Saturday, November 28, 2009

What's next for Second Life?

Since I have spend a bit of time now in Second Life, I have started to wonder if it will stand the test of time. The move the company made towards the Enterprise version (at such a high dollar) along with Shamar's post about the possibility of law suits for visiting someone else's creation (or filming while there) makes me question what the future will hold for this particular platform. I believe there is a lot that it is flexible and provides a platform to illustrate different concepts and even for a novice like myself it has been fairly usable. While there are still advances being made and some companies creating new tools like this new 3D software for graph illustrations (BrainBoard - picture right), other areas seem to be closing down. I have found myself in some Islands that were pretty vacant that looked like they used to contain merchandise or some other form of activity. One article I found (picture below) seem to feel that second life needs to find a new life. I think that this critique comes from people who don't see much use for walking around trying to buy stuff and maybe "talking to weirdo's". Another hit for Second Life comes from Australia where a major internet provider who had given unmetered access to Second Life to its customers has decided to pull the plug and also to take down their BigPond Island because after 2 years the company's "focus has moved to other social media opportunities". I can completely agree that from a social networking standpoint, Second Life doesn't quite make it. It is too slow, too expensive, and is really awkward, that along with all the materialism it makes me a little crazy. However, this doesn't discount the fact that there are huge opportunities from an academic point of view for lectures, meetings, conferences, and for illustrating abstract concepts. This class and others interested in using the medium to convey ideas will determine if Second Life succeeds or fails; not the number of shoes or outfits that I buy.

Monday, November 23, 2009

EFF Lawyer Says Second Life Copyright Issues "In Some Ways Worse" Than Real Life

Over the past few weeks, I've been experimenting with how the content of Second Life can be used to create Machinima videos and also brought into Isadora to create content for projections. As I played around with the possibilities, I began to become very interested in zooming in on objects to create abstract images of flowing color. I realized a swaying bush could become beautiful abstract swirling greens and have no resemblance to a bush at all. I thought to myself, "Wow, what a great way to collect abstract footage to mix with real world footage". I was reminded of the abstract film pieces of Stan Brackage. So, Second Life, more than presenting opportunities for filming virtual spaces that represent real life, has unlimited abstract potential, if areas are filmed from an angle of distortion. Or, for example, if a moving character is brought into Isadora and connected to a time-blur and color filter, then the content can change tremendously!

I got really excited about all of this and even about the possibilities of making straight on Machinima videos with little abstraction. But, then I started to wonder about copyright. Did individuals who created the trees have a copyright on their trees? Would Linden Labs have some rights to everything I would make within their virtual landscape? What if I abstracted the content to such a potential that it could not be recognized? Could I be sued for filming an avatar without his/hers/its consent if its name appears above its head and the shot is included on a short machinima film that is uploaded to YouTube, receives 200 million hits and shoots me to superstardom? Ok, just kidding! But, you know what I mean.

I did a quick google search and came across this article: EFF Lawyer Says Second Life Copyright Issues "In Some Ways Worse" Than Real Life

Here's the meat of the article:
"Second Life in some ways is worse than real life. That's because users retain the underlying intellectual property rights to their SL creations. And after all, as Fred pointed out, you can walk down the street in real life without worrying that the textures in the sidewalk are copyrighted. "In Second Life these are gray interesting mysteries" around the law, he added. Something worth considering for people who publish screenshots or machinima extracted from SL. It's been argued that if you run a photo of a Second Life street, you don't really need to get the permission from the creator of every single item in the frame, just as you don't need to do so when you take a photo of a New York City street. However, that assumption has not yet been tested in court. As Von Lohmann added, most of the Second Life community is unlikely to be aggressively litigious. But if Second Life continues growing, I believe that sense of good faith won't always hold."

So, after reading this, I began to have second thoughts about using Second Life for content creation. Why would I want to put all of that time an energy into learning how to use it, or film scenes and edit them, etc., if ,down the road someone could tell me that it is not really my content at all, but belongs to ten other individuals, one of whom would like to sue me?

The article did state that "the Second Life community is unlikely to be aggressively litigious. But if Second Life continues growing, I believe that sense of good faith won't always hold". And, that's what I'm worried about. Any thoughts?

Channel Surfing

As an alternative to cable TV, users of the website can look under the category of television to see programs from around the world. The opening page has four different types of searches available.

Sunday, November 22, 2009


I already posted my comments regarding my movie making experience when I saw an interview with John Cameron regarding his new movie Avatar which comes out this December. This seemed to tie in for a number of reasons, namely the topic of the movie as well as John Cameron's ability to create great work. Even though his interest in virtual worlds and ours may be different, I am sure we can all be inspired by his vision, his talent, and his work ethic.

