Nature in Virtual Worlds Update

A busy couple of months. I joined a panel on "Science in Virtual Worlds" at the Association of Internet Researchers Conference in Copenhagen, October 16, where I talked about my research on sites for environmental education in Second Life.

A week later, I delivered a paper on "Representations of 'Nature' in SL" at the Reading and Writing Virtual Worlds conference at the National Institute for Excellence in the Creative Industries, University of Bangor, Wales.

Last Thursday, I delivered a short version of that paper as part of the "Virtual FSU: Learning and Research in Second Life" mini-conference I coordinated at Florida State. (Many thanks to Ken Lim for the plug!)

And this Thursday I am off to San Diego to stage a poster-session version of the enviro-ed material at the National Communication Association convention.



This is just a sample of some of the lighter works he shared with me. I will post more. He also had a website at http://brucehallstudio.com/.

A great loss to all of us. I miss you, Barce.


Colossal Water Spiders

TS Fay from Weather.com600 miles across, ephemeral as a butterfly or galloping ebola, mindless and cruel, sine qua non of our humid subtropics, species scatterer, coast clearer, bringer of floods.

How did the Apalachee, the Timucua, the Caloosa know you? All we have are records of their Taino neighbors, who called them juracán, tools of the wind-deity Guataubá, assistant of the storm-goddess Guabancex.

In Tallahassee the winds have been blowing from the north for two days as Fay drenched the Atlantic coast. When the cyclone comes, find it by facing the wind and turning right.

We need the rain here.


Life is but a Dream

Dipping an oar into the WakullaThis is something I don't do nearly often enough: dip a paddle in an eelgrass-filled spring run.

Or in this case a sho-nuff oar, two of which can scut little Wasabi Maru, my wee Larson (1957 "Game Warden" model) around like a water beetle when I want silent propulsion over the luxury of an outboard.

Sunday afternoon Nancy and I took the boat out for the first time in well over a year and it (and we, rusty dockhands) performed well among the weeds and weekend warriors of the mighty Wakulla* River.

I could watch the undulations of these broad green-brown ribbons forever.

Ah but the poor river (and headspring) is so obviously over-nitrated that it's sometimes hard to take. Gorgeous, yes, but not what it was. And to what meaningful end?

Meanwhile, dip the oars and lean back into them, listening to their creak and splash and the keening of fishing ospreys from the cypress along the banks, and let your thoughts follow the schools of mullet as they circle past the lumbering dirigibles of scarified manatees. There is only this.

*Despite the common "mysterious waters" tourist-trade translation of this word, the only thing mysterious is its original meaning. It is a Creek mispronunciation of a Spanish word, Guacara, which was likely itself a corrupted Timucuan word. In fact, the Spanish mission of San Juan de Guacara, well to the east, may be the origin of another Florida river's name: Suwanee.


Shannon Leigh

The Log at Devil's EarI did not know this young Austin poet who died after a diving accident in one of the most beautiful places I know: Devil's Ear Spring in the Santa Fe River. In reading more about the accident I discovered a poem of hers:

Underwater, four hundred feet back
into the earth's graveyard
we turned off our lights and hung
in perfect blackness
swallowed up by the dark stone
the devil's gullet
the catacombs of the reckless

I have never been so happy than surrounded
by crushing depths and old memories
except that first night
when I lay next to you, your hand
across my shoulderblade my lips
in the hollow of your throat
you are that quiet resignation
that joy of nothingness, as close
as I can ever get to peace
as close as I would ever want

give me four hundred feet inside you
the blackness under your skin
and I will rest in you forever
the marrow in your bones is pockmarked with caves
and I have time.

- Shannon Leigh

Years ago I wrote something similar (not nearly as good: "Sink Whole" on this page) and so I doubly mourn the passing of a kindred spirit. A very sad story indeed.


It's bullshit and it's bad for ya!

Or: it's bad for ya and it's bullshit! Thus the Class Clown's regular refrain during his performance here in Tallahassee at Ruby Diamond back in January, which I got to see thanks to a Christmas present from my wife, Nancy.

And now he's gone. The Hippy Dippy Weatherman, the evil Cardinal, the Fillmore bus--is now finding out for sure when and if Jesus will bring the pork chops.

In the 70s I loved his iconoclasm, his potty and drug humor (which was a cut above his closest competitors Cheech y Chong), his clever wordplay. The quintessential hippie smartass. He was such a close observer of the little, strange things we do. And never afraid to call bullshit on our most hallowed, but empty, cultural practices.

RIP, George. Thanks for all of it.

(And is it not a somewhat obscene sign of our times to see all those Parental Advisory Stickers on his album covers? Not so in my day, Kimosabe!)


Undercephalopods and Anthropohubris

The talks and videos from TED are almost always astonishing, revelatory, entertaining, and thought-provoking. So far most of the ones I've seen related to technological developments, but now there's this video sent to me by my dear friend and fellow oceanophile Kari Foster. Don't miss the end!

Several things come to mind upon viewing this. First, as the speaker points out, our knowledge of this earth is still quite limited. And yet our hubris is such that we continue to destroy things we're not even aware of--and believe that humanity is the pinnacle of evolution and is thus justified in doing so. We're often quite like apes in the Louvre, aren't we?

Second, what awesome complexities and adaptations arise over time! And how odd that people seem to need to invent a supernatural explanation for something so simple as spontaneous mutation going through the filter of survivability. Again it seems an example of human hubris; it's just not easy to imagine millions upon millions of years shaping short-lived organisms, so a deity must be invented. The Anthropocentric Fallacy strikes again (this time, in the form of a god in whose image we must have been created).


Pointy-Headed Intellectuals

Judith Shapiro posts a good essay on the sad state of intellectual life in America, based in part on a recent book by Susan Jacoby called The Age of American Unreason. (If you get bored in mid-read, well, Q.E.D.)

