign said motives and missions randomly from two hats passed at the start of each session. Neither the actress playing Madeline nor I will know what each student gets, and I will not comment on them if asked. Moreover, I will encourage each student not to tell the one or two other students present in the lab, where all of us save Madeline will be for the expedition.

Were Linden Lab to cut tier drastically, and let me bring in an OAR file (my requisites for returning this work to Second Life) I could merge this pedagogical approach with one of the combat-system HUDs available in SL. Some include effects for drowning, fire, or falling.

I don't want the experience to turn into a violent game, but having a working pistol or sword about could add to the fun considerably. After all, folks die in Poe stories all the time, and student mistakes could then become fatal.  I'd also want to add some scripted non-player characters such as a hermit, a ghost, and perhaps a couple of hostile wolves in a remote corner of Nevermore Island. Those will wait for OpenSim to catch up with SL's technology. I'm excited by the promises Rod Humble has made about gaming feature coming to SL's default interface, but the cost for a robust sim-wide build are too steep.

After April 2012, I may have to decide again about grids. Reaction Grid has not updated its OpenSim software, and I want features available on newer grids such as reliable hypergridding. I'm hoping that Jokay and her customers can put some gentle pressure on Reaction Grid to make the move, as they seem more intent on support Jibe, a lovely 3D technology but beyond my coding-and-design skills at present. Please don't suggest I move to Jibe: given the weight this work gets in my annual evaluation, I'm not going to take time to learn new 3D apps. I get more credit for an article or new course than for any immersive 3D work, and that's unlikely to change.

Wherever the build goes, after this semester Nevermore will be open, by appointment, for groups or individuals who want to RP in Poe's setting.

Friday, November 18, 2011

James Howard Kunstler Talks Back to My Class

This week, in Duncan Crary's and James Howard Kunstler's weekly Kunstlercast, Jim responded to questions from my Eng. 216 "Invented Worlds" students about his novel World Made by Hand.

Jim Kunstler
Set in Washington County, New York several years after an economic collapse in America, the novel upended my students' notions of continual technological progress.

They cannot imagine a world where the screens go dark and stay dark, where chatting to friends involves talking over a fence, and where getting a meal means a trip to the garden or root-cellar.  While I tend to agree with them that Jim might underestimate human ingenuity in the face of a prolonged energy crisis or economic downturn, I likewise think my Millennial students and their Boomer and Xer parents are a bit naive about progress. They don't see clearly, or often enough, how every technological innovation brings with it unintended consequences, even as it fails to deliver every miracle we might expect (I'll shine your flying car if I'm wrong).

World Made By Hand and its sequel, The Witch of Hebron, are bracing speculative fiction, and I'm glad Jim found time, between gigs as far afield as Sweden and Australia, to be a gracious and receptive respondent.

The podcast can be found at iTunes podcast listing (search for "Kunstlercast") or from the Kunstlercast site.

Now, if the reader will excuse me, it's time to get some wood I split and fire up the wood-stove. I'm not kidding. For now, at least, blogging and wood-splitting exist side by side. In 20 years, I suspect our world is going to look more like Kunstler's and less like William Gibson's or even the banal utopia of the sofa-bound YouTube addict.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Jokaydia Grid Orientations for Nevermore

Student (L) and Roderick  
Location: Virtual House of Usher, Nevermore Island

Of seventeen students in my "Invented Worlds" course, fifteen opted for the "take-home exam," consisting of a one-hour orientation to OpenSim and then a ninety-minute "expedition" to the House of Usher on Nevermore Island.

Officially, it's my fifth time in a virtual world with a class, and only my second with an OpenSim derivative.   Time required to set this up? Twelve hours for setting up avatars and orientation, sixty for building and scripting in Jokaydia Grid since we left Second Life.

