OpenSim Grids Growing apace – VLENZ Update, No 180, January 24, 2011

Is SL fading?

The ‘Top 40’ OpenSim grids

gain 529 regions in month

Latest figures from Hypergrid Business

OS builds are now as good as if not better in some cases than SL builds ... Rommena at Rom20 at (local (HG 1.0) built over 16 sims by Nick Lassard is a case in point.

The top 40 OpenSim grids gained 529 regions since mid-December, to reach a new high of 15,623 regions on January 15 of this month, according to  Maria Korolov  in her latest article in  Hypergrid Business.

The full Korolov article is a must read for those involved in virtual worlds.

Maria Korolov, editor, Hypergrid Business

The burgeoning growth rate of the OpenSim movement  follows the Second Life Linden Labs’ decision to end discounting of education sims. Other reasons for the growth, in my opinion are that the builds on some OpenSim grids (See pictures) are now as good and as interesting as the best builds in Second Life with build numbers, content creators and residents now reaching a tipping point which will see the OpenSim movement grow even faster.

Although the monthly growth rate, 3.5 percent, was down, possibly for seasonal reasons, Korolov noted that the total downloads of the popular Diva Distribution of OpenSim grew by 18 percent over the previous month to a  new high of  3,707 downloads. The Diva Distro is popular but it is only one of a number of OpenSim distribution channels. The others do not provide statistics.

Borgo Antico ... another example of an OpenSim builder's skill and a great place to visit. (HG 1.5)

Korolov said that  OSGrid, which currently has more regions than all other top-40 grids,  gained almost 500 regions to a new total of 9,009 regions.

In second place in terms of growth was the new role-playing grid Avination, which gained 172 regions in just one month, for a new total of 324 regions.

MyOpenGrid was in third place, gaining 63 regions, giving it a new total of 200 regions. InWorldz came in fourth in growth, gaining 47 regions for a new total of 766 regions, in the Hypergrid Business statistics.

Korolov said, “At Hypergrid Business, we expect to see both closed and open grids continue to grow through 2011. However, new hypergrid security features are currently in development which will allow content creators to lock down content so that it can not be moved off-grid. As these features are rolled out, we expect more grids to turn on hypergrid and allow their users to freely travel around to other grids for events, meetings, shopping, and exploring. She noted also that as the OpenSim world has burgeoned  Second Life, according to data from Grid Survey, continued to hemorrhage regions during the month losing 132 regions, for a new total of 31,413 regions.

The Titanic memorial in OpenSim … the ship, built to scale, covers three sims and is as detailed inside as the famed Bill Stirling-built SS Galaxy of Second Life. (HG 1.5)

... and part of the historically accurate Titanic interior.

SLENZ Update, No 142, October 6, 2009

THE SLENZ WORKSHOPS AT Teaching and Learning/eFest 2009

Five lessons from the creation of

education pilots  in Second Life

IMG_0803SL’s Arwenna Stardust and RL’s Dr Clare Atkins make a point.

The five SLENZ Project workshops attended by mainstream tertiary educators at  the  annual, national Teaching  and Learning/eFest 2009 conference, at UCOL, Palmerston North, New Zealand, last week,  provided some valuable tips for  the administration and creation of virtual world education.

I thought the lessons  important enough to provide summaries of some of them for educators and administrators who could not attend the conference. The first  summary is below.

The SLENZ Project team members who presented at the conference  included, SLENZ Project co leaders, Dr Clare Atkins and Terry Neal; Merle Lemon, lead educator  for the foundation learning pilot at  Manukau Institute of Technology, and  Oriel Kelly, manager of MIT’s  Learning  Environment Support Technology Centre;  Lead developer, Aaron Griffiths, of F/Xual Education Services;  and   Todd Cochrane,  a SLENZ developer  and lecturer at WelTec.

Funding for the SLENZ Project was provided by the Tertiary Education Commission of New Zealand, a Government body.

1. “Working effectively in a virtual team”

[Presented by  SLENZ Project co-leaders, Dr Clare Atkins, of NMIT, and Terry  Neal, of Blended Solutions.]

The core team was made up of two parts:  students, educators, learning designer, Project Leader Second Life, (Atkins)  and the developers,  in one box, and the evaluator, communications and Project Leader Real Life (Neal) in the other. Although theoretically all the  roles  were to have worked together in practice they overlapped.

