Archive for the Second Life Category

Digital foot-binding

Posted in Second Life with tags , , , , on August 12, 2008 by Bola C. King-Rushing

It’s a strange confluence of circumstances. On the one hand is the way content creation – and, in particular, content permission – works in SL. Designers often don’t want customers to have modify permission on their work, because then the customers can, well, modify their work. It also makes them more vulnerable to forgery and cheap knock-offs. On the other hand is the tradition (habit? trend?) of making shoes that are designed to fit the “size 0” avatar foot.

The result is, as everyone who’s into these things knows, the size zero shoe. You purchase a pair of shoes, and they look fabulous, and they’re designed for size 0 feet, so you adjust your Foot Size slider to 0 so they’ll look right. And, in theory, there’s nothing wrong with that – to a point.

In fact, though, it’s systemic. It’s institutionalized. It’s become accepted practice. And there is something seriously wrong with that.

How is this different from virtual foot-binding? Avatars are being asked to change their bodies in order to fit social norms or fashions. No, they’re not even being asked. In some cases, they’re being politely reminded, but often the bodily deformation is simply taken for granted. And, as we know, it’s not just shoes. There exists a whole host of clothing items that are designed only for avatars that are designed within a relatively narrow (both literally and figuratively) size spectrum. And, I recently learned, the same goes for poses and animations.

Now, this isn’t the case for all designers. When it comes to shoes in particular (but also for other size-sensitive items), there are a handful of creators who for their own reasons give us mod perms. Some of those who don’t will still sell their shoes in two sizes (such as 0 and 10, or 0 and 30), which is at least a little accommodating. And there are starting to be designers who cater specifically to “plus-sized” or otherwise non-standard (as if!) avatars.

But in a world that prides itself on diversity, where even a basic avatar can have any of dozens of attributes sized from 0 to 100 (you should hit the Random button sometime and see what happens), this strikes me as simply insensitive. It’s no different from FL’s neurotic and neurosis-producing insistence that beauty and taste are a single vision that must be administered in a top-down manner. We know better than that, don’t we? How is it that this kind of thinking found its way into our virtual world?

And worse, how is it that we as residents put up with it?

Song of the moment: "Put Your Top Down," Tré Little

TLVW, Day 7

Posted in Second Life, TLVW with tags , , on August 4, 2008 by Bola C. King-Rushing

Well, it was the last day of class. We assembled at the MCGC sandbox for, officially, the final time and presented our term projects.

I’ve waited almost 24 hours to write about it because I’m very sad to see the end of this thing of ours. But more on that later.

We had many different kinds of projects presented, both group and solo. My project was in two parts: the first part was an assignment I’ve created for a college-level English course that I’ll be teaching next year; the second part was my argument that SL isn’t, at the moment, a particularly attractive tool for English education — specifically when it comes to teaching literature. In fact, I feel the same way when it comes to teaching writing; although some like Sara Robbins use it integrally, what she’s doing is in fact just generating content. This is very important in a writing class, but it’s not something that is special about SL; a creative teacher can use any of a number of things, either technological or not, to help students come up with things to write about. In fact, taking best advantage of what SL has to offer may actually be more trouble for an English teacher than it’s worth right now. Though I hope that becomes less true in the future.

Pamet’s project was actually the planned timeline for a much larger project, something like a year and a half to create a full-scale presence on the Teen Grid. The timeline is pretty big, and she managed to import the whole thing from Inspiration into SL and lay it out so we could see it. It was a pretty impressive visual aid.

I also really enjoyed the two group projects: Bigpick and Tiernan’s Fantasy Island project, which had us following clues around the island to learn about the plight of the local boxfish; and the geocaching project, which Eru tells me will become something bigger thanks to support and assistance from other organizations.

Shailey’s work was the continuation of an article she’d been writing, and she informed us yesterday that it’s been accepted for publication! That’s pretty exciting — the practical or applied nature of these and the other projects we created really showed how far we’ve all come during these 14 weeks. I’m proud of all of us, and I look forward to seeing where we go from here.

Then class was officially over, and we had a party. I know there were lots of pictures taken, so hopefully we’ll have more on other blogs or on Flickr to showcase our party outfits and the general fun and festivity. As you can see from this one shot, though, it was quite the party atmosphere. Someone said it reminded them of their prom — which, with the great ’80s music, was probably true for many of us.

