KAREN, VLENZ Update 171, June 01, 2010

KAREN goes  ‘independent’

NZ high-speed research/education

network in new partnership …

All NZ education to get real Broadband speeds

A year-old YouTube view of the FX Networks network  …
2200 kms of optical fibre and still counting.

Heralding a new era for online education and research  in New Zealand, Research and Education Advanced Network New Zealand Ltd (REANNZ) has announced  that it has  entered into a long-term partnership with the country’s foremost, independent optical fibre network provider,   Wellington-based  FX Networks,   to provide the national connectivity for the Kiwi Advanced Research and Education Network (KAREN).

The arrangement secures the continuation of KAREN’s existing 10Gb/s backbone connectivity and footprint around the country for an initial term of  three years through to December 2013, with two two-year renewal options.

The move should mean lower cost, and faster and more reliable  national bandwidth options for New Zealand tertiary and secondary education institutions, and could lead to a proliferation of virtual world and other third generation uses of the internet by  both faculty and students in education across the country. When coupled with other moves, it  should also provide benefits to distance learners.

Donald Clark, REANNZ

The Universities of Auckland, Otago and Canterbury, along with Weltech, in Wellington, are already operating a bandwidth-hungry,  OpenSim-based virtual world system (New Zealand Virtual World Grid) in test phase in conjunction with the KAREN network  which can only benefit from the latest development, which should ease both access and costs, especially  as NZVWG only uses local bandwidth, rather than international connections.

The decision to go with FX Networks  follows  what spokespeople for the two partners described as “a thorough and comprehensive evaluation process.”  The KAREN network has previously worked directly with  Telecom.

The contract also includes options to move KAREN to a dark fibre-based network infrastructure, which will be essential to ensure KAREN can continue to offer leading-edge network services within a constrained cost base.

The CEO of REANNZ, Donald Clark,  said, “This is the most exciting development for KAREN since the network was launched in 2006. We are confident that we have selected a progressive, long-term partner in FX Networks and have secured the best national connectivity options for our community and provided certainty to our members on cost and presence.”

“Over the last four years, the demands of our members has driven innovation in network supply and services across the telecommunications industry,” he said. “In earlier times our investments have helped other network suppliers extend their networks, now we’re helping FX Networks.”

Through moving to the new network, REANNZ will put into effect a new Network Access Policy which  will provide greater flexibility to REANNZ and KAREN members around access, and use of the network. The network is currently recruiting a number of secondary  schools to add to its current tertiary institution base.

A virtual region on the Weltech portal of the 'alpha' test NZVWG Grid .... online and MUVE education can only benefit from the latest KAREN move.

Work has already begun on comprehensive transition plan to ensure a smooth cross-over from current national connectivity arrangements to the new arrangements in December.

REANNZ is currently in the  late stage contract discussions with the preferred supplier for KAREN’s international network. An announcement on the selected provider will be made later this month.

FX Networks already has completed most of an optical spine the length of the country and is completing   a network right around the country to join with the spine – a number of  local bodies like those  controlling Hawkes Bay, Pahiatua, Dannevirke and Eketahuna among others   have already signed up with FX Networks –  which should make access to  KAREN  and true high-speed broadband internet an affordable reality for most  institutions as well as distance education students.

Jamie Baddeley, FX Networks

Previously, despite claims to the contrary, the major Telcos in New Zealand  have supplied  provincial New Zealanders  with Broadband, which they pay Broadband prices for, but which  generally  have not delivered consistent Broadband speeds. In fact,  in areas like the Manawatu, consumers, although paying Broadband prices, have often been left with a service, during  times of high contention, which   has run at dial-up speeds.

FX Networks’ fibre optic ‘backbone’ network  covering both islands of New Zealand, however,  is the fastest independent intercity pipeline in the country, capable of transferring data and voice at speeds up to 10Gbps.

The organisation describes its   network as a  ” a ‘green fields’ operation, our 21st Century technology and lean business practices mean we can deliver a Ferrari-type network for Corolla-type pricing.”

The company is privately owned and funded, with 30 percent equity held by New Zealanders. It is independent from the Telcos  operating in New Zealand.

FX Network’s partnership with REANNZ  follows the announcement  in April that FX Networks  had signed an agreement with Telecom Wholesale for the exchange of local internet traffic (local peering) at 19 of  Telecom’s points of interconnection – 39 currently available) around the country,  laying the groundwork for the “most efficient routing” of New Zealand’s growing volumes of Internet traffic through New Zealand’s two main internet backbones.

