The SLENZ Update – No 20, October 30, 2008

From the top of my head!


It might be simplistic but it appears to me that Virtual Worlds, although attracting a claimed 160 million users around the world, need someone to recreate something like the virtual world equivalent of Tim Berners-Lee (Pictured -From Wikipedia) and Robert Cailliau’s 1990 WorldWideWeb browser for multi-user virtual environments to really take off.

I have an eerie sense of déjà vu when I look at Virtual Worlds today  and I think of the time when full text-database retrieval systems were taking off in the early 1980s and the dead-end pre-Web application, Videotex, was being promoted in competition with them.

There is no doubt that Videotex, developed to download data within the blanking interval on a television screen, but later used for online share trading and news services among other things, was easy to use with a box and a TV set but no one really had any idea how to make comprehensive text pages attractive and easy-to-use by everyman and woman, until the WorldWideWeb came along.

This was despite the fact that scads were spent around the world on travel, conferences, promotions and fact-finding for both online text retrieval and Videotex and other  retrieval systems.

The WorldWideWeb gave the world the information revolution it needed. It had a graphical user interface (GUI) but it could not display web pages with embedded graphics until the creation of NCSA Mosaic 2.0  by Marc Andreessen and Jamie Zawinski. NCSA Mosaic for Microsoft Windows, the Macintosh, and the Unix X Window System, enabled the average person to use the web.

I believe that MUVEs are currently in the same space that the Web was before Berners-Lee created his prototype. Today there is a need for an “universal VW browser and teleportation pad” to make sense of all the worlds and to link them all – or the majority of them – transparently, as Berners-Lee linked the pages on the web.

In education MUVEs could provide an enlightening learning environment for distance students but in countries like New Zealand this is problematic  because of  the lack of a generic  VW “browser”, bandwidth problems, inconsistent broadband line speeds that are often  little more than dial-up speeds  and spurious line speed claims and promotions by the two major ISPs -TelstraClear and Telecom – who have failed to keep up with the rest of the developed world although charging like wounded bulls for bandwidth usage (I believe because of their tardiness similar problems will face those who want to endulge in “cloud” computing in the New Zealand environment).

New Zealand’s ability to move into the 21st Century of Virtual Worlds  will probably be compromised until either the Kiwi telecommunications providers lift their game – or the Government takes over their game from them – and/or  a major part of any Virtual World content is able to  be held on the user’s desktop as it currently is on some of the more popular MMORPGs, which already provide  a better experience than most online virtual worlds.

Another solution could be provided by  the advent of Kiwi or other OpenSims and  the development of the ability to teleport with assets between virtual worlds,  the possibility of which has been demonstrated by Zha Ewry of IBM and Second Life

If trans world teleportation can be mastered one could  enter virtual world’s like Second Life or Twinity or Entropia to socialise with the world and  then via an inworld teleport point move backwards and forwards between your own inexpensive OpenSim “home” and the VW: it would be a “home” where you could do the same things one does in commercial virtual worlds and it would be home where you could invite guests at little cost.

SL not only English

Peak concurrent users of SL

Residents from non-English speaking nations make up almost 40 percent  of Second Life’s users, according to the latest metrics made available  by Linden Labs (http://secondlife.com/whatis/economy_stats.php).

The United States with almost 14 million residents or 40.13 percent, however, still makes up the bulk of residents, with Germany in second place a long way behind with 3.5 million users or 9.99 percent.

The United Kingdom has 2.3 million holds thrid place with 6.82 percent ahead of Japan, 6.1 percent, and France, 4.9 percent. Brazil, Canada, Netherlands and Italy each have well over a million users.

Australia is still in 11th place with 694,580 users or 2.01 percent.

Interestingly males have moved to the forefront of user hours, accounting for almost 60 percent of the time spent in SL.
On the age front the over 35s account for 48 percent of the usage hours and the 24-35 age group for almost 35 percent.

Total hours in SL

SL in our backyard?

Although it might not help Kiwi’s frame rates, access speeds or lag problems given  the paucity of our overseas internet pipes to Asia it appears we are about to get two Virtual World server farms almost in our backyard.

Second Life’s  Linden Lab has announced plans to locate servers in Singapore within the next six months in what might be seen as a ploy to upstage that other virtual world, the new Berlin-based  Twinity Beta,  which has also announced plans for a server farm in Singapore (http://www.straitstimes.com/Breaking%2BNews/Singapore/Story/STIStory_294972.html

Meanwhile Metaversum‘s Twinity Beta, which entered public beta a little more than one month ago appears to be moving ahead  and now already is claiming 50,000 real users.(http://www.virtualworldsnews.com/2008/10/quick-stat-over-50000-users-in-twinity-beta.html)

With a virtual Berlin, Twinity already plans to launch a virtual London and Singapore later this year. Metaversum is also working with the government of Singapore on a mirror world project, Co-Space.

NASA selects three

The US space agency NASA has selected three teams to present proposals for its learning virtual world.

The teams being considered are MindArk, presenting Entropia Universe; Saber Astronautics, Nocturnal Entertainment, and Big World; and Project Whitecard and Virtual Heroes, according to Virtual World News (http://www.virtualworldsnews.com/2008/10/nasa-selects-3-proposal-for-learning-virtual-world.html).