Of course, after a while, other duties called, and people started taking their leave. It really did remind me of graduation day — lots of goodbyes all around, along with “Stay in touch” and “See you soon.” A handful of us lingered as long as we possibly could; we were down to five for quite a while until Tiernan left. Then four: myself, Eru, Esme, and Shailey. Eventually, though, we too had to call it a day.

This was the best course I’ve taken since I started graduate school. I got what I expected from it, but I also learned much more than I imagined I might. I met new people, made friends, and saw parts of SL I might never have heard of. I was exposed to an ordered view of education in SL, as opposed to the aimless wanderings I’d been making on my own and through the SLED. And through it all, I did not lose my enthusiasm for SL; not only that, but I also (earlier comments notwithstanding) feel more enthusiastic about education in SL.

Even though I’ll now have every other Saturday morning free again, I’m going to miss this. I’m glad to have been a part of it, and I hope all of us — and the course itself — enjoy a great and productive future.

Song of the Moment: "California Sun," The Ramones

What we have here is a failure to communicate

Posted in Second Life with tags , , , on July 24, 2008 by Bola C. King-Rushing

Had the strangest experience in-world today. I was going to go shoe-shopping (yes!) with my friend and classmate Shailey – after the Shoe Expo, I have some new favorite vendors, and we need to get gussied up for the upcoming last day of class.

So we met this morning as planned. I actually signed on about an hour earlier, as I had to fulfill my compulsion to create a new outfit – I haven’t done so in over two weeks, and usually I make at least one a week. (Ooh, it hurts my soul just to think of the lost time…)

Anyway, Shailey greeted me in local chat. I’m on vacation right now, using a laptop with no microphone, so voice was not an option. (I don’t think it would have mattered anyway, but more on that later.) I greeted her back, and asked about the dragon that was following her around. Oddly, she didn’t respond right away, and when she did it was to say that she couldn’t receive any of my text even though she could see my typing animation.

“Weird,” I thought. I switched to IM, and got the same result. She realized there was something strange going on, and relogged to solve the problem. Except that it didn’t solve the problem. I tried chat, IM, and our class’s group chat; still nothing. I quickly put a notecard together saying that I could at least see what she was typing and dropped it on her – only to have her repeatedly decline the offer. Same with the shoe-store landmark I tried to give her.

By now you may have guessed what we later discovered – she had accidentally muted me. Now, I have never experienced the power of the mute before, and it was both frustrating and challenging. How to get a message to Shailey to let her know my side of the experience, and to say that I did indeed by this point suspect I was muted?

In a moment of inspiration, I rezzed a cube – thank goodness we were in a sandbox! – and dropped my earlier notecard into it along with a floating text script saying “Open me, Shailey!” I don’t know whether that worked (we’re going to meet again tomorrow, and I’ll ask her), but it at least had a chance and, while tedious, might be the only way to let someone know they’ve muted you – if it wasn’t done on purpose. (It occurs to me now that even if she couldn’t get the notecard, I could just make the floating text display my message; similarly tedious, but saves a step and guaranteed effective.)

But really, all of this got me thinking. SL offers a lot of things to residents, not the least of which is an infinite shoe closet just waiting to be filled. In addition to that wonderful fact is the great variety of ways to communicate with others. IM and chat, notecard and voice, prims that talk or link to websites, not to mention gestures and muting (an extreme form of communication!); our communication options are incredibly flexible. I’m not sure how many people (outside of vendors and other business people) think about it this way – I know I hadn’t. The power of the platform really hit home today.

Song of the Moment: "Mosh," Eminem

Update, 8/2/08: It also occurs to me, depending on what you’re teaching, that this could be a great class exercise: communicate something (perhaps a predecided something) to someone else, perhaps in-class or perhaps out-of-class, without using local chat or IM. Or, as a series of exercises, first without chat, then without IM, then with increasing restrictions to promote lateral thinking on the issue. Lots of possibilities here, and it can be presented as a challenge or a game…

Song of the Moment: "Kismet," Bond

TLVW, day 6

Posted in Second Life, TLVW with tags , , on July 14, 2008 by Bola C. King-Rushing

Alright. Now that I’ve got the shoe thing out of my system for a minute, I can get back to business. In class the other day, we used some Sloodle tools with our own course Moodle in order to better get the feel of what it can do for us. We added more definitions to the glossary that we could access from in-world (that tool should allow you to add definitions from in-world) and played with the toolbar HUD and chat logger. We also looked briefly at a couple other unrelated tools.