One of the regions on the University of Auckland portal of NZVWG grid which should benefit from both the KAREN decision and local "peering."

Peering allows traffic to be exchanged on a local or regional basis rather than transported back and forth throughout the country to be exchanged in Auckland.

Announcing this agreement the two companies said, “With the Government’s $1.5bn ‘Ultra Fast Broadband’ and $300m ‘Rural Broadband initiatives both on the horizon, the agreement paves the way for a whole new range of competitive broadband packages to be developed by ISPs and other service providers.”

FX Networks Jamie Baddeley said at the time of the agreement  that it meant  that the Governments investment of $1.8bn in urban and rural broadband “will now be able to run local content in a fast and efficient manner.

“This is a big step in New Zealand’s digital transformation that will revolutionise many aspects of society including health, education, commerce and entertainment,” he said. “…  I think many ISPs are going to have to rethink how they charge for traffic and there will now be competitive pressure to separate international traffic from local usage and charge accordingly.”

Ernie Newman, TUANZ

Senior industry consultant Dr Murray Milner said: “This is a very positive outcome with the industry tackling a major issue that is fundamental to the success of the current fibre roll-outs. Local peering means that internet backbones will not be clogged up with local traffic and we will see smart uses of the capability in areas like healthcare where digital X-rays can be shared simultaneously in full definition.”

Ernie Newman, CEO of TUANZ said: “Peering has been on the table for a number of years as one of those too hard issues, after some carriers depeered from the earlier system a few years ago. It was the users who bore the brunt of that with traffic romboning to Auckland when it didn’t need to, or worse to the USA. I’m delighted to see industry players resolving this issue without the need for regulation or government intervention and users will benefit from better performance and lower charges. What’s emerging is the national digital architecture that TUANZ has been calling for.”

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NZVWG Update, VLENZ No 166, March 14, 2010

NZ Virtual World Grid hosts

international  guests

NZVWG Auckland portal now accepting

‘resident’ avatar applications …

Educause Roundtable meeting on New Zealand Virtual World Grid

The  University of Auckland portal of the New Zealand Virtual World Grid (NZVWG)  has successfully hosted its  first international seminar, attracting  a number of leading MUVE educators and researchers from  around the world.

The meeting coincided with the announcement by Dr Scott Diener (SL: Professor Noarlunga), the virtual meeting host,  that the University of Auckland portal of the grid, although  still in a trial phase,  was now open for  virtual-world users to apply for ‘free’ registration from the Auckland portal.

Dr Scott Diener.

It also coincided with a ‘demonstration’ of just how easy it is to teleport an avatar from the University of Auckland portal MUVE on the NZVWG ‘Hypergrid’ to the MUVE of   the University of Otago and return with inventory intact and retention of all abilities.

The NZVW Grid based on OpenSim software has grown out of the original ONGENS  grid, developed by the University of Otago in concert with the University of Canterbury, and the University of Auckland.   Weltec has also developed a portal for the grid and Nelson Marlborough Institute of Technology has associate status.

Welcoming the 20 plus guests from Educause’s Virtual World Roundtable  to the meeting in the Great Hall of “Kapua Castle” on the island of Kapua 3 in the New Zealand Virtual World Dr Diener said, “This is a really exciting development for us.

“We are stand-alone…we run our own asset server (database) with  the University of  Otago and Canterbury University having  similar setups, which have been linked together.”

Members of the Virtual Worlds Roundtable, who have previously visited a number of other Virtual Worlds  as a group for their meetings to assess and monitor MUVE development around the world praised the  apparent stability of the University of Auckland portal MUVE, the ease of entry, the fact  that it was open source and free, and  the  use of the Hypergrid, which opens up possibilities for easy, transparent connections to tertiary institution   MUVEs around the real world.

“We have found the Hypergrid does work, albeit with problems, “Dr Diener said, explaining that the goal of NZVWG was first to experiment and eventually to link to other grids.

Detailing the  setup of the MUVE, he said, the Auckland University portal is running on two virtual servers (VMware), and has a total capital investment of some $NZ10,000 ($US7000). This compared to an investment of say $US55,000 for signing up for SL Enterprise (previously Nebraska), the Linden Labs’ “behind the firewall” solution for standalone virtual worlds.

