Lotus blossoms and the hint of seafront piers

Lotus Stage built by  Donpatchy Dagostino for the SL9B event in Second Life
Lotus Stage built by Donpatchy Dagostino for the SL9B event in Second Life

I returned from my vacation to find that the SL9B event had been running for quite a while, I quickly fired up my Second Life viewer so that I could pop in and explore. I even managed a rare blog post and (giddy from the whole experience) find myself writing another post within days (as opposed to months!) Whatever next?

Donpatchy Dagostino's Lotus flowers
Donpatchy Dagostino’s lotus flowers

You see, for my vacation (or as we would say in the UK, my ‘holidays’) I went to stay at a camp by a lake in Maine. English people might think of a camp as a tent, and damp sleeping bags, stretched over bumpy ground above a subterranean sea of seething worms. In America, a camp is frequently a house with electricity and running water, a bathroom, kitchen with fridge (though we roughed it a bit without a dishwasher); we also had beds with mattresses, a washing machine, TV and DVD player plus a phone but (gasp) no internet!

Lotus stage with its vague hints of Victorian seafront piers...
Lotus stage with its vague hints of Victorian seafront piers…

My favorite activity when staying ‘at the lake’ is to take out a lovely little silver rowing boat and row round to a sheltered corner of the lake that is filled with water lillies. The lilly pads and fallen trees in this area keep the speed boats and jet skies well away, freeing me to float peacefully amongst the lillies and dragonflies. When my wanderings around SL9B brought me to the Lotus Stage with all the lotus leaves and flowers scattered at its feet I was delighted. Despite the difference that exists between lillies and lotus plants I was reminded of my rowing boat rides on the lake. At the same time I was intrigued by the scale of everything at the Lotus Stage. My avatar’s eye view of giant floating petals and lotus blossoms reminded me of the movie ‘Honey I Shrunk the Kids‘.

Lotus Stage ramp leading up to the performance area
Lotus Stage ramp leading up to the performance area

The stage itself reminded me of an old theater that you might find on a Victorian seafront pier; this impression was helped by the railway bridge to nowhere that runs alongside the stage, home for a stationary steam engine and its carriages. To climb up to the Lotus Stage the creator, Donpatchy Dagostino, built a long elegant ramp that spirals gently up into the petals of the giant lotus flower and opens out into the stage area. When I was wandering around on my first visit I actually arrived at the stage during a performance by the astonishing ChangHigh Trinity Dancers. Fire, lights and lasers were shooting out from the stage. The show was a striking contrast to the cool reflective waters lying below and perhaps the organizers planned it that way as a safety measure? I returned the following day to get a picture of the stage standing empty and silent in the early evening shadows.

Lotus Stage standing empty but for shadows
Lotus Stage standing empty but for shadows

I delved into Google to see if I could dig up more information about The ChangHigh Trinity Dancers and found the following description on their Facebook page:

CHANGHIGH TRINITY SISTERS FIRESHOW of LIGHT, LIFE and LOVE

We are four spiritual sisters, from different parts of the world, who have come together and created a very unique and extremely beautiful and powerful circus/fire-dancing show in the virtual 3D world of Second Life. We perform using rotating trapezes, on high wire, podiums and on rolling balls.We fire dance on walking elephants and perform many very unique acrobatic animations, all colored by vivid radiant effects of many different kinds, scripted and available inside Second Life; such as fire balls, light particles and poofers, lasers, sparks, smokes and ofter kinds of realistic light.

One of the ChangHigh Trinity Sisters
Yman Juran the founder and lead fire dancer of the ChangHigh Trinity Sisters

Finally, thanks to my ‘go to’ sources of information: Honor McMillan, Crap Mariner and Daniel Voyager Thanks for all your work in helping SL9B happen and thanks for your blogs and tweets that helped me find my way around and understand what in the virtual world was happening at SL9B!

Joining up the dots with Connectivism…

I have signed up to participate in the MOOC titled “Connectivism, Networked Learning, and Connective Knowledge, 2012”  with George Siemens and Stephen Downes acting in the roles of instructors.