After that, we broke into two groups to discuss some pertinent issues. My group was thinking about SL’s affordances for professional development, and we came up with a pretty good list. The other group discussed the objections and obstacles to using SL in education. This could not have been a better topic, as not only does it regularly come up in our class forums, but I was just talking about that very question the day before regarding my own campus. What does one say to those who complain of a steep learning curve or other problems as reasons to resist using SL in their department / school / district? What can you show people to demonstrate its feasibility without being to complex or technical? These are important questions, as even the most enthusiastic of us have doubts at least once in a while, and cogent answers are useful not only to convince the unbelievers but to help us articulate our enthusiasm in terms better than “it’s just so freaking cool!”

Then we went to Weather Island, owned by The Weather Channel, to do some surfing. Yes, on surfboards. It looks like a lot of fun, but – ironically, given my own enthusiasm for SL and the recent discussion – I couldn’t get anything to work. My client started lagging super-hard, I couldn’t even see the water for a while, I couldn’t get on the surfboard, and finally the program just crashed altogether. Esme was her usual great, patient self; when I signed on again she did her best to get me back to the beach and on the board. It took quite a while, but it eventually worked a little (and it was freakin’ cool), although it was perhaps the most frustrating experience I’ve ever had in SL. Not only that, but we got griefed on the beach: some bonehead was running around caging people, and another (or maybe the same?) was making sexual propositions in Spanish. So now I truly understand what some of the resisters are talking about when they describe their bad experiences.

Very educational, that was. So, too, was the general experience I was having that day. You ever have one of those days where it seems that it’s just hard to keep up? No, I wasn’t hung over or anything. But class was more talkative than normal that day, and between managing my avatar in SL while looking at Moodle, plus trying to keep up with all the chat going on, it was all I could do to stay on top of things. I found it difficult at times to participate in the discussion, which is usually not a problem for me. It was commented more than once that I was unusually quiet; I can only say that for some reason the multitasking was just overwhelming at the time.

But it got me thinking. It is assumed that the so-called digital natives don’t have that sort of problem. But how true is that? And everyone has an off day now and then, no matter how much they can usually process at once. As we (some of us, at least) strive to integrate more technology into our classrooms, this is a factor that I think must be kept in mind. Even though we as instructors never feel like we can afford it, we should probably always be mindful of the pace at which we conduct our classes.

Song of the Moment: "Simon Says," Drain S.T.H.

OMG Shoes!

Posted in Second Life with tags , , on July 14, 2008 by Bola C. King-Rushing

Okay, so I’ve decided on an answer my own question: it’s not shallow if you feel it deeply.

I have recently visited SL’s First Annual Shoe Expo (going on through July 27 at the four Rezzable sims: Create, Design, Discover, and Explore). Twice in two days, actually. (No pics just yet, because the place is always crowded and the snapshot feature wants to crash my client.)

So here’s the thing: being at the Expo feels (and I mean in an emotional way) for me a lot like being in an Apple store. Or one of those exotic, import-only auto dealerships. I knew (and those who know me have seen it) that SL has awakened my inner fashion force, but the shoe expo experience was something else altogether.

I’m normally pretty tight-fisted in SL, as I don’t want to turn my time-eating habit into a money-eating habit. Plus you really can dress extremely well on a micro-budget, although it helps if you develop some basic building skills. But on my second visit to the Expo, while waiting for about 2 minutes for some friends to meet me, I saw, coveted, and acquired a L$500 pair of boots.

It was a visceral thing. I just had to have them.

They matched the outfit I was wearing at the moment rather perfectly, enhancing the overall effect I was going for (I will be taking pics of them when I have a moment), so that helped. But I found myself, heart pounding, making an impulse buy that was totally uncharacteristic.

Walking around with my friends / shopping buddies, I later spent another few hundred L$ on further footwear. I had just that morning been reading in the Mermaid Diaries a tutorial on making your own shoes, and was (and am) pretty excited about trying that out. But I couldn’t resist some of these shoes. Hell, I didn’t want to.

If you’ve seen The Devil Wears Prada (and if you haven’t, you should), you know the scene in which Miranda (Meryl Streep’s character) berates the new assistant for snickering at an agonizing belt choice and talks about the true place of fashion in the real world. That scene gave me a new respect for fashion. And I took it to heart in SL, as witnessed by my overburdened inventory that is mostly wardrobe. But I now really understand the passion, as it were, for fashion. It’s real love.