The teams are scheduled to give live presentations at the Goddard Space Flight Center on November 7.

The groups were selected from more than 100 which attended a workshop held in April to discuss needs and opportunities for the virtual world.

The project aims to promote STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) education in colleges and high schools. Citing the longevity and adaptability  in addition to the ability to form communities as advantages for an MMO over a simpler educational game, NASA has said the selected team will fund the project internally, working on a licensing model from NASA, which will supply personnel and expertise.

VWN quoted MindArk director of special projects, Christian Björkman,  as saying “This opportunity to build the NASA MMO is very much in line with our strategy to enhance the learning aspects of the Entropia Universe Platform. It is a perfect way for us to work in collaboration with top academics and scholars to create a stimulating, challenging and educational experience.

The SLENZ Update – No 19, October 26, 2008

Auckland ‘ER’ in SL

Vital signs - a patient is checked

Vital signs - a patient is checked

Dr Scott Diener (Professor Noarlunga, pictured) [http://scottdiener.edublogs.org/], at the University of Auckland, has created a simulated hospital emergency room where small teams of medical and nursing students can learn to diagnose and treat patients requiring emergency treatment.

Sited on an University of Auckland island, appropriately called the Long White Cloud [ http://slurl.com/secondlife/Long%20White%20Cloud/31/39/28 ], the medical facilities are only one of several temporary and ongoing experimental developments, all aimed at using Second Life as an educational environment.

The island project has been directed, created and currently ‘financed’ – almost single-handedly – by Diener, Associate Director IT Services for Academic and Collaborative Technologies at the university.

Speaking recently on the Emergency Room side of the project, Diener said, “This project is just in the beginning design stages, and is contingent upon grant funds becoming available.  The intent is to initially develop a hospital ‘ward’ for use with  3rd and 4th year medical students.”

A visit to the island demonstrates just what Diener has achieved from his sometimes frustrating “labour of love” with its initial goal of developing several “experimental” medical simulations (e.g. a hospital environment), along with interactive spaces for students and staff.

The simulations already created relate to medicine, surgery, nursing, psychology, and disaster preparedness. Already instructors can assess “student”  abilities in the diagnosis of instructor-determined medical scenarios in real time and it is planned to have real life actor/avatars play patient roles based on specific symptom/attitude etc scripts as a learning aid.

Diener notes that medical students/interns from distant places could be tested in this way via broadband and Second Life without the cost of either traveling to  a specific campus or the cost of having to “hire” and train actor- patients to “work” on a number of university campuses.

Currently the ground floor of the Auckland University simulated medical school houses the Medical Clinic/hospital Emergency Room and related facilities (doctor offices).   The Second floor houses an intensive care unit. The nursing unit  being built in collaboration with Boise State University, US, will attempt to mimic the real-life nursing simulation environment at Boise. A study is currently being designed to compare the effectiveness of this environment against the Boise RL simulation.

Various medical components, monitors and instruments are being or have been designed for the simulations and PBL (problem-based learning) scenarios are being developed. The interactive Emergency Room instrumentation was built by David Bodily, a nursing educator from Wyoming University.  He also is a participant in the study with Boise.<!–[if !mso]> <! st1\:*{behavior:url(#ieooui) } –>

Diener has invited international participation in the simulations.

Tim Shadbolt visited? Did he?

Tim Shadbolt or only a facsimile?

Tim Shadbolt or only a facsimile?

The Second Life paparazzi recently spied what they thought was Tim Shadbolt, New Zealand politician and Invercargill Mayor, enjoying a stroll around the grounds of the Southern Institute of Technology’s handsome build on the  Nelson Marlborough Institute of Technology’s collaborative island sim, Koru. http://slurl.com/secondlife/Koru/156/122/27

“The Southern Institute of Technology’s (SIT) presence within Second Life was initially proposed by a team of three third-year Bachelor of Information Technology (BIT) students as the subject matter for the programme’s compulsory Project 701 paper,” according to a mid-year announcement of the developing SIT presence on Koru. “Primarily the team is to produce an area for the promotion of SIT, in general, while subsequently promoting current students achievements in the Arts, Digital Media, Film, and Information Technology. Additional deliverables include providing a medium in which current and/or prospective students can meet, develop, and secure positive relationships. Further investigation into the educational value of Second Life will be assessed by the success or failure of this initial stage.”

Now the paparazzi all know that Tim has been a major supporter of the Southern Institute but in handing us the picture above they just could not confirm whether it was him or not. But it sure looked like him. Dear reader we will leave it up to you to decide.

Business without borders

There has been considerable discussion in Second Life business and education   circles about “work spaces in a box” following the Linden Lab  announcement  that Rivers Run Red’s Immersive Workspaces 2.0, a comprehensive virtual world collaboration solution, is being made available on the Second Life Grid.

The companies have also announced a strategic partnership to sell and market each other’s products, either individually or jointly, and to explore developing and deploying additional offerings for Linden Lab’s growing base of enterprise customers.

Announcing the collaboration Linden Labs said that with enterprise use of the Second Life Grid on the rise, organisations were investing more in their virtual environments and moving mission critical aspects of their businesses into the virtual world such as distance learning, product prototyping and collaboration.