The Auckland MUVE is running on two dedicated, virtual machines with one server running a database and six sims. CPU usage has never got above five percent. Freeswitch voice is available on the MUVE but not yet completely activated.

“We can duplicate them (the virtual machines) in about 30 minutes – to scale if necessary,” he said in answer to a question, adding that OAR content was backed up automatically.

A  University of Auckland staff member is assigned one day a week to the MUVE , he said, with most of the work involved with things like getting voice working, and getting the Hypergrid fully functional.

He said the portal had been created out of his own budget as associate director of IT Services at the University of Auckland.

Dr Diener's Kapua Castle where the Roundtable meeting was held in the Geat Hall.

The portal, Dr Diener said, “is focused mostly on proving the concept of Hypergrid.”

“This is how our Writing Center began,” Iggy  Strangeland, of the University of Richmond, observed. “I bought a server out of budget, and then eventually got it supported by our data center. Now they maintain it and I just design content.

“We proved the concept. If it works for 2D Web, it can work for Virtual Worlds,” Strangeland said.

The major current problem with using the NZVWG MUVE for education purposes was the fact that there were as yet few resources “in world” … “all scripts have to be brought in,” Dr Diener said.

Given success for the NZVWG, however,  Dr Diener said, he would be excited to work on connecting  the that portal  with any other university  grid in the world.

Commenting on this, Lindy McKeown, of the University of Southern Queensland, said education.au in Australia was trying to set up a Hypergrid for all Australian universities to join.

Dr Diener, who is also a Lecturer at the University of Auckland, is well-known in Second Life and virtual world education circles around the globe for his and his associates’ creation of successful medicine/nursing/architecture simulations on the three University of Auckland Second Life islands in Second Life, the first of which was “Long White Cloud”.

Dr Diener mentioned that the “very active” New Zealand virtual world  group  VLENZ was represented at the meeting by Nelson Marlborough Institute of Technology  and Second Life Education New Zealand Project founder and joint leader,  Dr Clare Atkins (SL and NZVWG: Arwenna Stardust). Dr Atkins, on behalf of SLENZ and NMIT, operates two islands in Second Life, Koru and Kowhai.

“I think it WILL be a viable alternative (to Second Life) soon,” Dr Atkins said.

Other speakers agreed with Dr Atkins’ view that NZVWG and OpenSim were a good replacement for Second Life: “for me (as an educator) one of the huge benefits to OpenSim is that we can use it with under 18s,” she said.

Visitor Margaret Czart, of the University of Illinois,  said that all of the virtual worlds the Virtual Worlds Roundtable group had visited over time had provided good alternatives to Second Life but, “it is not so much the place but how you run it.”


A sitting room in Kapua Castle.

Dr Atkins’ and Czart’s comments about possible replacements for Second Life followed a remark that the Linden Labs’ position of Second Life education guru Pathfinder Linden had been disestablished and that the Lindens appeared to be showing  less interest in education.

Lindy McKeown foresaw the development of a “Hypergridded federation universe of locally-hosted worlds with some access by others but some private spaces” as appearing to be “a great education alternative for many reasons.”

But, she added, that for these alternative worlds to be successful “we need an SLexchange type (virtual worlds sales) system for other grids since Linden Labs had bought out virtual world goods sales competitors.

Iggy Strangeland replied that http://imnotgoingsideways.blogspot.com/2009/11/alternatives-to-xstreetsl.html was a good source for other sales portals. Lindy McKeown added that one also could buy OAR files full of content one  the net and there were lots of free ones too.

James Abraham (SL: Calisto Encinal  and http://calistoencinal.spaces.live.com/) said he was writing a grant to  “roll out a 10 college zero-cost OpenSim virtual world program for the Maricopa Community College District [James Abraham’s Mi Casa Es Su Casa won a prize for full sim builds at the recent SLPro! Conference sponsored by Linden Labs for Second Life content creators.]

On this point AJ Kelton, director of Emerging Instructional Technology at Montclair State University, founder and current leader of the EDUCAUSE Virtual Worlds Constituent Group and Roundtable moderator, agreed with Mirt Tenk who suggested that it would be good for tertiary education providers to share the “stuff  WE have built in Second Life as  open source for OpenSim users. Others agreed with this view, including Dr Atkins who noted that all SLENZ Project builds were free and open source.

Asked how close he thought tertiary educators were to replacing Second Life with other virtual worlds, Dr Diener said, “ I don’t think we ARE close … and in fact, I don’t think that is even the question…I think we need to ask how we can augment our Second Life resources with Virtual World like this.”