And thus I have no guilt over my purchases. But if you suffer from that irrational ailment, your conscience can be assuaged by knowing that significant portions of the Expo’s sales are going to the ASPCA. Unless you’re like me, as I eat enough meat that the ASPCA might not even take my money. But as I said, I have no guilt.

And did I mention that the Expo covers four sims? I haven’t yet been completely through even one of them. I’ll be going back real soon.

Song of the Moment: "Belle," Paige O'Hara and Cast (from Disney's Beauty and the Beast)

TLVW, Day 5

Posted in Second Life, TLVW with tags , , on July 7, 2008 by Bola C. King-Rushing

Esme, our fearless leader, was at a conference last weekend (about which she probably owes us a blog post 😉 ), so we held that class session yesterday. Two major things in yesterday’s experience.

First, I’m mad at myself because I didn’t get any pics of the Second Louvre, which was among a few spots we toured in class. I’ve been to Paris in FL (though not for many years), and it made the appropriate impression. But it was not until I’d visited Paris 1900 and now the Second Louvre in SL that I realized why France is such a cultural center. I’m not much of an art buff, but this museum was too cool. It was the sculptures that particularly caught me (so much so that I forgot to take freakin’ pictures!). If you’ve been around in SL even a little, you know that good prim-work is the cornerstone of any quality 3D work, and there are some lovely examples at the Louvre. They range from FL-looking pieces (“traditional”-style sculptures) to shimmery, animated, or simply outlandish things that are only possible in a virtual world. I was captivated.

To take a moment and look at this from an educational perspective, just think of what SL museum tours might do for the imaginations of children and young people who are looking for artistic inspiration. Think of how this can augment the notions of art appreciation and art history!

Can you tell the Second Louvre was my favorite part of yesterday’s tour?

So anyway…the second part of class was a presentation by Giannina Rossini on Sloodle, the mashup of the Moodle course management system and Second Life. Basically, adding the Sloodle module to your Moodle installation allows you to use SL to enhance your online course by giving you and your students access to various parts of the Moodle while in SL. This includes chat (the chat can be conducted with those both in and out of SL at the same time), posting to your Moodle blog from in-world, access to glossaries, and more. Pretty nifty, and growing in capability all the time.

A good question was brought up, but there wasn’t time to address it (though I suspect we will in our own Moodle discussions this week): why was Sloodle created? The creators themselves have their answers, some of which are on the website. But the question underneath that is, I believe, “why would we use it?” And my answer is: I’m not sure we would, at least not all of us. It might have been a good tool for this TLVW course, for example, since it’s being conducted completely via Moodle and Second Life. At this point in the course, however, I think of the blogs we’ve created: some of us use the Moodle blog tool, which can be enhanced with Sloodle. Some of us, however, chose WordPress or Blogger blogs, which are – as blogging tools – much more dynamic. If we’d been using Sloodle from word one, these options might not have been available, and I for one would have enjoyed blogging much less. (Let me quickly add that compatibility with major blogging tools is probably on the horizon, since the BlogHUD system already allows blogging to various platforms from in-world.)

The bigger consideration, though, is for teachers who are not using SL as a major component of their classroom or course, even with a major Moodle component. I’m thinking now of the back-end issues, really, since every effort has been made – rather successfully, I think – to make Sloodle easy to use for teachers and students. Unfortunately, unlike BlogHUD (or even SL, to an extent), it’s not a tool you can just pick up and use. It’s a third-party add-on module for your Moodle installation, and for many educators (like me) that means a long heart-to-heart with your sysadmin, IT division, or computer science department. The natural reticence such folks often display when someone wants to add yet another something to the Frankensteinian monster that is the school’s or department’s server comes from the fact that – even if the tool is a plug-and-play module – after the work of the installation, the thing needs to be kept up-to-date (remember that “growing in capability all the time” I mentioned earlier?), and it needs to be integrated from a systems point of view with the rest of the tools on the network (strange incompatibilities pop up for no reason at all, like on my PC, where Thunderbird won’t auto-update if Logitech’s QuickCam software is running). It is what they get paid the big bucks for (!), but is the return (in classroom terms) on the investment (in IT energy and time) worth it? That is, of course, up to each individual. But it’s a serious question.