“This migration has created demand for a solution that enables organisations to quickly implement, configure and populate a virtual world environment suitable for their needs,” Linden said. ” Immersive Workspaces meets these needs by pre-configuring workspace options and wrapping the Second Life Grid solution in a web-based framework rich with familiar tools and interfaces.

“… Immersive Workspaces enables organisations to construct custom virtual work environments – including meetings rooms and design centers – that can dramatically change the way they collaborate and communicate. A set of tightly integrated web-based applications and the ability to seamlessly upload and integrate real world content – eg PowerPoint – brings enterprise-level efficiency and flexibility into a virtual world.

“In today’s financial climate, every enterprise regardless of size or industry is looking for ways to increase productivity, reduce costs, and boost overall profitability,” said Mark Kingdon, Chief Executive Officer, Linden Lab. “With documented benefits and use cases and enterprise-ready applications such as Immersive Workspaces from partners such as Rivers Run Red, the Second Life Grid is the ideal platform for enterprises looking to add a virtual element to their operations.”

For more information about Immersive Workspaces on the Second Life Grid please visit http://www.immersivespaces.com, http://www.secondlifegrid.net or contact business@lindenlab.com.

Useful videos

We owe  Australian SLED lister Bruce Sommerville for pointing us the five useful YouTube videos on the topic of ‘Second Life Education’ collected together on the SLEDevents playlist at:http://au.youtube.com/user/sledevents

He also noted that the AUSTAFE conference in early october was simulcast in  Second Life

Event

A special panel on Assessing the Student Experience in Second Life at the EDUCAUSE Annual Conference in Orlando will be streamed into Second Life on (Second Life time) Wednesday, October 29
from 7:30am – 8:20am SLT. SL SLURL:http://slurl.com/secondlife/ClevelandPlus/191/106/25

Difficult timing for Kiwis but this panel will bring together practitioners from four institutions that have experimented with using virtual worlds such as Second Life to enhance student learning.

The speakers are:Tanya Joosten, Lecturer and Educational Technology Consultant, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee; AJ Kelton, Director, Emerging Instructional Tech, College of Humanities & Social Sciences, Montclair State University;Deborah Keyek-Franssen, Director of Academic Technologies, University of Colorado at Boulder; and Wendy Shapiro, Senior Academic Technology Officer, Case Western Reserve University.

The session will be moderated by Steven J. Taylor, Director, Academic Computing Services, Vassar College, and session convener is Lloyd Onyett, Assistant Dean for Technology, Indiana University of Pennsylvania

The SLENZ Update – No 18, October 22, 2008

Educator newbie help

Linden Lab, in partnership with ISTE, has a streamlined, educationally-focused starting point to Linden Labs for educators entering Second Life for the first time.

The New Educators’ Pilot Program has been designed to ease entry into Second Life  and provide a guide for educators who might at first be overwhelmed by the “rezzing experience” which can be made worse occasionally by some who appear to enjoy harassing new avatars as they appear on Orientation Island.

The New Educators Pilot Program (sometimes referred to in ISTE circles as the Educator’s Experience Pathway) changes all that. The NEPP begins with a dedicated sign-up form (http://secondlifegrid.net/programs/education) that guides a new user through the registration process.

SL getting younger

The 18-24 bracket now makes up 45 percent of total registrations in Second Life, a change which Linden Lab CEO Mark Kingdon has described as “the platform getting younger as we get older.”

Opening Virtual Worlds London with a brief overview of Second Life, Kingdon said the application of the world was changing  with 600 million user hours of activity and projections this would hit the billion-hour mark next year. (http://www.virtualworldsnews.com/2008/10/notes-from-vi-2.html#more)

“In the first wave, there was all kinds of very dynamic experimentation,” he said. “We’re entering a second wave as the platform expands and matures with what people can do. In the first wave there was a great deal of early adoption … It was very much about enjoyment. It was very much about escape. But it was also very much about unconnected virtual worlds. In the second wave, we see enterprises thinking about virtual worlds in a very different way. Instead of experimentation, we’re seeing businesses ask for solutions that work. We’re starting to see that the virtual world is not a substitute for the 2D Web experience. It’s what I guess you could say is the assimilation of the virtual world into the 2D Web space. And it’s a change I very much welcome.”

Driving the innovation, said Kingdon, are global workforce needs, economic pressures, and carbon and cash concerns. Those drive users to stay home instead of travel for work, which promotes the use of innovative collaboration tools.

It’s not all business, though. Social computing is going mainstream, broadband and more advanced hardware are pervasive, and sub-par substitutes for interaction, like video conferencing, are driving the need for alternative solutions, he said, noting that at Linden Lab, 20 percent of the staff work off site, spending their time in-world as a tool for collaboration.

(Mark Kingdon, Linden Lab picture)

EDUVERSE speakers

In New Zealand getting to international conferences can sometimes be difficult and expensive.

However, through the benefits of video one can get the highlights of many conferences. The third Eduverse symposium  held in  De Balie, Amsterdam, in September is no exception

With many leading educationists and Virtual World experts sharing their work, experience and ideas the videos at Eduverse website ( http://www.eduverse.org/index.php/symposium3) provide a sustainable option for those who could not get there.

