1L2N: July 29, 2008

Wednesday, 30 July 2008

The last lecture

On July 25, 2008, Randy Pausch died at his home in Chesapeake, Virginia attended by his wife Jai and their three children, Dylan, 6, Logan, 4, and Chloe, 2.

Randy Pausch is either someone you’ve never heard of, or a person who has profoundly affected your life. A computer scientist and computer science professor at Carnegie Mellon University, Pausch had a deep commitment to the potential of virtual reality.

But it was his commitment to the human reality for which he will be most remembered.

On September 8, 2007, a few weeks after being diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer in August, Pausch delivered a lecture for the “Journeys” lecture series at Carnegie Mellon University. His lecture was titled, “Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams,” but is more widely known as “The Last Lecture” and has become one of the most downloaded videos on the Internet.

“This lecture series used to be called ‘The Last Lecture,” he said. “If you had one last lecture to give before you died, what would it be? I thought, ‘Damn! I finally nailed the venue and they renamed it!’” At the time of the lecture, despite the fact of his terminal illness, he was in perfect health. “If I don’t seem as depressed or morose as I should be,” he said, “sorry to disappoint you.” Speaking of the “cognitive dissonance” between his prognosis and his present state he said, “I am in phenomenally good health right now,” adding, “in fact, I’m in better shape than most of you,” whereupon he proceeded to do a number of pushups on stage much to the delight of the audience. “So anybody who wants to cry or pity me can come down and do a few of those and then you may pity me.”

In his lecture he listed his childhood dreams, which included becoming a Disney “Imagineer,” being Captain Kirk, and experiencing weightlessness. Throughout his laugh-out-loud speech he delineated how he had met, or nearly met, all of his goals, and the importance of not giving up on dreams.

The humor, warmth and wisdom of his lecture proved to be an inspiration to thousands of people. He appeared on Oprah (which shouldn't be held against him), the city of Pittsburgh declared November 19, 2007 to be “Dr. Randy Pausch Day,” and in its May issue, Time listed him as one of the World’s Top-100 Most Influential People. On May 30, 2008, President George Bush wrote a letter to Pausch saying that he had “helped to uplift the hearts of millions of Americans” and thanking him for his “unwavering commitment to our Nation’s youth.”

His colleagues were more than willing to join in the nation-wide praise.

“Randy had an enormous and lasting impact on Carnegie Mellon,” said University President Jared L. Cohon. “He was a brilliant researcher and gifted teacher. His love of teaching, his sense of fun and his brilliance came together in the Alice project, which teaches students computer programming while enabling them to do something fun - making animated movies and games. Carnegie Mellon — and the world — are better places for having had Randy Pausch in them.”

“Randy was a force of nature,” said Gabriel Robins, a computer science professor at the University of Virginia and Pausch’s former colleague. “He had a very visceral, fundamental resonance to the core of humanity. It’s not an accident that people flocked to him; people of all ages, cultures and religions. I thought of him as a genius of many things - not just science and research, but marketing, branding, selling, convincing, leading and showing by example.”

Pausch was a dynamic teacher and speaker. Andy van Dam, a longtime mentor to Pausch, said, “Good teaching is always a performance, but what Randy did was in a class all by itself” and compared the response of his students as being similar to that given by athletes to “a great coach who cares not only about winning but about the team players as individuals.”

Pausch’s entire Last Lecture can be seen on YouTube. There have been, and are likely to be, few other lectures to match it.

Randy Pausch: Oct. 23, 1960 - July 25, 2008.

Official Google Blog: Goodbye to Randy Pausch, a great teacher

July 17, 2008

Thursday, 17 July 2008

She’s baaack

Suzanne Vega celebrated the release of her new album, Beauty & Crime, by a repeat performance in Second Life.