I have been a fan of Connectivism for quite a while without even knowing it. It is intriguing to be given a name for something that previously had no name. A name is rather like a diagnosis i.e. we often hear how someone who is unwell experiences a sense of relief when they discover that the thing that is making them ill has a name. A name gives power, it propels us into the world with intention. A name can also cause problems, perhaps it is not the name so much as the qualities we attach to the name; the traits and characteristics that we pour upon a name. That is, a name can quickly turn into something dangerously vulnerable to judgmental and limiting thought. The most damaging outcome of such examination is dismissal, reaching a quick conclusion before running off saying it is all quite worthless and there are better things to do with our time,

Oberon Onmura Wave Fields
Oberon Onmura: Wave Fields. Art installation in Second Life

As we in the MOOC address the thorny issue of “What is Connectivism” we have been pointed towards a range of reading materials and taped interviews that address “Connectivism”. I get the sense that if it was at all humanly possible Connectivism would avoid being named at all. For once it was named it was pigeon holed and then pecked to pieces by a thousand questions. However, (rather nicely) Connectivism survives being cut into a million pieces. In fact, it invites such activities and even thrives upon the process. (It is called Connectivism after-all!)

As a blogger (however erratic I might be in this art) I was fascinated when George Siemens stated in an interview with Rick Schier that he (George) had been an active blogger since 2000 and had established his blog elearnspace in 2002. George explained that he recognized that blogging presented a completely different type of learning, a learning that was fundamentally connected in nature. Blogging provided him with the ability to share resources with others, to find one individual and use that individual as the node to find more individuals who were addressing particular subjects. The individual’s blog became the starting point of George’s learning, a connection, the golden thread that lead him into the maze of the web and guided him to the treasure of new knowledge. The process of blogging formed the connections that in turn opened doors to his new learning.

Oberon Onmura: Wave Fields (View 2)
Oberon Onmura: Wave Fields. A rare moment of stillness amongst the moving cubes.

Anyone who has blogged for a while recognizes this process of joining up the dots to create a picture. The connections we make in blogging act on two levels. One is on the internal level, where we write and discover through writing that writing itself is a form of thinking. By writing and thinking we discover connections in our thoughts that we did not know were there lurking (un-named) in our heads. We then move to the external level where we are out in the space beyond ourselves, in the space we share with everything in existence (it is a conveniently vast and limitless space that accommodates all that we know and all that we don’t know).

Blogging allows us as bloggers to literally embed connections (web links) in our writing and these links draw us out of the introspective space of writing and pull us into the external space shared with other writers. We can then in turn communicate with each other and build up layers of understanding through the connections we either simply find or that we consciously create. The act of embedding links gives us the power to connect to targeted locations out in cyberspace. Links allow our writing to take on a new dimension, embedded urls plumb our thoughts and take our readers directly to thought touch points.

Oberon Onmura Wave Fields 3
Oberon Onmura: Wave Fields. The sea of cubes is in perpetual motion. Creating then breaking patterns.

By recognizing the multi-dimensional space of the web and seeing how we can creatively connect with nodes across the web we are drawing in space. (Connecting the dots.) These drawings render new understandings and the process of recognizing these new understandings show us the amazing commonalities underlying human thought, action and creation. At this point I see Connectivism standing up to be counted as a theory that can help us to see and then (once seen) navigate the new galaxy of knowledge brought to our awareness via today’s technology.

Oberon Onmura: Wave Fields 4
Oberon Onmura: Wave Fields. A passage through the cubes is starting to shift and change.

Images in this post: Second Life Art installation created by Oberon Onmura: Wave Fields (This exhibit closes on January 31st, 2012)

Oberon Onmura’s “Wave Fields” – an ever-changing landscape of cubes that create undulating waves of visual movement as they form, activate, and disintegrate.

Log Rolling Avatars and Virtual Identities

I think of avatars as vehicles, a means of travel within virtual worlds. They are frozen fragments of our kaleidoscopic self-image(s). Avatars as vehicles cost a lot less than a car and are capable of taking us to outer space one minute and far beneath the ocean in the next. Mosaic pieces of self spinning through the electric hum of cyberspace.