The core team was supported by a project administrator, literature reviewer,  web developer, other educators (10), IT support (4), video makers (2),  the steering group (9) and the friends of the project who sometimes attended meetings  on the Second Life island of Koru or provided advice via email or other means.

Forming: The creation  of the project evolved out of Dr Clare Atkin’s network through one-to-one phone conversations, the formulation of a Project Execution Plan and a face-to-face meeting at which modifications were made. Those modifications included the addition of a communications role. In Second Life the “forming* of the SLENZ Project included the creation of avatars, support for  newbie players on the team and the formulation of  agreed meeting protocols.

Storming: The design and development phases of the project  included a process to agree process, the agreement on process,  open versus closed interaction, the learning design – considering access or focus on in-world experience, and discussion of the implications of creative commons licence, which will eventually lead to the team’s Second Life work and builds being made freely available with full permissions.

Norming: Communication and problem solving  was done  through weekly in-world team meetings on the island of Koru, weekly Skype calls by Neal, weekly development team meetings  led by Atkins,  a weekly catchup/review by Atkins and Neal, and  the provision of publicly available documentation through all stages of the project.

Performing: The project proceeded with the ongoing use of established processes,  celebration of milestones and  achievements – something often missing in virtual projects –   and the linking in of educators, through the lead educator in each of the pilots,  and the linking in of the evaluator  by Neal.   Extra  team roles were developed with the appointment of a web developer and video developers.

Adjourning ( or the winding down and completion of the project): A final face-to-face team meeting will be held, with the team sharing what it can over the final three months to the winding up and clear finish.

Keys to success: According to both Atkins and Neal the keys to the success of the Project were/are: the establishment of a clear prupose, clear roles, the use of  multiple communications methods, including a variety of online tools and text and voice communication; dual project leadership, and constant monitoring of the progress and well-being of the team.

Next blog:  MUVEing towards collaboration – the benefits  and pitfalls of working as a collaborative teaching in a Multi-user Virtual Environment,” and “In-world, meets the real world – the trials and tribulations of bringing Second Life to an ITP,” presented by Merle Lemon, lead educator in foundation learning,  and lecturer at Manukau Institute of Technology and Oriel Kelly also of MIT.

eFest unconference workshop demos

IMG_0807 SLENZ co-leader Terry Neal (right) gives an
unscheduled demonstration of SLIMG_0809Griffiths  points out a detail to a polytech lecturer.


Educators Trevor Forest, of Rotorua, and his wife watch
a demo by SLENZ ‘adviser’, Warren Masterson

SLENZ Update, No 141, October 6, 2009


SLENZ teams finds new ‘acceptance,

enthusiasm’  at    education  gabfest

… Need seen to retain team skills, post-SLENZ Project

IMG_0846Almost full house … Aaron Griffiths details a Developer’s work.
as the SLENZ Lead Developer/builder.

Growing “acceptance” of Second Life as an education medium  and a new  “enthusiasm” for  virtual world education  was demonstrated in Palmerston North, New Zealand, last week by the  number of mainstream tertiary educators  who attended five  SLENZ team workshops at  the  annual, national Teaching  and Learning/eFest 2009 conference .

The growing interest in virtual worlds also was demonstrated in an unscheduled,  eFest unconference workshop before the conference proper and the fact that the  eight members of the SLENZ team who attended the conference were constantly pulled aside by attendees, wanting to learn more about virtual world education  or wanting to know how to become actively involved.

It was the third annual mainstream conference at which  the SLENZ Project  has been promoted but  its acceptance was very different from previous outings.

IMG_0843As Lead developer Aaron Griffiths (pictured) (SL: Isa Goodman), of F/Xual Education Services, said, “It was  like a coming of age. At the first two conferences we could only tell them what it  could be like. With this conference we really had something to show them. We could show that education in virtual worlds can work and be both economic and effective.”

The success was such  that a number of educators  attending the workshops and  in private conversations later suggested that the SLENZ Team,  due to complete  the SLENZ Programme  by year end,  should be retained  so that  the  skills learned and honed on the project would not be lost to  the New Zealand education community. The suggestion was even made that the project should be set up on a permanent, collaborative  basis with funding from New Zealand  tertiary institutions who wished to employ the team’s skills in setting up their own virtual education units.