My Machinima Experience

I had hoped to be ready to share my machinima by now, but what I can share is some of my experience with this process. First of all, I am disappointed in the information from the SL Wiki on Machinimas. They list "machinima friendly sims", locations where filming is allowed. I tried almost every one of them and only one allowed you to create a film path, and even that one deletes anything you create in 5 minutes. Also, I did not find very many free tools for Mac for filming. I ended up purchasing iShowU HD which is extremely user friendly, but if you are running that and SL you have to stop every few minutes or the animation in SL will stop being able to Rez. Also, as all of you know by now, there is a great deal of time involved in editing. I am using iMovie'08 which is quite easy and I've used it once before. Overall I'm relatively pleased with how my machinima is turning out, (but I have to admit, I'm not a perfectionist). Probably the most frustrating thing of this entire process has been the inordinate amount of time I had to spend "creating sets" for my movie I cannot even tell how many hours that has taken and the finish product by no means looks like it took so long! Hopefully I'll have time to also complete some of the functional aspects of my second life project so that it is a better teaching tool rather than just a stage. It has been an interesting project so far.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Becoming Cyborg

In the reading of Frank Biocca's The Cyborg's Dilemma I found myself thinking a lot about how embodied we have become in virtual worlds. The whole theses of the Cyborg's Dilemma is that as interfaces and means of engaging with computer or with people via computers becomes more "natural" the human interfaces become the more "unnatural" we become as we enter into another state of being (in essence). I think I would also add that in doing so we re-define what "natural" is. (An interesting article on this) How many of us have seen a couple in love holding hands but talking on their cell phones to someone else. Also, how common is it to see a group of students sitting at table but everyone is engaged with their cell phones communicating with someone else. This is not "natural" the more natural thing would be to pay attention to and talk with the person whose company we are keeping. I know that communicating via email and text or even through social networking sites is convenient and seems like from a physical point of view a fairly natural means of engaging with the electronic medium, but it has change the normal for what it means to interact and spend time with someone. It is a dilemma.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

I Needed This In Boston

Using either an EDGE or 3G signal, this new app for iPhones can allow users to start their car remotely, and operate other functions. This means that it will work with both an iPhone and/or an iPod Touch. I needed this when I lived in Boston, because in the depths of the long winter, it would have been very convenient to have the car warming up before getting into it on the morning commute! The company, Directed Electronics, charges $499 for installation of their Viper SmartStart System, or $299 if installed in a vehicle which already has the Viper alarm system. The technology can also be used for triggering many other functions in tech projects, and it would be interesting to develop a game or musical instrument with remote capibilities.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Online Resources For Creativity

One of the only places on the web that I know of to provide public access to free video editing tools is a relatively new website called One True Media. It offers other services as well, without the need to purchase expensive editing software. I believe this falls into the category of Cloud Computing, a precept of which is that the public can work on projects using technology without having to own or update the software. I favor this idea as I am not a big fan of upgrades.

Another interesting site is called Aviary. It is a suite of graphics tools much the the pricey Adobe software, but also includes the ability to save your files on their server. This was extremely useful this summer when I was teaching at a tech camp for migrant teens which was under the auspices of the School Board and the Alachua Multi-county Migrant Program. Many, if not most, of these kids did not have access to a computer at home, but could create their designs for tee shirts and save them to the website. Now that the camp is over, they can still access their work online at any public library. This is an important solution in the struggle to address what is known as the Digital Divide.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Second Life Enterprise

Last Wednesday, Linden Labs releasing an enterprise version of Second life that allows a company to have the database on their own server and behind their firewall. This seems like a smart move for companies and I wonder if they may have a little more control on the speed and workflow within their own "enterprise" world within second life.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Phantom touch, our CYBORGIAN present

As some of you know, our DW team is working on the implementation of a haptic device driven by brain waves in collaboration with the Neuroprosthetic Research Group under the direction of Dr. Justin Sanchez. Their goal is to develop novel BIONIC medical treatments This has many applications, primarily for disabled people that have lost limbs or are paralyzed.

This is a graphic I made for Dr.Sanchez. Check out his presentation Co-Evolution of Man and Machine: Neuroprosthetics in the 21st Century.

This is a particular area of interest to me since I started experimenting with cursor control via electrical body feedback in the early nineties although my focus was more as a game designer, which is what I was doing at the time.

Here are some pics of my biofeedback contraption. I built my own "electrodes" which connected to the battery snaps at the back, but I could not find them for this post. Of course all of this can now be done with a cheap microprocessor with a much better clock rate. I remember spending a few hundred dollars thinking that gamers would be interested in such input device, but, alas, it was not so. True, it took a lot of training and effort to move the darn cursor, but it worked, lazy bastards!

Old 37 pin PC-Lab 750 parallel card built on a prototyping board by Advantec

If I was doing this by myself again I would probably use a parallel processor like the Propeller by Parallax which would be quite enough to achieve a much better result for a fraction of the cost and would be a lot of fun, anybody?.

Here is another approach well implemented by those cool Norwegians. Thanks to Master New Media Designer extraordinaire Virgil Wong for the link.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Data and Design

In answer to Edward's previous post, another useful website to know about is called Many Eyes.
It allows users to try out various types of graphic representations of data sets, either their own or sets provided. I thought the graph of football quarterback's salaries on page two was interesting, because what people choose to focus on is telling.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Short Paper

This link is for my Short paper on VR in education and research. I have never tried this process but I uploaded the paper into Google Docs and saved is as a shared document and then recorded the link. Please let me know if you are unable to view the paper.