Log Rolling at Armageddon
A log rolling self portrait ? Lady Fog avatar on the island of Cocoon.

Visitors to different virtual world locations often adapt their avatars to blend in and belong. (Avatars tend to be rather conformist, but don’t tell them that.) Creators of both whimsical and educational locations in virtual 3D worlds encourage tourists to kit out their avatars according to the relevant theme. By encouraging visitors to ‘dress’ appropriately they can become more fully immersed in the experience of their visit. For example, if you visit the *1920s Berlin Project in Second Life it is suggested that you wear the (free) 1920s clothing provided. This helps avoid the faux pas of wandering around pre-war Berlin dressed as a medieval knight or a Nasa astronaut (basic considerations for experienced time travelers).

Treehouse and balloon
Treehouse and balloon on Cocoon Island (designed by rikku Yalin)

To my mind, this shows how we wear the places we visit in online 3D worlds (just as in our physical apparentlymorerealworld). With this in mind, I have recently been entertained by the idea of donning a Second Life avatar and then giving myself the task of seeing what place the avatar might wear… Hence the post where Lady Fog is liberated from a framed picture in the Meta_Body exhibition and carried away by mechanical flying boat to the island of Cocoon.

Queen of the crows
Animated avatar & possible Queen of the Crows ('Fog' avatar courtesy of Meilo Minotaur and CapCat Ragu)

Avatars are playing an ever greater role in our online lives. You do not have to visit virtual worlds to have one. Facebook, Twitter, Flickr and a multitude of other social networking sites use avatars nowadays. In fact, at Gravatar.com  you are encouraged to zip up your ‘Globally Recognized Avatar‘  and prepare it for travel across the internet where it can be used on (as they say) a ‘kajillion websites’.  These gravatars are colorful cubes that we can stick in the comments box on sites (strangely parallel to sending letters with a postage stamp on an envelope). WordPress provides free patterned squares of color to those who lack a gravatar thus enabling them to leave a little decorative stamp of individuality in the comments area below posts. (Try it and see, you will be given a colorful cube with a geometric design (that looks surprisingly like a quilting pattern) should you decide to leave a comment below this post… Theoretically, once you have experienced a Gravar first hand you will be so stirred with the hunger to establish your own virtual identity you too will set out to establish your very own cube of portable social presence.

Peaceful view with distant ruins
Peaceful view with distant ruins (Cocoon)

In a way, a gravatar is our digital portrait. The poor person’s land grab in the digital void. The rich and famous commission paintings of themselves; these are highly controlled portrayals designed for posterity, destined to be the lasting record of their lives, forever posed in a good light. Well, whether you use the term avatar or gravatar, these pictorial signatures are cost cutting self-portraits and part of their economical use derives from the fact that they acquire significance from their surroundings. That is, you are saying something about yourself not only from how you depict yourself in your image cube but also in where you place your avatar/gravatar. The location soaks into your little avatar stamp and flavors it with peripheral information about your tastes and sensitivities.

Flying elephant
Cyberloom dressed as in Meta_Body's 'Fog' avatar seated upon a flying elephant.

This seems a good place to finish this post with an important statement about myself. I leave you with a picture of Cyberloom wearing borrowed avatar clothing, traveling through digital space seated upon a comfy cushion on a flying elephant. It really does say a lot about me.

Happy Space Traveling.

Post notes & credits:

*1920s Berlin Project in Second Life is actually a role playing sim in Second Life. This means site-seers are welcome but it is important that they wear the clothing of that period and allow those who are actually role-playing (i.e. imagining themselves in Berlin at this time and exploring their stories) are not interrupted. See the interesting article about this sim written by Jo Yardley, make sure that you check out the comments section as there is additional information posted there as well.

The Petrified Gallery: Meta_Body Exhibit created by Meilo Minotaur and CapCat Ragu.
Slurl: 
http://maps.secondlife.com/secondlife/Porto/126/113/703 (Please visit the gallery to see more of the avatar creations of Meilo Minotaur and CapCat Ragu.