As most Second Life citizens know, Ms Vega was one of the first A-list musicians to perform in Second Life -- and with a guitar specially built for her by Robbie Dingo. She is an avid supporter of our little world, to the point of writing about its founder, Philip Rosedale (Philip Linden to us) for Time Magazine last May.

Her album will be released on July 17, and her performance was scheduled for July 13 -- which means if you’re reading about it here, it’s already past. But don’t feel bad, it was by invitation only.

Interestingly, Suzanne’s latest concert in SL was also streamed live on a regular-style Web site (you know …the ones without avatars and buildings and landscapes). This would make it one of the world’s first virtual concerts with a live stream. Or something like that.

In case you missed it, and the odds are you did, a recording had been posted on Suzanne Vega’s site.

And for those of you who enjoy experimental music, check out Robbie Dingo’s ant concert in which an electronic piano plays notes as they’re moved around by an increasing number of ants. It can be found here.

He’s baaack

The godfather of virtual life is returning to Second Life.

According to William Gibson’s Penguin publishers (which, to those who have spent too much time in-world, means his publishers from Penguin Press, not publishers who look like penguins), a “range of William Gibson activities” is planned for Second Life. These include a screening of his movie No Maps for These Territories, a competition to design a Gibson avatar, and give-aways of shipping containers packed with “Gibson goodies.” At the beginning of August, William Gibson himself will be coming into Second Life to read from Spook Country and answer questions.

Mitch Wagner writes about the coming events in his The Information Week Blog, and even pads his article with references to (but no explanations concerning) a Wikipedia article on cyberspace involving “ancient Greeks and Plato.” He adds the interesting information that “Second Life is the Metaverse in every important respect except popularity.”

Ouch. But it’s kind of true.

Will that be cash or Lindens?

Although there are already a number of real-world shops with branches in Second Life, they all break with our beloved virtual reality when it comes to the actual POP (point of purchase). Basically, you can shop at Apple or Reebock and buy pretty well anything you want. But as soon as you go to pay for it, you have to leave Second Life and go to their boring, two dimensional, text-based Web-site. For those of us who know that Linden dollars are as valuable as regular dollars (at a 250 to 1 ratio, of course), this is an insult. A cultural affront, if you will.

Therefore we welcome I Want One Of Those, a company that is doing business in true Second Life fashion.

I Want One Of those, called iwoot.com in regular Internet terms, has even learned the importance of incorporating their advertising into the Second Life map. Their island consists of five buildings that spell out the company URL (iwoot.com) -- with the dot on the letter “i” being a lighthouse.

"We can explore which products are successful,” says Tim Booth, creative director, “and see whether the most popular items in the real world are also a hit in Second Life."

The building which makes up the letter 'i' contains a marketplace to which about a dozen of the most active and creative Second Life gadget builders will be invited to showcase and market their work. The dot on the 'i' is a lighthouse.

Along with their own products (showcased in the “w” when viewed from above), they will also feature about a dozen of Second Life’s top designers and builders.

Second Life avatars will be able to visit the company’s store, check over the merchandise, take their selection to the counter, and pay for it with Linden dollars.

"A 3D virtual space is undoubtedly what the internet will become, even if it takes a few years to get there," said Booth, thereby proving that at least one person out there actually gets it.

Now if only one of the reporters could get it.

One of the reporters gets it

Wade Roush has an excellent article in MIT’s Technology Review called “Second World.”

“The World Wide Web will soon be absorbed into the World Wide Sim,” he declares, “an immersive, 3-D visual environment that combines elements of social virtual worlds such as Second Life and mapping applications such as Google Earth. What happens when the virtual and real worlds collide?”

The crux of his 7,400 word long article is that platforms such as Second Life will become valuable additions to the overall world of the Internet.

He points out that “the navigation tools provided by Second Life….make it an excellent place to investigate phenomena that would otherwise be difficult to visualize or understand. In that sense, this hideaway from the reality outside is beginning to function as an alternative lens on it.”