I'll just post a few pictures today, since no one was in-character as a participant in an 1847 adventure based on Poe's story. I was surprised, and pleasantly so, by the students' adeptness with level-one VW skills. Moving, finding and opening notecards, IMing and chatting were no barriers. I also showed them how to capture chat and take snapshots.

The orientation sessions also helped me add immersive elements to the simulation, such as invisible prims under the Tarn so avatars could not go diving in over their heads.  I also got ideas, watching over students' shoulders, where I should hide more clues and more atmospheric elements to the build.

Many thanks to Jokay Wollongong, who did a quick sim-restart and provided advice for this large group...not to mention a quick list of account names and passwords!  She's even working on a few accounts, individually, where student avatars would not rezz for other participants.

Group near graveyard
Though I kept wishing for some of Second Life's bells and whistles, I did at least see that in either virtual world, small-group orientations accomplish a great deal in one hour.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Hamlet's List: The Case for Stratifying It

Location: Head on Desk

Every month, Hamlet Au publicizes a list of Second Life's fifty most popular places. Here's the current one. The data come from Louis Platini's Metaverse Business site.

A commenter at Au's blog noted that segregating the list by maturity rating might give current and potential SLers a better idea of the platform's uses.  I's not censorship to sort the thing by rating or at least purpose.

Adult content, on the Zindra Continent and private estates, could be assessed with a click. So could education and arts (even if it's erotic art). So could roleplaying sims.

Concurrency at social sites of any rating tends to trump sites used sporadically by a group of avatars for, say, a business or academic meeting. Bowling Green State's virtual campus hosts up to 50 of us for a big meeting of VWER; the rest of the week, concurrency is probably far lower there.

Hamlet's list distorts what can be done in SL. Last month we did have Gerontology Ed Island among the dance-clubs and more salacious it seems to be all fun and games, of one sort or another.   I've not been to #7, "London City," so it may be a virtual version of the real thing.

As it is, the list hurts those new educators who might enter SL and embarrasses the rest of us. Au is the best known writer about Linden Lab's metaverse, so I'd hope he might change matters next month.

I imagined this scenario in a comment to Au. Here is is again.

Dean Wormwood: Thank you for coming in today, Professor Lag. I wanted to ask you about this Second World thing you use with classes.

Lag: Life, sir. Second Life.

Dean: Yes. Well, it's a lively life!

Dean shows Lag Hamlet's list

Lag raises trembling hand to forehead

Lag: Oh.

Dean: So, do you know what "bukkake" is?

Lag: type of in Second Life dedicated to Japanese culture.

Dean: Nice try. I Googled don't tell me "Gor" is a poorly designed site about the former Vice President.

Update, 8 October: Hat-tip to Hamlet for publishing a new post with PG-rated regions. Of course, many educational sims have Mature ratings because of disturbing content or museums that feature nudity.  But this is a good step!

Friday, October 28, 2011

Grid Hop for EDU: Fake Cthulhu Threatened by Fake Dog

Location: Many Places, Including Vassar University in Second Life

I was extremely excited to do the otherwise hum-drum work of checking links for a recent VWER transcript. We had a great session on 20 October, where more than 30 educators' avatars posted Web and SLURL links to good resources for educators new to virtual worlds.

The entire transcript can be read here.  Because of the proximity to Halloween, I was in my "Loremaster" outfit by Tekelili Tantalus (plus top hat).

I arrived at the Sistine Chapel at the same time as a group of what I suppose were undergrads doing a SL field-trip. All of the avatars were from the latest bunch of Linden Lab starters.

Immediately, a German Shepherd told me "Ignatius, I could beat you up."

What was I to say in reply? "You and what dog-sled team?" or "I will suck your aura, canine primitive creature, until you are a withered mindless husk, one with Azathoth as he howls at the center of all matter, where shapeless horrors dance to the music of eldritch flutes held in nameless paws?"

No. I settled for "Go ahead. I'm a pacifist."

And very tired, after all of that grid-hopping. But there is still a lot to see out there in Second Life. Read about it and click those links here.