Among the presenters were“Philip Rosedale (former CEO of Linden Lab);  Julian Lombardi (head of Opencroquet at Duke University www.opencroquet.org), Christian Renaud (virtual world guru), Chuck Hamilton (IBM Centre for Advanced learning), Karl Kapp (noted virtual worlds author), David Williamson Shaffer (founder of Epistemic Games), Tim Johansson (head of Opera 3D develeopment), Philippe van Nedervelde (Foresight Nanotech Institute) and David Burden (Daden Ltd).

The highlight was the panel discussion of the future of all the major virtual platforms, including: Second Life, Opencroquet, Adobe 3D, DEEP, 3Dxplorer, ExitReality and others.

1st SL paramedic course

Paramedic students studying at the Faculty of Health and Social Care Sciences, a partnership between St George’s, University of London, and Kingston University, today learn how to treat emergencies  on-the-job in Second Life. (http://www.yournursing.com/2008/10/16/first-paramedic-course-to-use-second-life/)

Students entering Second Life as virtual paramedics can assess and treat “patients” in the street by doing things such as checking their pulse, dressing wounds and administering drugs. They can also access a toolkit, including all the equipment one would typically find in an ambulance, such as oxygen masks and an electrocardiogram (ECG).

After assessing the patient and giving emergency treatment, the students are able to decide how to get the patient into the ambulance and set a GPS device to take them to the hospital. Once they have reached the hospital, they submit handover notes on the patients, which are emailed to their real-life tutor for feedback.

The Paramedic Science degree, in which the Second Life component is included, has a strong practical focus, with solving problems based on real-life scenarios forming a crucial part of the course.

The application has been developed by St George’s, University of London’s e-learning unit as part of the PREVIEW project, funded by the Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC). It has been tested by both tutors and students.

The SL librarian

The story of Second Life’s Alliance Virtual Library and the Second Life spaces of the Alliance Library System volunteer educators  and  what has been done in promoting libraries  in Second Life, was contained in a machinama used as an introduction to Bernadette Daly Swanson’s (HVX Silverstar) presentation at the Bridging Worlds 2008 Conference  held in Singapore.

The conference: http://www.bridgingworlds.sg/ with the conference slides at  http://www.slideshare.net/bridgingworlds2008/slideshowsThe machima is entitled: “I am Library: an ode to self-discovery and collective creativity in Second Life.” The success of the Alliance Virtual Library has been such that it now has the virtual equivalent of 1.26 square miles  in Second Life.

There is a high quality version of the machima http://blip.tv/file/1375957/

Have a giggle!

http://www.getafirstlife.com/

The SLENZ Update – No 17, October 19, 2008

SL not only option, but …

more positive VW view

Eduserv Foundation report

Second Life is not the only option for teaching, learning and other educational activities in virtual environments according to an autumn 2008 “snapshot” of UK Higher and Further Education developments in Second Life.

But it is becoming more positively viewed as an education tool by UK educators who in general believe that virtual worlds will become a mainstream part of education over time.

The report containing these observations, (http://www.eduserv.org.uk/foundation/sl/uksnapshot102008) summarises to October 2008 an important on-going investigation into the use and uptake of Second Life by UK Higher and Further Education.

The survey’s main goals include: ascertaining the “state of play” of Second Life developments within the Higher and Further Education sector, discovering how these developments are supported, exploring functionality and determining the impact of these developments.

The on-going survey – this the fourth report over 18 months – is funded by the five-year-old, UK-based Eduserv Foundation, which undertakes activities that support the effective application of information and communication technology in education.

The foundation has committed funding to ten substantial research projects related to e-learning, one of which is this Virtual World Watch project.

Responses to the survey were received from staff and research students in 36 UK universities and two colleges, two companies, and the Joint Information Systems Committee’s Regional Support Centres.

With the theme that “Second Life is not the only fruit” in the virtual worlds the latest report sums up the views of a large number of respondents who have either carried out some kind of teaching and learning activity in Second Life, or were planning such events for the new academic year.

These included collaborative learning and design, seminars, workshops, tutorials and induction courses. Several lecturers and supervisors, the report said, used Second Life to hold tutorials, or communicate with remote undergraduate or PhD students; a significant number of universities are carrying out research as to the effectiveness of using Second Life especially in teaching and learning.

“Positive benefits were mentioned by the majority, such as student skill acquisition, ease of communication and the ability to meet peers one would otherwise not meet. Problems such as the amount of work required to run in-world sessions were also reported, the snapshot report said.

As with previous snapshots, the two issues of obtaining funding for virtual world development, teaching and learning, and technical problems, predominated.

But the general reaction of peers and academics to virtual worlds seems to have improved over time. “More respondents reported largely positive, or a mixed, attitude locally and in the wider university sector,” the report said. “Some academics who were previously cautious or negative about the use of virtual worlds in education became more positive after using the technology, or seeing the benefits.”

Finally “Looking ahead, most respondents who chose to answer thought that virtual worlds were more likely to be a “mainstream” feature of UK education, rather than a “niche” or “novelty”.

“However, several of these respondents felt this would be a gradual long-term development over several years.”

Many respondents, the report said, had used, or were considering examining, virtual worlds and on-line environments other than Second Life.

The three most mentioned of a dozen other applications were Google Lively, Wonderland and OpenSim. Lively, however, was found to be disappointing in terms of education-relevant functionality, Wonderland had considerable communication potential, and OpenSim had attractive options for creating a closed virtual environment.

ThinLinx for sustainability?

