Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Finale for Usher & Teaching in Virtual Worlds?

Location: Virtual House of Usher

Is it to be "that's all, folks," in the immortal words of Porky Pig?  In twenty minutes, I start what may be my last-ever work with students inside a virtual world.

We'll see what the future brings, but for now, I'm betting on the Pig. Here's the final scoreboard from the students. Three students not only found eggs but solved the quest therein. Nicely done, Gunters!  Divij in particular came on strong with his work to lift the curse from his "bad egg."

Monday, April 22, 2013

What Happens When You Listen to Students' Requests About SL

Location: Dead

They wanted a combat system and "consequences" at the House of Usher.

And they got me killed. For THEIR final exams!

The dog did it. The students' avatars toast my demise with Absinthe.

Usher Egg-Hunt Finale

Location: Very Close to Egg #5

No one found that clue, but otherwise, we have winners and a new scoreboard.  I am mystified that none of the quests in the five eggs that were located have been done.

As for the online egg-hunt. The Haikus came in with ferocity, and all of them followed the 5-7-5 rhythm for the poems. All of them were very creative and made me laugh, so all our haiku writers got an extra point.

For the cheesiest line in Ready Player One, Beaumont wins for this one:
"Some time later, she leaned over and kissed me. It felt just like all those songs and poems promised it would." (Cline 372) 
I suppose Cline was being ironic, and Wade is a horny teenaged boy who has really fallen hard for Art3mis. But that cheese-factor here earns five wedges of Gorgonzola. 

Both Leah and Rayna submitted interesting analyses of Poe's descriptive language, in comments both interesting and economical. I do like the sense of decline and decay that Leah sniffs out:
The mood of the house of the fall of usher is definitely a mood of suspenseful caveat. From the beginning of the stories description of the house being decrepit, just barely holding itself together, the story is being set up for the house to crumble. Also the fact that the story begins with Roderick in a similar state as the house (mentally and physically) from the start, the reader knows that Roderick is unstable, and that he’s going to go over the edge at some point in time during the story, we just don’t know exactly when. Also the story of the dragon at the end is a definite give-away of the suspenseful nature of this story. As he reads the book, all of the actions and sounds from the story play out, but slowly. First he hears a sound, but he’s unsure if he made it up or not, then the situation escalates to Roderick speaking to himself and the door being banged down, and then Madelyn finally coming in. these are all very suspenseful parts of a very suspenseful tail, and the warning in the story is unclear, but I feel that it is definitely foreboding of something.
Good job, Gunters. Now on to my swan-song teaching with Second Life's simulation of Usher, for the foreseeable future. Traditional papers are a lot less work, but not nearly as fun.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Online Easter-Eggs for Usher Finals

Location: Place where brains get wracked

Score updates are shown. If you have gotten an egg, it's time to e-mail me the solutions to the riddles they contain. I'll bestow a key icon (like those in Ready Player One) beside your scores above once you have reached that point. Divij, this can be your Art3mis moment--get me that Pet-Peeve violation and you'll vault upward and bask in the glory of a key beside your name.

Now on to NEW clues!

I am having a devil of a time coming up with more riddles, tasks, and such for the Virtual House of Usher Final Exams.  But three ideas struck me as interesting, given the tales we have read and and simulation itself. So here we go. You students must reply in the comments section with your answer.

My judgement will be subjective and as capricious as the contents of Roderick Usher's addled mind. Each of these could earn you one extra point.  Here we go: you tasks, Gunters! Be sure you are logged in with your Google account to reply, or at least put your name into the answer.

  1. Poe was a master of descriptive language. I want you to re-read "The Fall of the House of Usher" and in a comment of NO MORE THAN 300 words (no easy task!) make the best argument you can for the mood of the story, using the adjectives--and no other parts of speech--that Poe employs. +1 point to winner (not your team). If you win, I'll give you a hint about Usher.
  2. Our classmate Carly (now basking in one extra point) called Ready Player One  "cheesy." That is, itself, a fine adjective of its own. So let's have fun with Cline's book. He's a geek like me and can take the abuse. We will have a contest to find the cheesiest sentence in his entire novel. Post your nominations in the comments. Keep in mind that it must be a serious and not ironic sentence. You must do research, but as Wade reminds us (in a sentence that is not at all cheesy) research is easy if  you have no life. +1 point to finder (not your team). If you win, I'll give you a hint about Usher.
  3. There have been speculations since the time of Poe's death about his abuse of the opiate Laudanum. We have some clues about it in the House of Usher, in fact.  I don't know that Poe ever drank Absinthe, but we put a tray of the drink in the House, too. Your task: write a haiku (using formal haiku form) in honor of either drink. +1 point to finder (not your team). If you win, I'll give you a hint about Usher. If you manage to Google and steal someone else's haiku, AND I find out, you'll lose your point...and one more!
Note well: all Gunters who want credit for any of these three tasks must  turn in their comment to this blog by MIDNIGHT Sunday. Cue the fiendish laughter.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Usher Scoreboard Update #2

All is not glum for Divij. He must do the following and he'll easily vault back up the scoreboard:

His quest: +2 points if you can violate a dozen of Dr. Essid’s Pet Peeves in no more than 6 sentences. The paragraph must follow the last paragraph about Sir Ethelred did The Fall of the House of Usher. Show it to Dr. Essid before you visit Roderick and Madeline. If you read your paragraph to Roderick Usher when you are alone with him, he’ll reveal a secret to you and and only you.

Usher Scoreboard Update #1

Two More Hidden Clues for the Egg Hunters

Location: Undisclosed

Here are two final clues for the FYS 100 students' hunts. Since the House of Usher is full of clues (see image above), it is fun to hide a few in the physical world.  Rumors abound that two of yesterday's eggs have been found. I will post a score-board here as soon as I hear back from the lucky "Gunters."