I found this process of reading several papers interesting as I was focused on efficacy (for my own research project). The conclusion that I came to is that there is plenty of evidence showing the efficacy of VR and AR in education and that one of the main roadblocks towards greater utilization of VR in education is that we don't know what we need, let alone what we want. Otherwise, we might just find that we succeed.


Why MMOG? Why Not?

I have to admit that before this class and this reading on MMOG. That I hadn’t given much thought to MMOG. I personally have never participated in any of the games mentioned although through the years I’ve known many people who have. Probably, the most interesting to me in the historical narrative of the development of online gaming was the information about how politics has influenced the development of the games. I find it fascinating that part of the reason that Korea has lead the way with games such as Legacy was that rather than importing other commercial gaming systems from Japan (which was not allowed post WWII the country focused their attention on broadband. That one difference made a huge impact in their country being successful in the online gaming business. The other fascinating thing to me that was pointed out in the article was that the way the different cultures interface with MMOG is different. For more communal societies, the users gravitate towards game that better reflect the society they know.

In the second set of reading I was asking myself “what is the purpose of the game?" Gaming is such big business and has been extremely successful, but why? The reading cleared this up for me a bit because the developers are asking the same question. What is it about these games that draws people in? Is it the fight or the social interactions or some combination of both? What method of payment works best? What Leveling up method keeps people interested? I think the development community knows that the social interactions and some sort of goal are key but they cannot have a free reign society because the survival of the fittest mentality tends to take out all the new players too quickly (which isn't good for business or for social satisfaction).

I think we'll have to stay tuned to see where this goes. As to the satisfaction of "why they are popular" I found an interesting article on The Psychology of MMORPG. In this article the author conducted an online survey for 3 years from 2000-2003 of users who played EverQuest, Dark Age of Camelot, Ultima Online and Star Wars Galaxies. They had anywhere from 2000 to 4000 responders for each survey they posted. Many of the questions were related to social interactions both in real life and in the game. One static that really caught me was that of women gamers 59.8% participated in the game with a romantic partner and 39.5% of female responders participated with a family member. There were also many other interesting statistics about friendships within the game. It seems to me, that at least for women, the huge draw is the social interactions that can be had, in some ways, much more easily in the game than in reality. Maybe the MMOG has taken the place of the Tupperware party. Time will tell if it is a passing trend or is here to stay.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Games with a Purpose or GWAP's

How many tags?

Tagging has become one of the most invisible but significant elements of digital media. Although it is not immediately apparent, when we search on the web, in our own folders or in the public library, we depend 100% on tags and their accuracy to find what we are looking for.

A tag can be described as a non-hierarchical keyword which can identify a piece of information. In this respect it can be considered metadata, since it is information about information.

Now, tags are usually keywords chosen by someone to describe a particular aspect of that information. In the case of an image for example, tags would vary greatly depending on who "tags" the picture. Since this is not a very reliable way to describe anything, various tools have evolved that attempt to remedy this situation by applying crowdsourcing to solve this problem.

Delicious is one example where each individual tags a particular site with as many keywords that might bring it up again in a future search. We all know how easy it was to completely lose sight of a great site among our bookmarks simply because we forgot either how we named the bookmark or the name of the site itself which can be pretty cryptic anyway, no to mention the fact that before Delicious, bookmarks resided in our computer so we could not access them if we were away from it. So now our bookmarks, that old term, reside in the cloud, for everyone to access.

Google, whose main purpose is to make information accessible to everyone (some might disagree), has developed sophisticated algorithms to classify and tag all the information available on the internet and the cloud. However, tagging and classifying images, videos and music has proven to be specially difficult, because of the same problem we face when we ourselves attempt a description.

So what is the solution? depends on the users of course, to do the dirty work. Google Image Labeler is one such tool that has proven very effective. It's simple, fun, game-like minimal interface allows you and a random partner to label images with ever more complex tags, and it gives you "points" depending on the complexity or precision of the label. For any label to work, both you and your partner must submit the same keyword or descriptive phrase.

This idea was originally proposed by Carnegie Mellon's Luis von Ahn, who also developed the infamous and ubiquitous captchas. Originally called the ESP game, which is when I first played it some years ago, it was subsequently licensed by Google. One important difference is that now, if the picture that is presented to you has been tagged before, all those tags are now off-limits, so you have to come up with new ones. This was in response to the fear that tags would become very generic since it is easier to agree on an obvious word, like bird, instead of for example agree on the specific species name.

I have for a long time been intrigued by how we, humans, have suddenly, as the tools became available, become busy bees tagging, describing, sharing information, even as trivial as to what we are doing at the moment, where we are, what we ate etc. (Twitter and FB being the best examples.) My own weird take on it, is that this is the way the "system", the cloud or the emerging consciousness of our information age, gathers all the necessary bits and pieces to achieve the critical mass or the tipping point in order to wake up. A few years ago this thought was simply part of the SF literature. Today is is just a waiting game.

And please, while you wait, tag your posts!