I did get a pic to share, by the way, which leads to the last thing I have to say about yesterday’s class. This comes from the moment when we are gathering for the Sloodle discussion; Rossini is perched on the orange box, and the rest of us are milling about on the ground. And there’s not a newbie-looking avatar among us! You don’t have to have prim hair or blingy accessories or store-bought tuxedos to transcend that “just out of Orientation Island” lack of style. Everyone here has created their own look, and whether it’s simple or complex, it’s not the cookie-cutter, factory standard. Compare the looks in this pic with those of our first or second meeting, and you’ll see how far we’ve come. Am I too obsessed with appearance? I dunno; how many SL fashion blogs are there out there? Check them out and judge me later. But these are people, not dolls, and in a 3D, visual, digital world, one of the ways to make that most clear is to have an individual look – something at which we’ve all succeeded.

It makes me warm and tingly inside.

Song of the moment: "Telephone Call from Istanbul," Tom Waits

TLVW, day 4

Posted in Second Life, TLVW with tags , , on June 16, 2008 by Bola C. King-Rushing

Wow, that means we’re already at the halfway mark. Not sure how I feel about that.

So Saturday I learned a lot. Our group is really feeling like a group, as one could tell by the way we bantered about before class started. It’s a great bunch of folks, and I’m glad to be in with them. It might be a little hard to tell from this pic, but almost all vestiges of the noob look are gone!

In this pic, we’re actually listening to a presentation about the teen grid. Teaching adults about the teen grid is in some ways problematic, because we’re not allowed to actually see the place (unless we go through the extensive background check, which we probably would’ve had to do last month in order to be ready by this week). Thus there was no way to see what the kids are up to, or even what educators (or, in this case, an educational consultant) are doing. We can only hear about it in secondhand reports. On the other hand, the grid itself works the same way as the main grid, and so as far as the idea of planning for involvement goes, we already have the information we need. I’m in this for college-level applications, so the difference is academic in my case, but I found myself trying to reconcile the idea of the teen grid delivered via reportage with my experiences in the main grid. I’ve come across work by Teen Grid denizens elsewhere in the blogosphere, and in spite of the “physical” similarities to the main grid, it sounds like they’ve got a whole different culture there. I wonder whether and how much that might affect educators trying to work in that environment.

Here’s a slightly off-beat observation. The picture I’ve got above looks like it might have come from the period just before class began, when we were just hanging out and getting ready. In truth, I took this snapshot well over half an hour into class and the aforementioned presentation. Look at what happens spatially (and/or visually) when we don’t have a prescribed seating area! Now, I’m not saying this is a bad thing. It looks like a bunch of folks milling about, but everyone was really engaged – you could tell by the kinds of questions and comments that appeared. Still, such an appearance of chaos might madden some (like me) who find order comforting. It’s a reminder that we (read: I ) always have more stretching we can do when it comes to our comfort zones (although this time it didn’t bother me, as I was not in charge). Thinking on it, it’s more fair to call it “organic” than “chaotic.” We are a class full of good thinkers and hard workers, and that doesn’t change just because we don’t have a classical seating arrangement.

After the presentation, we went into more advanced building. I learned a very valuable lesson about using offsets to display just part of a texture on an object; this can save a lot of money on texture uploads. I ended up working with Shailey and Ebliu on a maze that would help people solve problems with getting voice communication to work. There wasn’t nearly enough time to get it done, but you can see here that we got off to a good start. No, I’m not just sitting around; I just wanted to get to a vantage point so I could see the work better. I also learned how effective the group call feature can be for collaboration – once again I found myself using voice, and it worked well. I guess I’d be more comfortable with it if I had a headset, but I have to admit that voice has some things going for it, especially as part of a collaborative building project. I would have been much less effective if I had to interrupt my hands to type my thoughts out rather than just saying them.

That exercise was really just to get us thinking about how we can use building skills as a pedagogical resource and to get some practical experience doing it, but I found myself compelled to complete the project. I went back this afternoon and mostly finished it up. The project is basically an embodied problem-solving flowchart: Can you hear anything? If yes, go left; if no, go right to Plug in your headphones; can you hear? etc. Each choice points you left for a Yes and right for a No answer, and in the end that required serious planning. I did it on paper first, which took about 20 minutes just to figure out the basic shape of the recursive structure. After that, the build was pretty straightforward. I also learned how to make the equivalent of a one-way glass (or hedge, for the maze) that’s transparent when viewed from one side but opaque (textured) from the other, as each set of choices eventually converges on a successful or unsuccessful outcome. Really, it helps to see the thing. Anyway, it was a nice (and nicely temporary) return to my engineering and computer science days of logic and problem-solving. If this is what digital humanities can be like, I’m definitely in the right field.

Song of the moment: "Follow Me up to Carlow," The Young Dubliners