SLENZ Update, No 137, September 19, 2009

LIFE IN A NEW ZEALAND VIRTUAL WORLD

ONGENS  gets its first ‘Kiwi Tavern’

as  virtual ‘Aotearoa’  grows …

ONGENS1_004Sign of the ONGENS times … The Kiwi Tavern  at Port Cook.

Even though the New Zealand National Virtual World Grid appears to be going through a difficult and, at times, fragile gestation, there is a small band of enthusiasts who are willing to put up with the frustrations of working in an Alpha test world to ensure that the ONGENS Grid moves through Beta on into a full-blown phase which will allow productive  education research and possibly hypergrid access to  other open-source, OpenSimulator virtual worlds.

One of those  enthusiasts is Auckland University academic Dr Scott Diener who “shouted”  the first “drinks” – a tankard of Kiwi ale – to  virtual world builder Cira Emor, who is re-creating the build of a log cabin(piece by piece!), and your’s truely Johnnie Wendt, who is creating a beachside “slum”, Arcadia Asylum Memorial City, with a little bit of help from the creations of the  late and much lamented Second life “artist” Arcadia Asylum.

Besides its two  regions, soon to be three, in Second Life, the University of Auckland  has something like 12 regions  on the ONGENS Grid, some named Kapua (a small cloud) keeping with the university’s  virtual world Second Life theme of  Long White Cloud or Aotearoa.

As well as constructing  Port Cook – it is still in the ongoing construction phase – Scott (SL :Professor Noaralunga)  has also opened up two storefronts under the buildings  which are giving away “freebies”  such as office and home furnishings. Another  has been allocated for the supply  of  freebie textures, to be stocked in cargo boxes.

ONGENS1_005
Johnnie Wendt,  Scott Diener (pink shirt) and  Cira Emor at the Kiwi Tavern.

Designed primarily for research into  the benefits of virtual world education and Web3D technology the ONGENS Virtual World Grid, within the  ONGENS (Otago Next Generation Networks and Services)  Test Bed Project, championed by Dr Melanie Middlemiss of  Otago University, is a joint project on which the Universities of Canterbury and Otago and part of the GNI (Global Network Interconnectivity) Project, The GNI Project has been designed to  develop research, enterprise training, and knowledge sharing activities to support new ICT technologies, such as JAIN SLEE, on the way to telecommunications, multimedia, and information systems convergence. It is  funded by the New Zealand Tertiary  Education Commission Growth and Innovation Pilot Initiative (The SLENZ Project is also funded by TEC).

ONGENS2_001One of the ONGENS residents, Wendy Steeplechase, at the Port Cook furniture store.

Since the  launch of the grid Canterbury and Otago have been joined by the University of Auckland  and WelTec, each with a node and regions within the ONGENS Grid. Students from  WelTech have already used the  grid for real world learning projects.

The grid is currently running on OpenSimulator software, and utilises the high-speed KAREN (Kiwi Advanced Research and Education Network) connectivity between New Zealand’s tertiary institutions, and research organisations as well as public Broadband.

ONGENS2_003The attractive stone buildings in Port Cook – the tunnel leads through a forest to a castle.
ONGENS2_002The Port Cook Harbour … from the inside
ONGENS1_007… and the  harbour entrance from the outside with the castle in the background

THE ONGENS team plans to develop the ONGENS Grid into a New Zealand National Virtual World Grid initiative, and is currently seeking funding and expressions of interest for involvement in the project.

Meanwhile in a related project, an Otago Open Source Software Initiative has been set up by Otago University’s Department of Information Science to provide advice and support to schools and small-medium sized businesses (SMEs) in New Zealand on a range of open-source software technologies that have the potential to reduce IT operational costs, leverage productivity and enable companies to “work smarter”.

“The main issue holding back schools and small businesses from moving to open-source solutions on the desktop is the often limited support and documentation that makes much open-source software a difficult proposition to maintain and manage,” a spokesperson said. “This lack of documentation and support often results in the running cost of open-source software, i.e. the costs associated with lost productivity due to downtime and the cost of in-house technical-staff time required to support the software, quickly outstripping the initial purchase price of a commercial alternative.

“It is this situation that has lead the Department of Information Science to establish the Open Source Software Initiative to support the take up of open source software by schools and SMEs by using its expertise to develop standardised, tested software bundles that “work” and to provide a support forum with “expert advisers” to assist in the identification of appropriate open-source solutions,” the spokesperson said.

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