Unlike many other reporters who have written about Second Life, Roush has actually spent time here -- and not in the “my-god-I-had-to-spend-an-hour-learning-how-to-get-around” fashion.

“In the course of my research for this story,” says Roush, “I bought land in Second Life, built a house, filled it with furniture, bought and razed the adjoining land, lifted my house a hundred meters into the sky to get it out of the way, and began work on a bigger house.”

Roush’s vision consists of a new internet in which avatars can move freely from Second Life to Google Earth to real-time traffic reports in what he calls “mobile augmented reality.”

Perhaps the secret to understanding the potential of Second Life involves actually spending some time in Second Life?

July 10, 2007

Thursday, 10 July 2008

But will there be tanks?

Redline China reports that Yilu, a game company out of Guangzhou, will soon be launching their first MMORPG. It will be a virtual world in which players can interact with other players and their environment according to pre-determined “physical” rules. Its name, Di Er Ren Sheng, translates as “Second Life,” but unlike the Linden Labs’ world, the Chinese Second Life will not allow players to create their own content.

In other words, no capitalism allowed.

But will there be Godzilla?

The Weekly Famitsu reports that the city of Tokyo will soon be arriving in Second Life through the teaming of Mizuguchitetsuya Rez, and Tetsuya Mizuguchi with the ad firm Dentsu.

Tetsuya Mizuguchi, a game designer and founder of Q Entertainment, is best known for his work with Sega Rally Championship, Space Channel 5 and Rez, along with the puzzle games Lumines and Meteos. More recently (July 7, 2007, to be precise), Lumi, a character from Mizuguchi’s Genki Rockets, opened the Live Earth concert in Tokyo in a holographic performance, and introduced a holographic video projection of Al Gore.

And that was in real life.

The Second Life Tokyo, according to Mizuguchi, will not simply be a recreation of the original. “The Tokyo we are trying to create is based on the image of city [sic],” he says. “How do people in Tokyo perceive the city? How about foreigners? That's what we want to express.” Since Tokyo is a veritable factory of popular culture, which by its very nature is ephemeral and quickly lost, Mizuguchi believes that his virtual Tokyo, by acting as a kind of virtual pop cult museum “might be the perfect place for it.”

There are doubters, however, including Miguel Lopez, who wrote about the new Tokyo for The Weekly Famitsu. Echoing a growing trend among commentators, Lopez expresses scepticism concerning “any organization's ability to maintain a meaningful, long-term presence in Second Life, including those enlisting the aid of luminary developers.”

It should be noted, however, that while commentators like Lopez have their doubts, there is a growing number of corporations, educational institutions, and even legal firms setting up virtual offices in world.

Although to be honest, we can’t imagine a good reason for a law office in Second Life.

A good reason for a law office in Second Life

As it says in the Good Book, “Wherever three or more are gathered, there shall be a lawsuit.” (This, of course, is from the Good Book of Lawyerly Aphorisms which also contains the popular children’s prayer, “As I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my torts to keep.”) Although there is some controversy about the exact number of Second Life residents, everyone agrees that there are at least “three or more,” meaning we’ve been long overdue for the lawsuit.

And it has arrived in the case of Stroker Serpentine v. Volkov Catteneo, the first time one avatar has sued another.

Serpentine (whose real-life name is Kevin Alderman) runs Eros LLC which develops and sells in-world sexual devices. One of his more popular items is the SexGen bed, boasting some 150 different animations. With an estimated 100,000 sold at L$12,000 each, it’s definitely one of his big sellers, which is why he was upset when Volkov Catteneo allegedly came along, found a way to copy it, and began selling the identical bed at one third of the price.

The primary issue involves the question of copyright infringement. A secondary issue involves the question, “Are there really 150 different sexual positions? I mean -- really?”

As for the amount of the settlement he’s seeking, Serpentine insists he’s not out for blood. “We’re not going to sue him for a million dollars,” he told Eric Reuters, a reporter for Reuters/Second Life. “I don’t want to crucify the guy. I’m trying to protect my income and my family.”