Commenting on this, SLENZ Project  joint co-leader,  Dr Clare Atkins (SL: Arwenna Stardust), of NMIT,  said it made sense for  New Zealand’s tertiary institutions, and particularly its Polytechnics to  co-operate and work collaboratively in virtual worlds, rather than individually. In that way they could make effective, economic  use of the available advice, skills  and lessons already learned as  well as ensuring  that each was not going through the costly exercise of trying to reinvent the wheel, independently.

After the conference, co-leader, Terry Neal (SL: Tere Tinkel), of Blended Solutions, said  that the Project would consider setting up a virtual world roadshow  for those Polytechnic educators and administrators who had expressed  interest in learning more about education in Second Life and other virtual worlds.

The Polytechnic educators at  the four-day conference at UCOL who appeared most interested  in virtual world education for their students included  those involved in  nursing and paramedic training, anatomy and physiology lecturing, foundation (bridging) learning,  trade and industry training and  agriculture, including viticulture,  all areas which the SLENZ team has worked in  or has looked  at working in.IMG_0813

Dr Clare Atkins and Terry Neal .. working effectively in a virtual team.

The SLENZ Project team members who presented at the conference  included, Dr Atkins and Terry Neal; Merle Lemon (SL: Briarmelle Quintessa), lead educator  for the foundation learning pilot at  Manukau Institute of Technology, and  Oriel Kelly, manager of MIT’s  Learning  Environment Support Technology Centre;  Aaron Griffiths;  and   Todd Cochrane (SL: Toddles Lightworker),  a SLENZ developer  and lecturer at WelTec.

The SLENZ workshops, which will be the subject of a separate posting, looked at, “Working effectively in a virtual team,” “3D as an everyday medium for teaching, ” “MUVEing towards collaboration – the benefits and pitfalls of working as a collaborative teaching in a Multiuser Virtual Environment”, “In-world, meets the real world – the trials and tribulations of bringing Second Life to an ITP, “From  Real World to Virtual: Actualising Virtual World Education.

The SLENZ Update – No 72, April 28, 2009

No the SL sky is not falling in …

Chicken Little got it wrong!

userhoursSecond Life  user hours are still growing

Surrounded by negativity!!! It’s frightening how the world of “yellow  journalism” even if in its latest form of  blogs permeates  the thinking of otherwise  sensible individuals.

It’s right to take precautions to lessen the effects of  the worldwide financial crash, swine flu,  so-called,  man-made climate change, the  imminent collapse of Second Life, as some of the doomsayers, have been predicting, or for that matter the end of the real world – Got religion anyone? – but Chicken Little “sky-is-falling-in” news, like that created by tabloid bloggers of the Valleywag-Gawker variety – February publication –  should be read in the same vein as the US rag, the National Enquirer. Valleywag-Gawker has been predicted the  imminent demise of  Second Life since 2006, if not longer.

There are a myriad of constructive criticisms which can be thrown at Second Life and which are based on fact, but which  often forget that Second Life, like the real world, is still under development and always will be by its very nature.  As in the real world, it is being created, more often than not, by the choices we as Second Life residents make: that is the choices the majority of us who stay with Second Life make as interpreted by Linden Labs, rather than the choices made by the minority “wankers” who nevertheless stay with Second Life even though they whine continuously.

However, for research purposes – particularly  education research, it is probably the best, most practical, and most economic MUVE currently available for New Zealand ( and other Western World) residents, despite  the problems with Broadband, which I lay at the door in New Zealand of our two major Telcos and the short-sightedness of the previous Government, a lack of  Second Life stability (it is improving almost every day) and what is often seen as the dictatorial, totalitarian influence of the owners and creators, Linden Labs.

Only the beginning

One can either dip one’s toe in the water of Virtual Reality, as SLENZ and numerous other educational institutions and organisations are doing with Second Life, or be left behind: there is no doubt in my mind that MUVEs are becoming mainstream, and that Second Life and worlds like it are only the beginning.

But, at the same time, I believe the drive for  educational research results within Second Life and other Virtual Worlds should not be blurred by either attempting to move into time-consuming and expensive real-life replica developments which use all one’s research budget, or into negativity of the Chicken Little variety -sometimes the latter results from the first – when we are attempting to determine and measure the  learning benefits in virtual worlds and how to make the most of  the opportunities.