There was also a question, raised by Liz Dorland, of Washington University, in St Louis,  and others, of the importance of virtual world students and educators being able to connect with the rest of the world community as they could in Second Life.

Dr Atkins said that she thought the “richness of Second Life and its diversity” would be hard to grow in an OpenSim environment although other speakers noted interoperability between all MUVEs, including Second Life, to get the best of all virtual worlds, was a possibility.

Another "resident's' Castle on the NZVWG portal grid.

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.

The SLENZ Update – No 97, June 9, 2009

‘Exciting’ Kiwi development

Major New Zealand universities seek  funding

to establish  national virtual world grid

nzvwgsm

Proposal pdf here

Three major New Zealand universities are planning to establish an open-access, open-source New Zealand National Virtual World grid based on the ONGENS OpenSim grid which is currently under development.

The universities are Otago University, the University of Canterbury, and the University of Auckland. They have been joined by Telecom in the proposed establishment of the grid which will operate on New Zealand-based servers and will leverage other national investments in IT infrastructure. Funding is currently being sought to support this initiative.

Although the NZVWG will be primarily for research and education it will also offer proof-of-concept application deployments and testing. It is being designed to provide both experimental and routine use of VWs in teaching and research; to develop engaging interactive in-world content customised for New Zealand use; and to develop new context-specific plug-ins, enabling interaction between virtual and real (non-virtual) worlds.

The announcement of the planned NZVWG was made by Dr Melanie Middlemiss, manager of the GNI Project, from which the ONGENS testbed originated and which she runs with GNI technical manager Ms Hailing Situ.

The developmental ONGENS Grid, set up in the ONGENS Test Bed Facility developed by Otago University and Canterbury University to explore the possibilities of Virtual Worlds and Web3.D technology, already has nodes run by the University of Auckland, the University of Canterbury and Weltec. It currently is “open” for avatar registration but because it is in the developmental phase is not as stable as some other virtual worlds. It has about 100 registered users.

ONGENSWELCOME_001

ONGENS uses both the Government-funded KAREN (Kiwi Advanced Research and Education Network) system and local networks.

Otago, Canterbury and Auckland Universities along with Telecom have formed a Governance Board for the NZVWG.

The proposed NZVWG will be composed of individual nodes at each University, connected together.

The project has been described as ” exciting” by the University of Auckland’s associate director, IT Services, Scott Diener, who is well known for his championing of virtual world education. The university, which has a two-sim presence in Second Life, is currently is running full test and development servers, hosting 12 islands on the ONGENS grid.

Announcing that further funding was being sought, Dr Middlemiss, said it was hoped to get more New Zealand and Pacific universities involved – the University of Papua New Guinea already has a research site – but it was a matter of finding people who were enthusiastic and dedicated to the development of the NZVWG.

Meanwhile the Government announced as part of the 2009 Budget in May a NZ$16m investment in KAREN to support the organisation’s ongoing operation and transition to a self-funding model.

Welcoming the Government’s new investment “to ensure KAREN keeps operating as New Zealand’s advanced network,” Donald Clark, Chief Executive of REANNZ said, “Such an investment, especially in these difficult economic times, indicates a strong commitment to science and to the investing in the underlying infrastructure of the country.”

NZNVWG

The proposed  New Zealand National Virtual World Grid

The SLENZ Update – No 87, May 20, 2009

AUCKLAND U’s  VIRTUAL MEDICAL CENTRE

Students learn those communication,

teamwork, clinical  skills – virtually

Virtual simulation in an Auckland University, New Zealand, virtual medical centre  training environment is returning similar results to a  real life training facility at a fraction of the cost of a facility of that type, according to Dr Scott Diener PhD (Pictured at right).

Diener (SL: Professor Noarlunga) (http://scottdiener.edublogs.org), the university’s associate director of IT Services, an enthusiastic proponent of learning in virtual worlds and creator of the University’s Academic and Collaborative Technologies’ Long White Cloud Island sim in Second Life, made this remark in  a YouTube video presentation on the Virtual Medical Centre.