Students! I'm glad someone is still bringing classes into SL. Mine are off to OpenSim in a few weeks.  No dogs allowed. For that matter, no dark gods who walk between the dimensions, serene and primal, undimensioned and to us unseen, allowed.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

October Roadtrip: Epic Fail for Billy Badass

Billy Badass Fails 4/4
Location: Gnashing Teeth on Wellington Road
Soundtrack: Dire Straits (oh, of friggin' course)

Thanks to the kind help of SeVeN VanDouser, I acquired not only a '67 GTO, but a Goat in the best color of all: Billy-badass black.

And, not surprisingly, Second Life's roads are not up to the talent of vehicle creators. On my last roadtrip, in my Mini Cooper S, I at least got through a dozen or more sims before it became ludicrous.

This time, I got through half as many. Ban-lines and regular sim-crossings made simple navigation into a hellish experience. I had to detach the car, run on foot to the next rezz-zone, and try again. I'm sorry, scenes like this one are beyond retarded. I know how to drive a SL car. Billy Badass Fails 1/4
Simply put: cars are decor in SL. Nothing more.

Perhaps Will Wright's presence on Linden Lab's board can fix this. Or perhaps it's simply unfixable. Pity. That Goat would be the perfect ride.

Linden Lab, you spent a lot of time making these roads. Now fix them so we can enjoy them at more than a crawl.

PS to owners of real classics: urinal-deodorant blocks are keeping mice out of the badass '68 truck that my wife owns as well as a '65 Mustang ragtop we'll have on the road by Spring. Hope springs eternal, just not on SL's roadways :(

Friday, October 21, 2011

Why Doesn't Linden Lab Send Out E-Mail Like This?

Location: Basking in Glory

Received from Tiny Speck, the creators of Glitch. Rod Humble, you should pay attention to these stoned madmen:

If knowledge is power, then, having just finished learning Animal Kinship II, you are filled with power. Tingling with power. Knowledge-infused power is radiating from you, like the smell of freshly roasted chicken radiates from, well, a freshly roasted chicken. Look at you! The Freshly Roasted Chicken of Knowledge-Power!

Here’s what you just learned, chook:

Advancing on the path of Animal Kinship introduces some additional rewards for the basic animal interactions, such as increasing the amount of meat piggies give when nibbled and the amount of milk butterflies give when milked.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Glitch: I'm Inside Their Thoughts

Glitch: Getting Started 
Location: Petting Trees

And learning to jump, put things in my backpack, and pet piggies who give me a steak--not pork, I presume--for being kind to them. I'm getting advice from something that looks like a floating potato emitting rays of light. It keeps reminding me it's my "familiar."

Glitch as to be the strangest little casual game I've ever found. It seems a creation of people who took a lot of mind-altering drugs while reading the fiction of H.P. Lovecraft. The look and feel reminds me of late, lamented Metaplace, but with more content ready made and a urge to explore.

Hmm...sounds like the promise of Second Life. It's a 2D game, but it runs in my browser smoother than silk.  All you need is Flash (sorry, iPad users).

Glitch: Spud Boy

The metaphors are clearly going to keep me playing Glitch.  It is an invented world focused on inventing a world so the inventors will grow. Yes, that makes about as much sense to me, too.

But it's not about sex or shooting things. I rather like the idea of massaging a butterfly and getting repaid with "butterfly milk" that has magical properties. The best soundtrack since that for Harry the Handsome Executive accompanies me as I trundle along.

Not much to report on this initial dispatch from Glitch, except I was laughing out loud as I finished the quick tutorial and began to explore my first destination.  The world seems to be made like Metaplace's; it's not contiguous like SL or an Open Sim grid, but regions light up when an avatar enters.

The game just went live on September 27. I followed Hamlet Au's breadcrumbs to the site, watched the trailer, and just had to give it a whirl.