The question of whether cloud computing and thin personal computers can  increase sustainability in an energy-greedy world is about to be answered  by a small Australian  husband and wife team with their US$100 Hot-E PC.

“… you could put 50 of them in a classroom and they’re only using 3 watts each instead of 200 or 300 watts that normal PCs use,” the thin computer’s creator John Nicholls said recently from his home on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast.

Although initially created with  a focus on the third  world Nicholls says he now envisions future revisions of the Hot-E being used as extra PCs in ordinary homes.

But to me it could develop into the ideal hardware on which to mount the thin software of a Second Life style virtual world client (32mbs) if not via the so-called cloud.

With his wife Jeanne he has developed the line of palm-sized personal computers containing the bare minimum of horsepower with most processing and data storage handled by a remote server accessed over the internet.

Targeting cost- and power-conscious small and medium businesses, schools and developing countries where normal PCs are prohibitively expensive, impractical or draw too much power Nicholls has reportedly claimed  his company ThinLinX, has just partnered  a major, global software company.

The ThinLinX website (http://www.thinlinx.com/) currently sells the thin range for A$250 each but Nicholls says he is now on the verge of launching a new, faster range, with the entry-level model selling for “just under US$100”.

With the on-going improvement in broadband connections companies such as Google and Microsoft have already released software applications that live on the internet instead of locally on the user’s PC.

Nicholls told the Syndey Morning Herald recently  he envisioned future revisions of the Hot-E being used as extra PCs in the home.

“If you had a media centre running in the lounge and it’s got a TV tuner built into it plus a hard drive that stores DVDs and movies … I could see kids sitting in the bedroom being able to watch TV, movies and play MP3s using the Hot-E,” he said.

He didn’t mention the possibility of accessing multiple user virtual worlds or playing MORPGs on-line but given the right graphics card they just might answer the sustainability question posed by some academics about computer use in teaching and virtual worlds in particular.

RL fashion/design & training

In FRI country … Red Chantilly Lace Dress by Xand Nagy. Picture by Callipygian Christensen.
Courtesy Shengri La: Utopian Micronation

Fashion and consumer packaging designers are to be given access to and the use of 3-D tools with the Second Life client interface following the signing of a multimillion dollar  IBM Global Business Services agreement between IBM and the Fashion Research Institute (FRI)  earlier this month

The agreement to implement a first-of-a-kind Virtual World Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) Enterprise System also will allow designers to connect to the OpenSim virtual world platform to create packaging and fashion products, provide efficient workflow queues, and allow groups with an interest in the product to collaborate and modify designs. The program will also generate virtual product samples and accurate factory specifications that enable high quality product mass-manufacturing in the real world.

FRI, headquartered in New York, NY, conducts research into technology-based initiatives and develops emerging technologies to overhaul traditional fashion practices and methodologies. FRI’s mission is to reduce the carbon footprint and change the environmental impact of the industry in ways that are sustainable, replicable, respectful of the practitioners, and meaningful for all stakeholders. FRI maintains Shengri-La, a five-island complex in Second Life, and an OpenSim complex.(See blog: http://shenlei.wordpress.com/)

“We’re proud to pioneer the first big business solution that leverages the OpenSim virtual world platform to address economies of scale,” said Shenlei Winkler (Shenlei Flasheart),  CEO of FRI. “The Fashion Research Institute understands how to design real world consumer goods using a virtual world environment, and IBM understands the scaling challenges of global enterprise. Taking on both simultaneously is a winning move.”

This virtual world enterprise solution, expressly created as a product design environment, will offer a fundamentally new work-flow system which will address critical issues facing the design industry, such as ensuring manufacturability of designs and decreasing substantial sample costs by two-thirds. Users of this solution will ultimately be able to enter a virtual world, receive training on the systems, and take a design from concept to prototype — with every step short of actual manufacturing being done virtually.

FRI will offer an IBM-backed and co-developed enterprise solution providing a simpler and more intuitive user interface than currently existing design-industry-oriented software including scalability for businesses of all sizes. Users of the IBM-built technology could see product sample creation costs and time to market decrease dramatically.

The initial proof-of-concept solution expected to go live in in the second half of 2009 will be piloted by up to 20 international design houses. Ultimately this solution will be offered as a design service or enterprise installation, to creative industry design houses of all sizes globally.

The SLENZ Update – No 16, October 16, 2008

CPAs get SL picture

One  never thinks of  accountants as being enthusiastic about innovation – it can put red on the bottomline – but Australia’s accountants have greeted the concept of Second Life with gusto.

Their enthusiasm came after Australian Second Life residents Lee Hopkins (Lee Laperriere), an online communications strategist and Lindy McKeown ( Decka Mah), an educational consultant, presented the first Chartered Practising Accountants’ event in Second Life for the CPA Australian Congress.

The presentation attracted Second Life accountancy professionals from Mildura, Tumut, Euroa, Tamworth, Cairns, Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, Perth and London, Liverpool, Detroit and New York.

One of the CPA organisers, Alex Dalidakis, expresses the CPA delight at the success of the in-world congress and gives tips on how to run a congress in  his blog. http://lovenumbertwo.blogspot.com/2008/10/running-second-life-event.html.