Finding “the guy,” however, is proving to be tricky since nobody knows who Volkov Catteneo is in real life, a situation Catteneo is confident he will be able to maintain. “I’m not some kind of noob,” he told Reuters, adding that not only is his name not in the Linden’s files, but that he doesn’t have a permanent address in real life.

Legal issues involving virtual goods and intellectual property rights are becoming a growing concern in the legal community, and a growing number of law firms are opening in Second Life to deal with them. These include Pro Bono Second Life, Gar Hallard's Law Office (next to the Open Latte Coffee Shop), and the Alonzo Law Firm which, oddly enough, advertises that “A lawyer with his suitcase can steal more than a hundred men with guns.” We’re not sure why anyone would want to steal a hundred or more men with guns, but possibly Alonzo is hoping you’d rather have him with you than against you.

Maybe he’s the one Serpentine should have gone with.

Second Life disappoints Washington Post

It’s becoming a weekly event. This week it’s Michael Gerson of the Washington Post who has entered Second Life and found it wanting.

In this case, our intrepid reporter attempts to find parallels to the type of literature J.R.R. Tolkien called "sub-creation." This, according to Gerson, involves “the Godlike construction of a complex, alternative reality, sometimes with its own mythology and languages.” Unfortunately, it seems that Second Life just doesn't measure up. While The Lord of the Rings Online, to which Gerson and his two sons subscribe, involves heroic quests and an underlying aim “for a recovery of honor and adventure in an age dominated by choice and consumption,” Second Life just totally doesn't.

“Instead of showing the guiding hand of an author, this universe is created by the choices of its participants, or ‘residents.’ They can build, buy, trade and talk in a world entirely without rules or laws; a pure market where choice and consumption are the highest values.”

He notes the recent controversies revolving around questionable sexual practices in SL, but concedes that there is more to Second Life than its “moral failures.”

“It is, in fact, a large-scale experiment in libertarianism. Its residents can do and be anything they wish. There are no binding forms of community, no responsibilities that aren't freely chosen and no lasting consequences of human actions. In Second Life, there is no human nature at all, just human choices.”

He does not address how activity created by human choices and engaged in by human beings can be devoid of human nature.

Gerson does approve of some aspects of Second Life activities, such as “good live music, philanthropic fundraising, even a few virtual churches and synagogues,” but by and large he finds little to praise. Unlike the real world, it is “highly sexualized in ways that have little to do with respect or romance.” And perhaps most telling of all, “there seems to be an inordinate number of vampires, generally not a sign of community health.”

So we’re doomed. But maybe we can save ourselves if we run out all the vampires.

July 3, 2007

Thursday, 3 July 2008

Donald Trump’s Hair Meets Moriarty

CBC news (the Canadian national television network too boring to watch) reports that researchers in Edmonton (a Canadian city too cold to live in) are working on a new application that will allow business people to attend meetings in lifelike fashion, even when separated by thousands of miles.

In short, they’re attempting to create a holodeck.

"As engineers and scientists, we look at these futuristic things and we say, 'Well, we can build that,'" said David Antoniuk, the director of business development for TRLabs. "So we're trying to develop this holodeck technology."

Admit it, Gentle Reader, you’re excited.

But if we’re going to learn from Star Trek technology, perhaps we should also take a moment to learn from some of the problems it caused. One crew member was shot and seriously injured due to a malfunction of the holodeck safety features; a race of aliens reprogrammed the ship’s computer while the senior officers were trapped in a holodeck jazz bar; and when Data’s Sherlock Holmes role-play went awry, Moriarty took control of the Enterprise. And that’s not including the many times crew members got into personal trouble through over-use or abuse of the technology.

Think about it. Do we really want a virtual Donald Trump getting loose and joining forces with other wealthy, but dimensionless celebrities such as Paris Hilton?