The University of Auckland’s interest in virtual worlds is such that it has also taken up 12 islands on the ONGENS OpenSim Virtual World Grid (on the ONGENS Test Bed Facility), a start-up being run by Otago University and the University of Canterbury on the KAREN network. ONGENS (Otago Next Generation Networks and Services)  is supported by the Global Network Interconnectivity Project which is funded by the New Zealand Tertiary Education Commission Growth through an Innovation Pilot Initiative.DienerScott

American-born Diener (right), who is also a blue-water yachtsman, notes that  to set up a similar training facility in real life, using mannequins, would cost something like US2.5 million.
In the SL Medical Centre simulation, however, Diener said, the instructor could set various similar simulations/situations that students teams had to diagnose and treat.

“Readings and charts change when someone becomes a patient,” he said, adding that the students, through working in the simulation, learned teamwork and communication skills alongside the clinical skills.

In the virtual  ward, actors could sit in beds  (as avatars) acting as patients with specific problems, he said. He didn’t mention it  in the video but this means they can be accessed/interviewed/diagnosed by students and interns – and even working doctors needing to upgrade their skills – with access to Broadband internet anywhere but not the time to travel to New Zealand’s two medical schools, one in Auckland and  the other in  Dunedin.

“Participant take a survey to determine if virtual simulation provides comparable results to laboratory settings,” he said, adding, “So far, the virtual simulation is offering comparable results at a fraction of the cost.”



The SLENZ Update – No 73 , April 29, 2009

SL:  import-export with ‘SLENZ Shuffle’

The new ‘Arfur Daley’?

slenzshuffle_004

Import-export “expert” bot, SLENZ Shuffle, with creator, Toddles Lightworker

SLENZ Shuffle? Well he might not be the new “Arfur Daley” (of TV Minder fame) but it looks like he might be able to do a good job in the virtual world import-export business.slenz-shippingnode1

He has already successfully “shifted: the lower floor of the  Foundation build on Kowhai, in Second Life, to one of Nelson Marlborough Institute 0f  Technology’s regions on a node on the ONGENS OpenSimulator, set up by Otago and Canterbury  Universities, in the SouthIsland of New Zealand.

A creation of WelTec’s Todd Cochrane (SL: Toddles Lightworker), a  SLENZ developer, he can only export-import an object’s textures and prims, including mega-prims and sculpties, rather than scripts, at the present time but, according to Cochrane (pictured left), it  should be possible “to drop stuff onto an object which wakes up our robot avatar. “

“The robot then exports the objects and with the help of in-world script other items,” he said, pointing to the SLENZ shipping node (right). “Eventually we could get the robot to logout and then login to ONGENS and complete the transfer.

“At present the object wakes up our robot and under the right conditions it exports the object … I’m using the same avatar name in both universes.”

The robot is being developed as part of the SLENZ Project to ensure all project builds and other elements created by the SLENZ team can be  backed up outside Second Life as SLENZ-owned IP.

img_0501The team has  previously trialled other “back-up” methods but found them not to be suitable for the SLENZ needs, mainly because the IP is held in another organisation’s storage.

Cochrane stressed that SLENZ Shuffle could not be used to export IP  developed/owned by Second Life, Linden Labs and other Second Life developers and residents.

Cochrane also pointed out that the creation of the import-export facility is not unique, it is an extended version the existing OpenMetaverse code.

And for example IBM has already done something similar as well, teleporting avatars led by Second Life’s Zha Ewry RL: David Levine) between Second Life and OpenSim.

WelTec currently is running two regions in the WelTec Virtual Lab, and at the Petone Campus, as part of the Weltec programme to trial a varietyof virtual worlds for education under a variety of conditions.

Cochrane  is currently considering allocating space in Weltec’s ONGENS regions for Human Computer Interaction students doing Interaction Design projects.
“Having our own node means we are contributing to the New Zealand Virtual Worlds grid.” Todd said.

The node is currently on WelTec’s 3D server, deep.weltec.ac.nz, but may eventually be connected through KAREN, New Zealand’s tertiary institution high-speed Broadband link.

The SLENZ Update – No 39, January 15, 2009

SL ‘valuable’ for HS science

globalkids

The value of virtual world education for high school students has been demonstrated  in a  recent independent evaluation of a Science through Second Life project run in New York last year.

The project integrated Second Life and a wide range of web tools into a standards-based high school science class in New York City, according to Rafi Santo (pictured), Senior Program Associate Online Leadership Program, Global Kids.(Access pdf of evaluation at http://groups.google.com/group/GKVirtualWorldUpdate/browse_thread/thread/860139ff56a01e29)santorafi

Global Kids is a New York-based organisation that provides a range of international education and leadership development programs in 21 public high schools and myriad online venues. Its MacArthur-funded work is leveraging after school programs, online dialogues, contests, machinima, and virtual worlds to bring attention to voices of youth on the role of digital media in their lives.