Hopkins also provides details in his blog http://www.leehopkins.net/ and the presentation at http://www.leehopkins.net/downloads/virtu al-worlds-for-finance-professionals-v2.pdf

Y’all welcome

Dr Ross Brown demonstrates YAWL

The Queensland University of Technology, a pioneer in the development of Second Life applications such as “Air Gondwana” for law students, has devised YAWL, which stands for “Yet Another Workflow Language”, a business language based on Second Life. http://www.news.qut.edu.au/cgi-bin/WebObjects/News.woa/wa/goNewsPage?newsEventID=20357

Used for training people for work in hazardous scenarios such as mining, health and fire fighting, YAWL, among a clutch of new services fostered by the Smart Services Co-operative Research Centre, takes them into Second Life to give them a first taste of the risks they will encounter when they enter the workforce.

The centre, groups 18 industry, government and research partners across Australia including the Queensland and NSW governments,  with a seven-year budget of A$120 million, including a grant of A$30.8million from the Federal Department of Innovation, Industry, Science and Research. QUT is its largest academic contributor and the Queensland Government and its local partners (SAP, Suncorp and RACQ) have invested A$38 million. Other partners include UNSW, University of Sydney, RMIT, Swinburne University of Technology and the University of Wollongong and Infosys, Telstra, Sensis, Austin Health and Fairfax Digital.

YAWL is the brainchild of QUT software engineering lecturer Dr Ross Brown, who says the way to create more effective lesson plans is to combine virtual worlds such as Second Life with workflow systems traditionally used to guide people through tasks within organisations. YAWL provides a simple interface that hides its complexities while exploiting the benefits of virtual-world technology.

Dr Brown says YAWL allows educators and businesses to take the learning process to where the students and workers are. “We can use YAWL to create virtual, training environments for industries such as health, mining or fire fighting where the actual danger is removed but people can train in a realistic environment,” he said.

Another use is the provision of One-Stop Personalised Financial Services project, involving SAP, Suncorp and QUT researchers, to help bank customers with their financial planning.

What’s the future?

Educators and  their institution administrators often question just where virtual 3D world technology is going. Many put off dipping their toes in the water for this reason. There are promoters, detractors  and fence sitters.

A recent SLED debate, however, has come up with some interesting “rants” on  just where immersive worlds are going and what the future for education within them is.

None was more interesting than that of wellknown – in immersive VW education circles  – than that of Modesto, California’s Stan Trevena (Quidit Small), in what he described as a”rant” on future virtual world developments.

Noting that all SLED debates on the future developments of virtual worlds were focused on Second Life, the Second Life beta tester said he believed inside of four years educators will be hosting their own servers behind their own firewalls, and “not all of us will choose OpenSim”.

“There will be public grids that we will attach to when necessary.  We will be able to link our grids with other education organisations through portals and linking grids.  We will teleport between places of interest, not walk or fly.  We will make our first moves towards a distributed or federated model in the next three years with our virtual worlds (we must come up with a new term, virtual to me means “not real”).”

But, he added, it was at least another year and a half before the first viable alternatives to Second Life  would emerge.

But even though everything was moving towards the Internet becoming the Metaverse and webpages becoming grids, he said, unless there was a breakthrough with Grid/Cloud Computing none of the models (including Second Life) could be scaled to the sizes necessary for mainstream adoption.

“Someone will come along and do for avatar transport what IBM did for eCommerce in the 1990s,” he said. “You will have a core avatar that is your personal (and verifiable) identity.  Dropping into different worlds you will be able to take on alternative identities while still keeping the link to your assets and identity.  We’ll get there in less than 10 years.   Early attempts at this will take place inside of five years.

“Private individuals and small business will be able to pay monthly fees for services to host anything from a personal space to a full size grid.  Some of these will be business and education-focused with heavy emphasis on applications, collaboration and communication.  Others will be more like the fantasy MMO’s of today.  Expect all the same advertising as you see on the web now to offset costs and drive traffic in these future grids.  And all of these will move to industry standard 3D file formats for compatibility issues.  If I want to bring my ‘Legendary Sword of Knowledge’ from World of Starcraft back to my OpenSim property to show it off to my guild, I’ll be able to do that.

“Second Life as it exists today has hit its limits,” he said. “Until there is a major shift in the infrastructure (database) and underlying design we will continue to be stuck in sub-100k concurrent user ceilings.  The performance of the avatars in Second Life pale in comparison to ‘games’ of today … portability will become more important in the equation, again pushing towards a OS and device independence.  Even at this early of a stage in Wonderland’s development upgrades to the client are a no brainer and everyone gets them on their next log-in because it’s web based.  Version 0.5 will be out after the first of the year, early look videos in the next month or two.  We’ll have to see how the new avatar skeletal system is implemented.

“We are passing through a necessary stage right now, but this is not what it will be like in the not too distant future.  We all need to expand our vision beyond just Second Life and OpenSim.  Far too many of our discussions and projections are limited to our fixation on this one platform for education.  And photo realism may not be the ultimate virtual world goal.  And let’s not forget augmented reality and the potential there for mass adoption by the mainstream in portable devices. “

Among the comments was one from  Tom Werner (Carston Courier) who said the only thing that had surprised him in the rant was the projected timeframes. He guessed half the timeframe for

a distributed/federated model and for asset-retention while visiting different worlds.