Cocoon at slurl: http://slurl.com/secondlife/Strand/143/125/39/ created by rikku Yalin

Hunting for dragons on Sunday

I have never been a prolific blogger and nowadays weeks can go by before I post an update. However, it is strangely comforting to see how many people visit my blog even when I am not here. I see the top search terms people use to reach Cyberloom and every Sunday brings in the dragon hunters. Out of consideration for these folk I decided it was high time to pay a visit to Grendel’s Children and see what new dragon creations Flea Bussy may have conjured up of late. I found the Fae Dragon and, for the astonishingly small sum of 5 Linden dollars, I acquired a box of no less than nine dragons! Today’s post (written especially for the Sunday Dragon Hunters) shows off just one of these new fiery pets, the Fae Dragon ‘Anise’. The enchanting and mysterious Al Naifah in Second Life provides the location for these dragon photos.

small stripey dragon
Note to Sunday Dragon Hunters: Fae Dragons are relatively small dragons, imagine a Komodo dragon with wings for a sense of its size.

 

Fae Dragon 'Anise'
Note to Sunday Dragon Hunters: Fae Dragons are undoubtedly successful dragons due to their smaller size and their natural camouflage.

 

Fae Dragon 'Anise' posing for photographs on location in Al Naifah
Fae Dragon 'Anise' posing for photographs on location in Al Naifah

 

Flea Bussy's Fae Dragon 'Anise' seen flying off into the sunset.
Flea Bussy's Fae Dragon 'Anise' seen flying off into the sunset.

Note to Sunday Dragon Hunters: Double click the pictures to see the Fae Dragon details more clearly.

 

Bloggers come whiffling through the tulgey wood

Wandering across blogs is like whiffling through ideas and sharing in conversations that rustle the leaves of the Tulgey Wood of words. (Apologies to Lewis Carroll & the Jabberwocky.)

One of the many unexpected delights of virtual world travel is the community of bloggers who have grown around these imaginative online spaces. Nowadays, I spend as much time reading blogs about Second Life as I do actually going into the 3D world. I visit SL far less than I used to, but the time I spend when I am there is more focussed than it was in the past. Bloggers guide me to the best places to visit and in turn I guide them with my blog. Today I had the delightful surprise of seeing that one of my favorite bloggers, Honour McMillan had posted about a visit to a location I had recently blogged about, the Arcipelagus by Aria Baroque. What charms me so much about Honour’s blogpost, and in-world trip, is the fact that I have just visited China, a location Honour recommended. I had never been to Second Life China created by aston Leisen until Honor intrigued me with her post and photographs. It is a marvelous place and I thought it must be very new yet it turns out it has been in Second Life for many virtual moons.

Without Honor’s blog I would never have found SL-China (which strikes me as being way ahead of its time) with its fluid artistic sweep. It is striking in its use of the two dimensional medium of ink and paper to create a 3D experience, as opposed to the more studied (less spontaneous) more architectural approach we usually see. I often describe Second Life as being like a painting I can walk into, well aston Leisen has created that experience with the simple use of ink washes on transparent layers. You almost expect your avatar to emerge from the bamboo groves of SL-China with shoes saturated in runny black ink.

Snowy landscape in China created by aston Leisen
Snowy landscape in China created by aston Leisen
Hut - aston Leisen. China. Second Life
Hut - aston Leisen. China. Second Life
Comfy armchair in the bamboo grove -aston Leisen. China. Second Life
Comfy armchair in the bamboo grove - aston Leisen. China. Second Life
Birds flying across the landscape
Birds flying across the landscape
Wind in the bamboo
Wind in the bamboo
Looking down at aston Leisen's China in Second Life
Looking down at aston Leisen's China in Second Life

My blog is my connectome…

I watched a fascinating TED Talk the other day, it was given by Sebastian Seung, an MIT scientist who is mapping the human brain. He is focusing on the mass of connections that span the spaces between our neurons, and calls this mass of cerebral wires the ‘connectome’. Seung suggests that our personality and memories may lie within these connecting cerebral threads. This got me thinking about memory and how our brains are like sieves; I am not thinking about what the sieve loses rather than what it seeks to keep. That is, our brains are dainty filters capturing useful little thoughts from the torrent of information pouring through our minds. The best way to remember things seems to lie in finding connections, by linking items to each other we increase our recall quotient. One way of connecting ideas about the Web is by using the Web for memory capture, and though blogs require effort they are wonderful tools for building all manner of connections.