The independent evaluation’s key findings on the Science through Second Life project  included:

  • Students’ attitudes towards science-related careers changed positively with the StSL curriculum.
  • Students’ self-efficacy and self-confidence in their abilities to do science-related work increased.
  • Compared to the traditional science curriculum, the number of students reporting being overwhelmed by science class fell by 50%.
  • Low achieving students’ grades improved significantly compared to the previous semester.
  • Students’ collective intelligence skills improved throughout the semester. More students reported that they felt more comfortable working with others to get something done using digital media in the post survey.

For further information on  the Globalkids organisation: www.globalkids.org

OpenLife getting ‘V’ money

openlifesiltop

The OpenLife grid, which  has been proclaimed as a major albeit still small  competitor (45,000 residents) to Second Life,  is going to adopt a virtual currency system, so users can buy and sell items freely, according to VirtualWorld News( http://www.virtualworldsnews.com/2009/01/openlife-grid-to-adopt-virtual-currency.html)

The new virtual currency system is currently scheduled to go live at the end of February, obviating one of the major concerns that the current user base has voiced. OpenLife is currently the largest grid running on the OpenSimulator 3D application server program.

OpenSimulator essentially allows individual users to create their own virtual world “grids” on their own servers that look and function much like Linden Labs’ Second Life. In fact, the technologies involved are so similar that it is possible to use a Second Life client to connect to any OpenSim grid [An experimental Grid, the ONGENS OpenSim Virtual World Grid, has been set up in the ONGENS Test Bed Facility between Otago University and Canterbury University to explore the possibilities of the technology (http://www.gni.otago.ac.nz/index.php/ongens-virtual-world-grid)].

“Exchangeable credits are a popular request from residents,” according to Steve Sima, founder of the OpenLife grid, in a statement to CyberTech News.

“However with interchangeable credits comes a range of new issues that must be addressed,” he said ” After a good six months of consultaton with Openlife users, we’re pleased to say we’re on track to deliver an in world payments solution in the forum of Openlife Credits before the end of February. This will follow shortly after new fixes and implementations in objects and inventory permissions are rolled out.”

The announcement  while it will be welcomed by OpenLife users could put paid to Linden Lab plans to attempt to spread a generic virtual currency through virtual worlds.

… but SL gets act together?

Are the US timezone Sunday “log-in disabled”  periods which have bedeviled Second Life users around the world recently – especially on Mondays in New Zealand and Australia – about to become a thing of the past?

It would appear from FJ Linden’s (Frank Ambrose) most recent update on improving the infrastructure that underpins Second Life (and the resulting forum dialogue) that Linden Lab is still confident it can overcome the problems which occur for all residents within and outside Second Life when user numbers reach 80,000, now a normal US Sunday afternoon and evening ocurrence, which has led to scheduled meetings in other timezones being disrupted when participants haven’t been able to log in. As the outages occur on Sundays they are not a “working” priority/problem in the US.

The easy answer, of course, is for  those in other timezones  to schedule meetings at other times but as more people join the  SL “over-population problem”,  if it is that,  has to be solved.

And that is what the Lindens appear to be doing. (http://blog.secondlife.com/2009/01/12/second-life-grid-update-from-fj-linden/)
While admitting its been a bumpy few weeks, with Level 3 outages, and central database issues, Frank says  “the good news is that LLnet (data center fiber network) continues ahead of schedule and we should be starting traffic migration in the next week. We’ve also made some headway in the area of asset storage. Right now, central database issues are our core focus and have been at the center of most of the recent grid problems.

“The benefits of LLnet are to not only get us off of our dependency on VPN’s for inter data center traffic, but also lay the foundation for diverse internet providers that will allow us to handle an outage on a single provider (currently Level 3) and potentially improve latency,” he says. “Most of our widespread and highest impacting outages have been network related, and that is why LLnet has been my top priority since joining Linden Lab this past summer.

“I expect final testing to be complete by the end of January, and production traffic cutover immediately after.”

Attaboy Frank!  We await the results with bated breath.

Useful link

A selection of books about Second Life (or virtual worlds) primarily  focused  on general descriptions, history, and sociological perspectives, but  also including several how-to guides is at:

http://www.worldcat.org/profiles/srharris19/lists/273349