“It just seems to me that we hear about some new development or world almost every day (Wonderland, Croquet, Qwaq, OpenSim, IBM teleportation, Forterra, sandbox games like GTA 4, Google Lively, ExitReality, Ogoglio, etc., etc.),” he said. ” I just visited Prototerra last week. It was intriguing. They can handle an ‘infinite’ number of avatars in a space by setting a max number of avatars in a space to X and then duplicating the setting instantly at X+1.

“Anyway, I would have seat-of-the-pants guesstimated that open-source-on-your-own-server + distributed model + linking worlds + 3D file-format standards + import-your-own-assets would be here TWO years from now.”

The SLENZ Update – No 15, October 12, 2008

IBM tour de force!

IBM and and the Beijing Palace Museum’s recently opened Forbidden City Virtual World is nothing short of a technical tour de force even for one who has ceased to be surprised by achievements in Virtual Worlds.

This is despite the Windows download for this new Virtual World being a fairly massive 204MB and needing 2GB of free disk space for installation (The Mac OS X and Linux installers also probably have similar space needs.).

The VW, celebrating 600 Years of Chinese Culture, also requires a good graphics card and monitor with a minimum screen resolution of 1280 x 1024.

IBM, is believed to have invested more than three years and $US3 million in developing the similation of the 178-acre historical treasure.

Named the “The Forbidden City: Beyond Space & Time”(http://www.beyondspaceandtime.org/FCBSTWeb/web/index.html#link=) it is a meticulously built virtual recreation of the architecture and artifacts of the former palace grounds.

Announcing the VW opening, staged to coincide with the Palace Museum’s October 10 celebration of its 83rd anniversary, Henry Chow, chairman, Greater China Group, IBM, said, “The rich cultural heritage of China’s imperial past, embodied in the Forbidden City for over five centuries, is now brought to life and accessible to all through a virtual world created by IBM and the Palace Museum.This initiative takes the online experience to a new level of innovation with rich content, educational storytelling, community and social networking features that represent the next generation of 3D-Internet applications.

“What makes me proud is that IBM now has opened the door to a cultural treasure and rich heritage to everyone, everywhere which in the past was only available to relatively few.”

Users can register their own avatars, though selections are limited, go on guided tours with other users, and participate as well in a 2D social network-style community.

“Rather than being an isolating virtual experience, the Virtual Forbidden City allows visitors to see and interact with each other and with a wide range of volunteers, staff, and automated characters,”  the site says. “To welcome the broadest range of visitors, a simple, easy to use interface guides interactions with the Virtual Forbidden City.”

Originally, the Forbidden City was constructed to embody the idea of the emperor as the center of the universe with a series of dramatic courtyards and gates, buildings and landings underscoring a design built to reinforce security and power. This huge palace complex was completed in 1420, about twelve years after construction began, and contains hundreds of exquisite buildings and historic artifacts.

AFK in-class solution?

The question of whether an avatar/student is really paying attention, a problem or just “lurking” is one  Sabine Reljic/Willow Shenlin is attempting to answer within her Centre for Social  Presence. the answer, however, might  be provided by a number of unique products if not on the market just about to reach the market.

In a recent SLED communication  Reljic asked, “Are you annoyed at the afk around you when you teach? Ever wonder what ‘engagement’ really means? Do you know that an avatar-instructor’s behaviors influence students attention, motivation and learning? Want to learn some moves? Need colleagues to bounce ideas? Do you know why ‘bumping” is such a successful informative activity?” She was promoting her worthwhile centre’s first meeting “Introducing the Center for Social Presence” at 5-6pm SLTim,e Tuesday, October 14, at  Meadowbrook 48, 202, 22 (Center for Social Presence).

Coincidentally I’d just been flicking through an announcement of a brainwave-reading headset which might offer a possible solution to the AFK problem. In it California-based NeuroSky managing director Kikuo Ito told AFP that in distance learning courses teachers, using his Mindset headset, might be able to monitor whether students were attentive.http://www.smh.com.au/news/games/articles/new-game-reads-your-mind/2008/10/10/1223145601748.html

He made the comment at the Tokyo Game Show, the games industry’s biggest exhibition, after noting, “Once people get used to the idea of using brain waves for various applications, I hope we will see various products using this technology.”

The Mindset monitors whether the player is focused or relaxed and accordingly moves the character on a personal computer.

Meanwhile Emotiv Systems – a company founded by four Australian scientists in 2003 but now based in San Francisco – plans to market its $A300 wireless “neuroheadset” called EPOC to PC users late this year.

The device uses 16 sensors that press lightly against the scalp to monitor electrical activity from the brain and face. A built-in gyroscope tracks head movements to control a cursor or viewing angles.

Although the brain-sensing technology – electroencephalography or EEG – has been around for decades Steve Prentice, a vice-president at technology research firm Gartner says Emotiv has been smart to start with the video game market.

“In gaming, people are looking for any additional sort of edge or cool technological advantage,” he says. “It’s a short move from gaming to things such as virtual worlds and from there into the mainstream computing environment.”

Emotiv has already piqued the interest of IBM, which is testing how the headset may work with virtual environments. “As interactions in the virtual world are becoming more complex, mouse and keyboard alone could soon not be enough,” says IBM spokesman Steven Tomasco.