That is not to say there are not numerous beautiful replica builds in Second Life which belong to educational institutions and others, but to me they have more to do with ego and sometimes branding,  rather than actual educational  outcomes. All the same they are still great to look at and if one cannot visit them in real life, a virtual visit is better than nothing.

However,  that long rant is not the basis of this blog.

I’ve been cheered by the latest stats  for the first quarter of 2009 from  the Lindens and Second Life, even if one discounts the spin that is invariably put on company  public relations releases. All the same  they mirror my daily experiences in Second Life and my feelings about where Second Life is going  after four years in-world almost on a daily basis. That is  even though I  often visit commercial sim developments where most of the stores are empty and avatars are few and far between and seldom seen.

Key points

In reporting strong growth for the period the key points T. Linden  made  were:

* 124 Million User Hours, an increase of 42 per cent  from the same quarter last year.

* Peak concurrent users of 88,200, an increase of 33 per cent from the same quarter last year.

* 120M in user-to-user transactions, up 65 per cent from the same quarter last year.

* The Island market has stabilized, although overall square meters of resident owned land has decreased, following changes in Open Land policy.

* Gross sales on the Xstreet SL marketplace grew 23 per cent over Q4 of 2008 and 72 per cent over the same quarter last year.

If you are in that negative place and wondering to which world you should turn this Linden blog is really worth reading. Yes, for the moment anyway, Chicken Little has it wrong!


Second Life peak concurrency… *grin*  No voice? Got lag? Get over it.
Oldtimers will tell you it was once much worse.

The SLENZ Update – No 66, April 8, 2009


Foundation Learning Kowhai build begins


The contrast between the build for The Birth Place (Te Waihi Whanau) and
The Foundation Learning project’s new build is quite striking.

There is a futuristic, almost organic building  growing out of the ground on the Kowhai Island, where the three-pilot   SLENZ Project – Midwifery, Foundation Learning and Orientation – is being created in Second Life.

Being designed/built by SLENZ lead developer Aaron Griffith’s (SL: Isa Goodman) , the “Clothing Centre”  has been designed to be  rezzable-on-demand, like all the Foundation buildings are likely to be.

The “centre” will be used by Foundation Learning students in the pilot programme to choose and put on the appropriate clothing for  job interviews and other interactions  set up by Foundation Learning lead educator Merle Lemon (SL: Briarmelle Quintessa)  and her colleagues, before being assessed as to appropriateness for purpose by themselves, fellow students and educators.

When the build is finished it will be joined by rezz-at-will “classroom”  “conference” and interview spaces  for use by the students taking part in pilot programme.

The initial building  has been designed by Griffiths in close consultation with Lemon, to ensure relatively low lag – it will contain comparatively prim-heavy clothing, hair and other avatar accoutrements – and for ease of newbie camera use and movement.


In the beginning …

The ground or first floor has been designated the display area with pose stand changing areas on the balconies on the second floor, closed changing rooms on the third floor and a fourth floor, at the top ,with the ability for a room ( holodeck) to  be moved  or fired 100 metres  into the air for complete privacy, something Lemon considers necessary and which may be in demand because of the cultural and religious diversity of her student body.

“It’s more to cater for those students, mainly female, who are culturally sensitive and do not wish to change their clothes within sight of anyone having the remote possibility of seeing them changing, even as an avatar,” Griffiths commented.

The floors will be connected by easy-to-use TP points.

Lemon, Griffiths said,   had specified a circular building with glass and metal. Working with her  – she had supplied pictures and sketches of her ideas – he had begun with mega cylinders before moving eventually to sculptie prims because they proved both easier to get the desired shapes and also were more attractive.

The build although having a light airy feel because of the arches and  iconic  Aotearoa-New Zealand panels of blue-green, see-through  paua (abalone) shell textures, still has form and substance. It is only 30 metres in diameter.


Those “paua shell” panels
Progress … the builder, Isa Goodman, and the “client”, Briarmelle Quintessa,
are working together.

The SLENZ Update – No 4 September 1, 2008

Compiled/written by John Waugh/Johnnie Wendt

How REAL can you get?