There's something about being inside the thoughts of one of 11 "giants" who made this universe...ahem, cannot call them "gods" without offending those touchy about religion. So giants they are, right out of Lovecraft's fevered brain.
Glitch: Some of the 11 Giants 
So far I've not done much. I'm closing in, after 15 minutes of play, on Level 2, when I hope my little green man, Smoky Messerschmidt (I know, another hard-to-type avatar name) will begin to accrue enough in-world swag to trade it for a custom appearance.

Just like that other virtual world I've shed so much typing on over the years.

Update: It's not a grey potato. It's a pet rock.  And the trailer is so addictive I'm going to embed it right here from YouTube:

This thing must involve Metaplace alums.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Road Trip Attempt: Linden Lab, I Hate You

Location: Sim Crossing

You reek, LL. The perfect car, and at the first sim-border, I get this. Fix the damned physics.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Road Trip?

Iggy Gets His Goat 1/2  
Location: Looking at a car I would kill you to own

Pontiac GTO, 1967: the power and glory of a nation on a rocket sled. Men like young gods steer their street monsters into telephone poles, spewing testosterone and hubris. They want to be astronauts, but instead of Saturn V rockets they have Pontiacs.

My god, an SLer named SeVeN VanDouser made a '67 Goat that is worth my notice. IRL, I care for one classic vehicle (a hot-rod racing truck with some mice living in it) and I'd not want a real GTO until I had a better garage with climate control.

But in SL? Hell, yes. The '67 is The Machine That Must Be Worshipped.

Bring on the toys of the young gods.

Iggy Gets His Goat 2/2
So I guess I need to take roadtrip again, eh? Anyone care to visit the shop and get a car to race me?

Hint to classics owners: Urinal blocks keep the mice out, but your car smells like...a clean urinal. This, too, will never happen in SL.

Update: Next post will feature a road trip in the Goat. I also found out that, IRL, my Mini-Cooper S does a 0-60 time of 6.6 seconds, the same estimate as a stock '67 GTO with the 400 cubic-inch V8. As much as I love the Mini....the Goat still wins.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Burn 2: A Fool and His Spleen

<a href="">Koinup</a>  
Location: The Playa

Given Miso Susanowa's recommendation and nice machinma about this installation, I started with  Grail Quest by Trill Zapatero.

I clicked a face-down tarot card. As The Fool appeared, I read the following:

"If the fool would persist in his folly he would become wise." -William Blake

Well, with that intro, how could I resist?  Blake and being foolish are two of my favorite pastimes.

The installation is more introspective than I'd thought it might be, and certainly more interactive than many of the other installations I walked through after. It's worth a long look, if only to meditate upon the abundant follies that surround us and that we contain.

As I bumbled about, I came upon The Insolence of Nature, entered through a gate labeled "Where I dragged my weakness." The artwork focuses on a giant prostrate figure, collapsed into nature. Say, perhaps I have found the political messages of past Burns, after all.

At Mystical Tree (Black Rock sim, next to Grail Quest) I was back into introspection. I followed the journey up from my root chakra through to the seventh and final one, the crown Chakra, where I flew.  I had to stop and meditate, however, at my spleen; I've been told I'm full of it.

The heart chakra was a bit intense, with the deep breathing and the heartbeat. But I rather like that.

It may be my mood, given the turning of the year in this hemisphere to fall. Or it may be the times, where the most vital form of performance art is on Wall Street and other places where the other 99 per cent have given voice to some long-overdue rage.

This year, Burn2 seems smaller, less populated. But I cannot be certain. After all, it may just be my foolishness, and Blake reminds us that "a fool sees not the same tree that a wise man sees."

Friday, October 7, 2011

Burn2, 2011: Arrival

No truer words ever written  
Location: Hither and Thither on the Playa

A nasty allergy attack has limited my Burn2 time this week--only so much energy for grading a big stack of papers and other things. But today I got by for a get-acquainted look on my free blue bicycle.