Although at least a virtual Trump would justify his hair.

The technology is being developed by Hewlett-Packard in California and TRLabs in Edmonton. They hope to make the experience so real that participants will be able to read body language. All that’s needed to accomplish this goal is the ability to project 3D images into empty space, and link these images to the people they represent in such a realistic fashion that, in the words of lead researcher, Pierre Boulanger, “users will be able to see an eye twitch or a bead of sweat.”

Since there is no word yet that anyone is even remotely close to accomplishing either of these goals, don’t expect it to replace Second Life anytime soon.

Star Trek Meets the Transformers

Speaking of Star Trek, a new Star Trek movie is scheduled to begin shooting in November with a script written by Robert Orci, writer of the recent Transformers film. He explained the reason for his involvement by saying, "In a way, it becomes interactive in that we all get to be on the lot, I guess, going off of that show that just came on. Everyone gets to sort of test their ideas against what they would do relative to what's actually going to be done in the movie.”

We can only hope the actual script will be more coherent.

The big question for Orci is the music. The TV theme was written by Alexander Courage and gave way to Jerry Goldsmith’s majestic orchestration for the movies and Next Generation series. But what theme will accompany the Enterprise on her new voyages? "I don't know what we're going to do,” he admits, adding that “Star Trek II switched."

Star Trek II? Most of us heard the new theme in Star Trek I, the movie Goldsmith wrote it for.

Perhaps we should take the music in a more modern, urban direction.

Yo, you got into my face
So I went into space,
Bustin’ loose
Triple beat.
Now there’s a heezy alien race
Blowin’ trees in my old place.
Pump the jam
Feel the heat, Ho.

No word yet on whether the Enterprise will acquire the ability to change into a giant pickup truck or battle robot.

Barbie Meets Second Life

Remember the talking Barbie doll that caused a widespread feminist protest because, along with various other phrases, she said, “Math is hard, let’s go shopping”? Well, in a recent Scifi.com article, S. E. Kramer has revealed his inner Barbie.

After first expressing his doubts that most reporters writing about SL have ever visited the place, he then relates his own in-world experiences and how they convinced him that the entire platform is doomed to failure.

In a section of the article subtitled “It’s Hard,” he explains that before getting access to the mainland, newcomers must first complete a training course. “Second Life is difficult from the beginning,” he says. “After downloading an application, users need to complete twelve (twelve!) tasks on a training island before they're allowed to teleport to another training island where they can learn more Second Life skills. The training was tedious and took me around an hour to complete.”

An hour! Well, hell yeah! What computer application needs that much time to learn? I’m sure you can step into Halo or Eve and master the game in a matter of minutes.

Following “It’s Hard,” Kramer discusses another objection in a section subtitled “And Not Very Fun.” After finally, finally making it to the mainland, he attempted to meet some friends. Although many people believe that making friends requires time and effort, apparently Second Life offers instant friendship (I admit to having missed that guarantee in the official literature). In his quest, he teleported to regions with the most people, which turned out to be casinos and strip clubs: venues he did not find conducive to forming deep and meaningful relationships.

Having now spent almost as much time trying to make friends as he had learning to navigate the land, the intrepid technology reporter then decided to indulge in his favourite past-time: swimming. “It wasn't very fun. Or relaxing. Or even good exercise.”

Who knew virtual swimming wouldn’t measure up to a dip in the lake?

With his in-depth research now complete, Kramer spends the rest of his article explaining why Second Life is without social significance and will never be popular. It’s hard, of course. And not much fun. And you probably can’t run it at work. Oh, and because much of the content is created by users, some of it is amateurish and doesn’t work right.

One area he missed was the fact that in Second Life, citizens tend to speak in full sentences using properly spelled words. This alone probably rules out many potential users.

Besides, according to Kramer, anything you need for socializing is already available at Facebook. Just ask the 30 trillion preteens LOLing and ROFLing there.