Watch Emily describe her creation  and display her attitude

We all want avatars that look real – although perhaps some of us don’t want them too look too real. Emily is an avatar who seems  to make virtual worlds almost as real as real can get. Created by Image Metrics ( a California outfit which specialises in realistic facial animations, such those in the intro to the latest edition of Grand Theft Auto, Emily is one of the most realistic computer-generated characters ever to hit games or virtual worlds

Emily began life as a video of a girl talking which was then used to recreate the gestures, movement by movement, on a model, to overcome the difficulties of animating a human face. The difficulties include the fact that the skin often appears too shiny, or the movements too symmetrical.

“Ninety per cent of the work is convincing people that the eyes are real,” according to Mike Starkenburg, chief operating officer of Image Metrics.“The subtlety of the timing of eye movements is a big one. People also have a natural asymmetry – for instance, in the muscles in the side of their face. Those types of imperfections aren’t that significant but they are what makes people look real.”


Skoolaborate, claimed to be a global initiative, uses a blend of technologies including, blogs, online learning, wiki’s and  ‘virtual worlds’ in a bid  to provide engaging collaborative learning experiences for all.

Created by Westley Field at MLC School, Skoolaborate now has 14 schools from Australia, New Zealand, Taiwan, Japan, Singapore and the USA on its membership list.

Its avowed aim is to learn how to use blended collaborative learning experiences to make learning more meaningful and engaging,

The projects we create, according to Westley Field,  will integrate curriculum and digital technologies into collaborative global actions.

“Our virtual learning space is secure and only accessible via invitation,” he said.  “Students from schools around the world are invited to participate. Initiated and manage

“We will use our initial experiences to gain the skills that allow us to work towards achieving our goal of improving educational outcomes for all students – particularly those who are disadvantaged.

The partner schools so far include: 1. MLC School Sydney Australia [ visit ];2. Christ’s College ChristChurch New Zealand [ visit ];3. Kyoto Gakuen Junior and Senior High School Japan [ visit ];4. Learning Services (South) Tasmania [ visit ] 5. Parramatta Marist High School – Sydney, Australia [ visit ] 6. St Joseph’s College, Hunters Hill, Sydney, Australia [ visit ]7. Victoria University – The Avatar Project  [ visit ]7. Debney Park Public Secondary College Melbourne, Australia [ visit ]8. Milford High School, Milford, NH USA [ visit ]; 9. Nauset Public Schools, MA USA [ visit ]; 10. Monroe High School – Rochester District New York USA; 11. Think Academy – Chile South America.

Find out more about how to join Skoolaborate

The SLENZ Update – No 2 August 15, 2008

“… five (virtual world) characteristics; immersion, customization, programmability, real-time interactivity and accessibility, combine to create an environment in which it is possible for anyone with the relevant skills to construct highly engaging activities that can enhance learning on many levels. It also lends itself to the construction of experiences that are a useful substitute for face to face encounters and which can be used in various educational settings, particularly for bringing together geographically distant students and staff.”


– Dr Clare Atkins, NMIT, joint co-ordinator the SLENZ project*, in a paper ICCMNS 2008 conference.

“The superiority of e-learning can be neither proved, nor disproved, with content and delivery, rather than the medium, the decisive factor. It all depends on how the costs are calculated for the various media and benefits measured.”

– Dr Ben Salt, SLENZ project team member, specialist in international comparative adult education.


Education could be key to VW success

by John Waugh/Johnnie Wendt

Training is the biggest potential success area in Second Life, because it can be measured and controlled, according to Steve Prentice, a vice president and a leading analyst with the Gartner Group.

His keynote address to a sold-out vBusiness Expo conference in July, although described as “not sexy” by some commentators, should have given heart to virtual world educators who are currently busily debating and researching the best ways to deliver education in virtual worlds.

As reported by Joey Seiler, of Virtual Words News ( Prentice’s theme was: Virtual Worlds are not about technology or allowing people to create content or anything else, no matter how much the techies would prefer it otherwise; they’re about people.,

It was the failure to understand the demographics that were behind the failures of many forays into SL, Prentice was reported as saying. Virtual worlds were clearly dominated by youth, he said, but the older users usually dominated them in activity and engagement.

“‘Build a great environment and they will come’ has been the attitude of technologists, who think everything runs on physics,” Prentice said. Instead brands and developers – and he might have said educators – should think, “Build a great community and they will come.”

Looking at the worlds that had been successful, it was not the worlds that offered incredibly rich and flexible content creation tools that were most successful; it was those that were aimed at specific targets and groups.