I'll do a proper storyboard later in the weekend, after I really get around to see some art.

TV heads
Social messages seemed a little muted this year, but I've hardly begun my explorations. I do like a sign that reads "that humanity at large will ever be able to dispense with artificial paradises seems very unlikely."
Prim Memorial?
So I settled in for some fun. I met avatar Eleyn Zlatkes, and we wondered if an exhibit of prims were a type of memorial, now that mesh is on the scene.

Elyen Zlatkes Takes a Slide
Message, smessage! We decided it would be more fun to get dizzy on the big spiral in the display.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Goodbye Steve

Location: Mac keyboard

You were my favorite megalomaniac.

Robert X. Cringely said it best: If Bill Gates were George H.W. Bush, Steve was Saddam Hussein. He didn't want to be a rich country-club boy: he wanted to rule the f'ing world.

That I can respect.

They'll pull my Mac out of my cold, dead fingers. I'd give up my Springfield M1911A1 .45 caliber first. The Mac is far more dangerous.

God had better watch out. Or Satan. Either way, inside of six months, Steve, you will be running the place.

Don't forget all the PeeCee weenies I converted to use a superior OS, Steve, after your Second Coming. Be it heaven or hell, I want a job in the hereafter.

You were insanely great--love you or hate you, or both--you changed the world.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

While The World Burns, I Buy a Fedora

A New Hat
Location: Not at Burn 2

I know, I know. I need to go. I will go this week, if only as a break from grading papers and midterms.

Perhaps had I gotten my press pass I'd have been more anxious to go. I was all ready to put a little "press" ticket into my new hat.

Speaking of, I got in touch with my mesh self and wore a new mesh fedora to VWER, where we discussed the possible impact of SL's new technology on educators.

Several of us came by with mesh avatars or accessories. No one with an older viewer complained about my mesh hat. Maybe it was a sculpty and the guy just claimed it was mesh?

A log-in with Imprudence 1.23 confirms I got mesh. Perhaps my friends with other non-mesh viewers thought I was French and was wearing a boule instead of a hat.
Mesh hat...non mesh viewer

Looks like I'll wear my old hat to Burn 2. See you on the Playa!

Monday, September 26, 2011

Evolution of a Bald-Headed Freak

Iggy Evolution
Location: Flickr

I just could not resist this challenge by Harper Beresford to show what we've done to ourselves since rezzing way back when on Orientation Island. You can see the Flickr photostream of all the entries.

Fake me is the worst fashionista in the lot and was put to shame. Yay, me!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Mesh & Educators

Mesh Boy Takes a Tour
Location: SL with Mesh, OpenSim Without

The new meshes for SL, in some quarters, get depicted as the savior of the virtual world.

Um, okay. That's worth its own post...I don't know that Linden Lab will see tens of thousands of new and tier-paying users just because their world looks better. But educators, busy with so many other things related to their teaching, may not even know what the fuss is all about.

So here are a few premises for those new to Mesh, before I moderate next week's VWER meeting, entitled "Mesh In SL & Education: Boon? Bomb? No Big Deal?":
  • We've always had a mesh system in SL. The new one simply provides more realism such as clothes that move with the avatar better and, mostly, fit well
  • The new system requires a new viewer and, for developers, new out-of-world tools for making 3D content
  • Gradually, viewers based on the 1.23 code will not be worth using, as Mesh content will be invisible. I saw this last week at VWER, where an early-adopter's mesh cat avatar remained invisible, except for her sculpted head and tail
  • Prims, sculpted or Euclidean, won't vanish. Nor will our clothing layers, unless there's another nekkid-avatar bug like those in the early SL Viewer 2 code
  • SL Viewer 3 is not the only option. Thank God. I'm biased against the Linden product after the lag-fest I've had with Viewer 2. I downloaded the Firestorm Viewer 3 Beta, and it permits seeing the new meshes
  • Overall lag with the new viewers remain to be seen; I need to test Firestorm against the crowd we get at VWER.
Now for a short editorial. I just finished more building in Jokaydia Grid, using in-world tools and Photoshop. With Mesh, however, I cannot do collaborative builds in-world with a team, and acquiring the skills-set for the new content isn't worth my professional time. In this pic, I used a cylindrical prim to put a rotten corpse into a tomb, the sort of thing that could look downright terrifying with the new meshes.
A Rotten Discovery
But I doubt that my students will spend more than 30 seconds at this particular spot. What price in time and energy to take the next step to more immersion?