The reader comments are equally enlightening. I especially liked the one that calls for more emphasis on outreach by academics.

And now, back to American Idol.


Is Web.3D Here?

Project4Well I'll be. Those Six Dollar Burgers must've been put to good use. There's a new plugin called ExitReality that turns *any* web site into a customizable 3-d social space. Pilot websites include Hardee's and Carl's Jr., as described here.

Before you get all snooty about burger joints and cheesy avatars, think about it. All websites can now be VR grids with this tool. We've smelled this coming for some time, eh?

If you have the plugin installed and click the "Launch in 3D" button on this page, you'll see a view much like this screenshot. Default page extrusions include a scrolling window, images and hyperlinks floating above the floor, and a glossy grey studio look. I modified mine with different textures and of course added a few animated fish.

MySpace users get a default template that looks a lot like a hip club, with the user's profile pic prominently displayed and doors leading to their friends' spaces. Profile owners can change the whole building theme, swap out a different sky, and insert/edit objects like sofas and photo frames.

What's more, it looks like they've created a default view for Flickr sets that resembles an art gallery, as shown in this screenshot.

As of now this thing only runs in Windows, but think of it as a proof of concept. It's based on VRML, the virtual reality modeling language that has been around for over a decade (I initiated the "virtual prison cell" VRML page at Fla. Department of Corrections when I was their webmaster circa 1996).

This is surely the first of many web.3d tools.....



Well, this is an interesting phenom, and the fact that it's got a wikipedia page and has been written up in the Chronicle may mean it's already been coopted, but I like the concept. Basically reacting to the corporatization and cooptation of Web2.0 tech by companies like Blackboard; reminds me of the way I felt when Microsoft finally "got" the web and then killed half its promise by burying Netscape with MS Aieee.

There are already plenty of counterrevolutionary commentators, some of whom make the good point that Edupunk is not for everyone and will not really appeal to the folks who want a simple package of solutions. And there will no doubt be overextension of the metaphor, along with orthodoxy battles. Brings to mind the value of Queer Theory, which I posted about earlier.

I was not an original punk (though I just saw X play last Friday night and loved them :) but I think I'll be edupunkish, for a while anyway. Fits.

Tag Galaxy

tag galaxy 5.pngFirst there were tag clouds, then the Flickr Related Tag browser, now this: 3-D concept mapping. It's not a sophisticated implementation and it only works with Flickr tags--but consider the possibilities.

Here, browsing a few eco-tags shows an expected visual and anthropocentric bias. Wouldn't it be great to get this kind of output from a tool like Crawdad?


Open Source Virtual

I've heard a bit about this but it stayed in the background until recent changes in SL TOS/copyright raised some hackles in the blogosphere.


Of the grids listed, "Open Life" seemed the busiest so I opened an account. Worth a look just to compare with SL.


Fairly decent number of users here already. You use the SL client, just have to modify the command line arguments to point the viewer to a different grid.

I'm trying to get a sense of which direction the herd may start moving next if SL starts to lose its appeal. Only prob is you can't migrate anything (avatar, inventory) over, BUT I am not sure if that limitation applies in OpenSIM. That is, you may be able to migrate content from one open sim to another--by which I mean the way I can move my website from one server to another.

Looks like you can even set up and run your own grid. Once this catches on like running your own webserver, I predict land prices will bottom out and we'll approach the pricing levels for web space. The trick will then be relating grids to each other. Tesseract, anyone?

PS: I have not yet looked to see if/how this hooks in with MediaGrid and Immersive Education projects, which are also looking at open source sims.


"Don't you cramp me style; don't you queer me pitch....

....don' you walk t'rough my words cause you ain't heard me out yet."

Also sprach 10cc, circa 1974. That white-boy reggae song's been running t'rough my head since reading Annamarie Jagose's Queer Theory: An Introduction for class last week. Yes, I'm a little late on the scene since QT has been around for a decade or so, but that's queer too.

I'd heard the term but (predictably) had no idea of its applicability far beyond the politics of sexual identity. It speaks to my ambivalence towards some aspects of "masculine" identity and yet so much more. Depending on the context, I've been queered as the Hippie or the Brain. You know what I mean. The Queer. The Other. People are strange, when you're a Stranger. Sometimes, it's identifying myself as Southern and hating both the smug, regionalist bigots and the ones whose behaviors continually provide ammunition for them. I'm Queerly Southern. To be a Floridian is to be Queer, unless you compartmentalize your identity on one side or the other of I-4 as many do.

Queer Theory queers categories and identities. Not with the aim of destroying them but to illuminate their construction and open up spaces for change.

(Did I hear you say everything's just dandy?)

We tend to reify, to make binaries, and to assume essentials when it's all maya, construction, convention, performance and reproduction. Queering -- I think the verb works better than the adjective -- even queers identity itself. Are you what you think? What is constant - your molecules, your memories, your values, your cognitions?

All this has obvious application to the queered reality of virtual worlds, with their constructed personas, violations of what our eyes tell us is possible, and the way virtual realities queer the "real" reality.

It's so Queer.


Tallahassee Beach, Extruded

Tallahassee Beach, ExtrudedI've rented a "store" in the Second Life Etopia Prime sim - a frequent hangout - and am hanging my photos on the walls. I'm not yet sure what I will do to it, but one idea is to use it as a jumping off point for regional cultural and natural things. It's called Tallahassee Beach, of course: Etopia Prime 160,43,36.


This Man Gets My Vote (Again)

This is an absolutely vulgar and dead-on rant that had me in tears, partly because it's the complete antithesis of Carter's trademark benign style and partly because it's SOFA KING TRUE!