Emotiv’s headset can detect more than 30 expressions, emotions and mental “actions”. They include feelings, such as excitement and frustration, expressions, such as raised eyebrows and clenched teeth and thoughts about movement, such as pushing, pulling, lifting and dropping. Visualisation techniques also can make in-game objects vanish.

Another company, OCZ Technology Group, began offering its Neural Impulse Actuator for gamers earlier this year. The device, selling for about $160, is a headband with three sensors that rest on the forehead, detecting electrical signals from movements such as a furrowed brow or a blinking eye to control on-screen action in PC games.

It seems in future educators might have little trouble in, if not getting right into the minds of their students, at least knowing there is someone there on the other side of the screen and what they might or might not be doing.

http://www.smh.com.au/news/digital-life/games/articles/mind-over-splatter/2008/09/06/1220121584474.html?page=fullpage#contentSwap1

Emotiv: http://www.emotiv.com OCZ Technology: http://www.ocztechnology.com

The SLENZ Update – No 14, October 09, 2008

It’s not a game!

Courtesy TMJ

The public perception of anything on a computer with avatars – be they cartoon stick figures or the carefully-crafted, lifelike personnas of World of Warcraft, Warhammer or Grand Theft Auto – as being a game causes considerable angst among educators, academics and even businessmen wanting to do something serious with virtual worlds, like Second Life.

I must admit that when I first became a resident of Second Life some three years ago I saw it as an entertaining and relaxing game where I could create a young, goodlooking avatar who would make all the mistakes I made as a 20 to 30 year old (or fantasized about) but enjoy them more. For me Second Life became like a tavern where I could socialise with people around the world who were “role-playing”  – one might say hiding the truth about our real lives, if not actually lying –   just as much as I was, even though most of us never saw ourselves as actual roleplayers. Our fantasy avatars – one seldom sees a an untweaked, real life avatar in SL –  the clothing we wore and wear and even our homes were and are probably less dreary than our reality.

But after a few months in the “game” when SL friends took on real personnas and I saw the effects of “prototyping” (the Proteus effect as the Daedelus Project describes it http://www.nickyee.com/daedalus/archives/001569.php) I began to realise that Second Life was more than a game: that people could be hurt and could hurt, that people could learn and people could change through the process. That was my personal experience.

But for educators there is no doubt the question of whether Second Life, or any other multi-user virtual environment where players interact, is a game,  is a vexed one, as is the question whether they are not downright  harmful and possibly addictive.

Writer-at-large Anastasia Vesperman (SL: Feldspar Epstein), in the Australian-based Metaverse Journal, argues cogently that Second Life  is not a game and that it can contribute to the ongoing development of human beings in a positive way. http://www.metaversejournal.com/2008/10/07/second-life-%E2%80%93-game/

“Games created solely for educational purposes often have their content boiled dry as old bones, all the fun ripped from them in order to create “serious” games,” she says. She might have added “boring” and “politically correct” and a “real turn-off”. “Fun” in education, she said, was often viewed as being suspicious – anything lighthearted or playful was seen as not “serious”.

Her reasons for viewing  Second Life as “not a game” are sometimes simplistic but all the same worthwhile reading.

Must Read Report

Global Kids Inc. has released its first report from RezEd (www.RezEd.org), the  Global Kids’ 1200-member hub for learning and virtual worlds – but its not only for kids. It also has relevance for those looking at tertiary and adult education within virtual worlds.

The report summarises the range of activities and discussions taking place among those on the cutting edge of education, whether through commercial platforms like Dizzywood and Second Life or educational ones such as Quest Atlantis. The report highlights material produced for and by the RezEd community, including a range of MacArthur Foundation grantees, among them James Paul Gee, Sasha Barab, and Linda Burch. In addition A Report on Ethics and Virtual Worlds is introduced by a team from Harvard University’s GoodPlay Project.

In association with the release of the report, a special podcast explores the issue of Ethics and Virtual Worlds from the broad perspectives of the diverse RezEd community. The podcast includes an introduction by Sam Gilbert of the Good Play Project and audio excerpts from  RezEd podcast interviewees.

The report is available free for download here. http://www.holymeatballs.org/library/rezed/RezEdreport1.pdf

‘Real’ simulation?

For those of you still looking for the best simulations/visualisations in Second Life  the Sprott-Shaw EEEL System (Emulated Electricity on Electron Level)  electronics work bench  is something to behold.

This creation involves converting circuit schematics drawn on a 16×9 grid made completely inside of Second Life to usable input to an open source circuit simulator known as SPICE, developed at the Electronics Research
Laboratory of the University of California, Berkeley, as long ago as 1973. http://blog.magrathean.ca/2007/07/sprott-shaw-eeel-system-emulated.html

Invitation

An invitation has been issued on the SLED list  for those interested in joining an European peer-to-peer learning progamme on the use of multi-user virtual environments in education.
The European-funded MUVEnation project is now launching ‘Teaching and learning with MUVEs’. This is a one-year postgraduate programme, delivered online, for future and in-service teachers who want to use innovative methods and tools to address learners motivation and participation issues in compulsory education.

Although the programme will be taking place in Italy, United Kingdom, Germany, Spain, Belgium and France those not based in any of those countries who may be interested  should  contact the programme organiser before October, 15 2008. http://muvenation.org/blog/2008/10/06/the-muvenation-programme-is-open-participate-now/