My evaluators could care less about mesh, and to be fair, why should they? For assessing educational outcomes, they don't need to know a sculpted prim from a Slim Jim. My colleagues working in virtual worlds will need to ask themselves some hard questions, unless they work at a school where students have the skills to create items using the new meshes.

    Tuesday, September 13, 2011

    Another Usher Ghost

    Another spirit!  
    Location: Nevermore Sim, Wandering

    I hope that by the time I'm done, this island and House will feature about a dozen apparitions. I've yet to figure out what the couple of malicious ones might do.  Ideas are welcome!

    Mostly, the helpful spirits will provide a clue or a warning.  Here's the latest one, just after Roderick rezzed her for the first time.

    Wednesday, September 7, 2011

    Good Educational Sites In SL, 2011 Roundup

    Location: VWER meeting

    image at Flickr by Grizzla

    Readers new to virtual worlds for education, or perhaps looking for new places to go alone or with students, should have a look at the transcript posted from a large group of educators at the VWER meeting of August 25.

    It's doubly useful in how I aggregated recommended sites, by academic field, at the start of the transcript.

    My sense is that while schools are generally downsizing their SL presence and educators are moving some work to OpenSim, much great SL content remains.  In fact, I'd hazard a guess about why the Reaction Grid region for the 1939 World's Fair appeared.  It's one of the few well known quality builds outside SL for educators.

    I'm hoping that in comments to this post (and the post at VWER) readers can suggest other sites, particularly those outside SL. Ener Hax will, I hope, discuss what is going on at I Live in Science Land, and we'll get other non-SL updates useful for "back to school" planning for sites such as Heritage Key, where I've not been in some time.

    Friday, September 2, 2011

    New Pair of Shoes

    Jeepers Expedition 4  
    Location: Jeepers Shoe Store

    Surrounded by well dressed female avatars at the recent VWER meeting, I realized that my shoes are SO 2007.  All of the guys were getting some much-needed ribbing about our lack of fashion sense.

    Educators--especially we guys--are not known in-world as fashion plates. So after a scolding by the ladies, for whom shoe-shopping is apparently a big deal in SL, I used the revised (and useful) search feature in Firestorm, my choice for a Viewer-2 compatible SL experience. I'm making an effort IRL to dress up more on campus, so why not in SL? Baby needs a pair of shoes!

    Jeepers Expedition 1
    Pretty close to a favorite RL pair of Sketchers boots I love

    Without turning this blog into the skid-row version of Iris Ophelia's dispatches, I'll add that I enjoyed the experience of buying shoes in world. I love shoes IRL and buy nice ones, so I'm not a typical male shopper. I look for certain European-style dress shoes or tough-guy boots, in both SL and RL. In those regards, Jeepers Shoes (teleport link) does not disappoint.

    I was particularly amused by the unique way the shop handles demos...a rock chained to the shoe.
    Jeepers Expedition 3
    Given that my suit worn in these shots, a "Madison Avenue" discussed in an earlier post, comes from a creator who has left SL, I felt that I was doing my bit to support the in-world economy by laying down 500L for two nicely made pairs of shoes.

    Jeepers Expedition 2
    Now if I can only get the shoe-saleswoman-bot to give me a foot massage!
    My shopping won't save SL, but it saves my pride.