For organisations looking for business-like use, the biggest application is training, Seiler quoted Prentice as saying.

“It’s the controlled nature of deployment and the ability to measure the outcome that enables a realistic project,” Prentice said. “Yeah it’s boring and not exciting, but these are essential requirements in today’s organisational environment.”

As an aside, Prentice’s thought that VWs would become the “product” and TV would become the advertisement for them, reflecting something of a sea change that appears to be taking place around the world: from being television-drugged couch potatoes, people are switching to using what was TV couch potato time productively (

This is a change which should have major benefits for those involved in virtual education if educators can create learning environments in VWs that students will flock to join, on an on-going basis rather than faddishly, and which will provide educational and/or training products and benefits more easily, more economically and/or more green-sustainably than “Real Life”.

There are many educators around the world who already believe they are on the right VW track – often necessarily led by the techie side of education – and many who disagree, as has been shown in the sometimes vigorous debate which has been generated recently by educators on the busy SL educators group’s SLED list (

Although much of the debate has been directed at school education, the SLED discussion has also referred to tertiary and ongoing adult education. This is mirrored by the debate on the issues in New Zealand where besides the SLENZ project which operates Koru in SL, Auckland University has set up its own SL project, and Dunedin Otago and Canterbury Universities, with the support of Telecom NZ, have set up an experimental Virtual World grid using the OpenSim platform which they want to become an NZ National Virtual World Grid. (

The latest SLED debate began with Marlyn Tadros noting that she could not get her students interested in SL and VWs. “They all think I am crazy, don’t want to take the class, or if they do, they just roll their eyes,” she said.

Since, it has covered rationalisations for lack of student interest ranging from the limitations of the technology, especially compared to “gaming” technology such as WoW, or Xbox and Playstation products, difficulty of the user interface, laziness, and lack of creativity, the so-called “yesteryear” nature of SL in the eyes of youngsters and the “adult” nature – business, building etc rather than sex – of much of social activity in VWs

In one missive Californian educator Stan Trevena argued that after a year and a half of working with a variety of students in SL he was absolutely certain that students did not see SL as a blank canvas to paint on.

“Very few students become content creators,” he said. “These kids have grown up grinding quests and gaining achievements on the Xbox. The Xbox solidified the achievement aspect of gaming, so much so that Blizzard is now adding them to World of Warcraft … you would be hard pressed to find many students that have not played Halo, or some of the other first person games.

“So when a student asks you “What’s the point” when you enthusiastically introduce them to SL, this is what they are talking about. These students for the most part are not creative, they don’t write, most don’t read for pleasure, and they are not going to take the time to learn how to build or script in SL unless there is a grade attached.

“We have to get away from thinking of SL as another place for people to live, and shift instead to thinking of it as a staging area for finite and well defined activities with our students,” he said.

Paul Penfold (aka Paul Allandale, SL) provided one possible answer which should appeal to educators involved in tertiary and adult education when he said, “maybe the answer is separate but equal.”

“Why shouldn’t SL mirror RL?” he asked. “Most people in RL aren’t creative, don’t want to be creative or are scared or not practiced at being creative. Why should anyone expect them to enter SL and be any different?

“But RL is a very creative place to be if you’re that way inclined. Those that create, produce things that those who are less creative consume. We don’t need separate RL worlds for that so why have separate SL worlds?

“It seems to me that SL is highly populated with creative types, who are like the frontiers people laying the foundations of order for the secure consumption of those who prefer a bit of order, structure and certainty.

“There does seem to be a thread in this thread where success with students is found when structure, purpose and meaning is provided – that needs creative types, and just like RL, creatives and consumers can provide each other with their needs.

“I don’t imagine the (majority of) fans of WoW etc would be so enamoured with the fancy graphics etc it they had to build the world and missions themselves either,” Penfold concluded.

* The SLENZ project, a collaboration between Nelson Marlborough Institute of Technology, Otago Polytechnic, Wellington Institute of Technology and the Open Polytechnic of New Zealand, has received funding from the New Zealand Government’s Encouraging and Supporting Innovation Fund

Graduate VW researchers

Jenny Marshall of Auckland University <> has recently set up a Google group for graduate researchers of online virtual environments (GROOVE) to share information, sources and experiences, and to generally get to know each other and network. (membership is free).