Note that over the weekend, I'll have more posted that will not involve a physical egg but a hunt through the work of Ernest Cline and Edgar Allan Poe.

Clue #5: “Begin at an arcade you should know well by now. You will see us, since George did not chop us down. A week or two ago, we were in the fullness of our springtime beauty. Now we are like the others, except that one of us hides an egg.”

Clue #6: “What’s in my pocket? Everyone asks me but I never answer them. But if you follow my nose to the center, then turn right and think about Christmas greenery mentioned in a carol, you might find a clue!”

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Let the House of Usher "Egg" Hunt Begin!

Location: Undisclosed Location

For the House of Usher simulation, we've always included clues in the virtual House itself. Now for what may be the finale for the project, at least in my courses, I've put some real-life clues here and there on our campus. I suppose this is what game-theorists call (awkwardly) "gamification" in classes.

Students will hunt campus for the clues, the first four of which appear here. If they find a light bulb they get a point and a quest that will help them in the Usher simulation.

Even before we read Ernest Cline's light-hearted cyberpunk (that's not a typo) novel Ready Player One, I was calling them "Easter Eggs," in honor of the little gifts that coders leave in games.

In Cline's novel, those seeking the eggs became "Gunters." Alas, the craft store was all out of plastic eggs. They had little containers shaped like plastic light-bulbs for the clues, an appropriate metaphor.

Here are the first four clues, Gunters!

  1. “Above the Court of the Five Lions, and in a place of honors, there is an egg with a song to awaken the dead”
  2. “Climb many stairs to go to a room of Gargoyles. A treasure is there and a magical word”
  3. “In the Jungle, the mighty jungle....” If you can finish this sentence, you may well find an egg to help you on your quest.
  4. “Do not go here to kiss, the legend says, unless you intend to marry him or her. Look carefully, and below the surface for the egg.”

More on the way! Happy Hunting!

Big Bad Wolf and a Pesky Bat: Enhancing Usher

Location: Usher Crypt, looking for Milk-Bones and saying "Nice doggy!"

One thing was clear in Fall, 2011, when I last ran the House of Usher simulation in OpenSim: students wanted more danger.  That means injury and death, things very much in keeping with Poe's tales. The more macabre and premature one's demise, the better!

Second Life content creators have made a number of combat systems that can maim or kill avtars, but I chose Spellfire precisely so I could use some scripted animals from a content creator named "Restless Swords." This animals can also do Gorean-Meter damage, and though that system is simpler than Spellfire, which includes the need for avatars to sleep and eat, I cannot use anything "Gorean" on a university machine, period.

I went to visit Restless (teleport to his shop by the link here) as both Iggy and Roderick to buy some creatures. After some outstandingly prompt service from Restless to get the current updates for the scripted animals, Usher has a wolf wandering the crypts and a bat in the attic.

We'll see what our actors and student avatars do now. There's one weapon in the House, and they'll have to solve some riddles to get access to it, if they wish to defend themselves.

Monday, April 15, 2013

SLers and Paying Attention to Updates

Location: SL Marketplace

As I prepare my swan-song teaching in SL (at least for the foreseeable future) I made some changes to the setting and dangers of the virtual House of Usher.

My last students to use it, in 2011, wanted some real chances of mayhem. I've obliged by adding a roleplayer's HUD to all of the premade avatars, and I set out to spend a few thousand Linden Dollars to add some traps, tricks, and mayhem.

The problem has been that items from Marketplace I ordered have not been delivered. Repeatedly. I think I know why.

Linden Lab recently updated its system for merchants, so they do not use a "Magic Box" server in-world, a remant of the time when the Lab purchased the retailers XstreetSL and Onrez. Now merchants who have read the notices use a direct delivery method. Note those words "who have read the notices" from Linden Lab.

Debates about Marketplace or the coming of direct delivery killing in-world real estate rage, but my concern is elsewhere. Never before have I had a Marketplace delivery to me fail.


Now both items I've purchased for the Usher avatars failed. I'm guessing that the creators have them in a Magic Box that is now useless.  How many other hundreds of small merchants, no longer active in SL, have had this occur because they were not paying any heed?

I'll send the Usher avatars shopping in-world to buy what they need, but the situation brings up a larger question. With the approach of server-side baking what will happen to tens of thousands of SL users who did not get the rather obscure blog post by the Lab, some time back? Firestorm's team has warned us to be ready. Linden Lab, however, has been all wine and roses and one blog post.

Yet even with Firestorm's good advice, I would hazard a guess that many of us don't read the text on our log-in screens.

If what I see at Marketplace, among folks who could be making money, is any indicator, hold onto your prim hats.

Chaos is coming to a metaverse near you. Wait for it.

Friday, April 5, 2013

How Customer Service Should Work: Help from eBay

Location: Boxing up stuff to ship

As a "power seller" at eBay (over 200 auctions in the last year) anything that slows down the process of listing an item means a cascading loss of time.

The company recently revised its photo uploader, so it became impossible to edit a listing while the photos uploaded. Normally that poses no problem, but 2 minutes lost during each of 10 listings means 20 minutes lost.

I asked eBay to change their uploader back to the old system, and very quickly--less than a month--I got this reply from the firm:

Dear sellers,

In response to your feedback to able to edit listing in the background, we just rolled out an enhancement to address that. So now you will able to work on your listing while waiting for photo upload.

I strongly encourage you to test out and let me know your thoughts.

Thank you for your support!

For the sake of conversation, let's compare that sort of feature request to, say, Linden Lab's turnaround time for a problem.  Moral? Listen to your customers.