Those quick ‘Bookmark‘ and ‘Tag This’ buttons provided by various applications embedded on my browser tool bar mean I can store links to all manner of articles while expending very little effort. In turn, the less thought used to record the link, the less useful the bookmark finally ends up being to me… not to mention the fact that I bombard myself with so much information I end up bookmarking items instead of reading them.

Antique maps on display in Second Life
David Rumsey Maps in the 3D cloud. Antique maps displayed above the Topographical Map of the Yosemite Valley (1883) (note how the map below looks surprisingly like a brain!)

However, if I mention an article in a blog post it helps me to recall it years later.  I usually add in images to illustrate a post and this helps to glue the ideas and articles into my memory.  In effect, the activity of blogging helps me remember things.  Blog tools such as tags, categories, calender and archive provide additional mental hooks. Categorizing and tagging encourage me to clarify my ramblings whilst also providing routes and connections which help retrieve those same thoughts later. Now, those who travel in the 3D web of virtual worlds know these worlds provide wild and wonderful images which they can fly around and explore, images that are far more interesting than clipart and Google images. In other words, Second Life, InWorldz and other blossoming digital realms provide us with an extraordinary 3D sketchpad if we so chose.

World and Celestial Globes created by Giovanni Maria Cassini
The World and Celestial Globes of Giovanni Maria Cassini on display at Rumsey Maps (note you can fly your avatar right inside these globes).

Of course, writing is also an important part of blogging, though oddly enough expressing yourself in words does not have to be the priority. Bloggers blog in many different ways; blogs can be a list of links, a store of images, short pithy paragraphs, bunches of quotes etc.  Still, for me writing helps me discover what I am thinking as sometimes I have only a vague notion when I start typing. I hand write notes to myself, scrawling with such horrible handwriting that sometimes I can’t even read it later. These  notes save ideas in their early stages  i.e., the idea is outlined but it is not fully explored. When I return to read it (or at least try to read it) I often find I have lost the original insight and energy that prompted the note taking in the first place.

Blogging makes these rambles available for viewing by an unknown audience of strangers, awareness of this shadowy crew is enough to encourage me to tidy up my thoughts. Ultimately, the person who writes the post writes to themselves in the future. That is, the anonymous others who might read a blog post includes the writer as well.

Japanese Scroll Map at Rumsey Maps in Second Life
Beautiful Japanese Scroll Map with Map Walk and the Rumsey Maps Welcome Center in the background

I admire R.B. Wild’s Great Map blog, he keeps things very simple generally just using quotes and links to items that have attracted his interest. He is fascinated by maps and his blog is his map through cyberspace. This blog is called Cyberloom because I see myself as a space weaver. This is a little tongue in cheek, it comes from the days long ago when I was a recently graduated graphic design student in the UK. The professional designers I was in contact with (at that time) viewed self expression as self indulgence, and they called artists ‘basket weavers’ (and not in a complimentary tone). This blog weaves together a trail of thought threads, and virtual world photographs, to create a small personal memory mind map of the vast, ever growing, digital vacuum known as the World Wide Web.

David Rumsey's Antique Maps in Second Life
3 antique maps: 'A Ribbon Map of the Father of Waters' connecting to a 'General Map of the World and Terraqueous Globe' and floating above the 'Topographical Map of the Yosemite Valley & Vicinity'.

All images taken on David Rumsey Maps in Second Life.

Also please see the online David Rumsey Map Collection.

 

Cyberloom’s Sunday Threads

Cyberloom’s Sunday Threads are links to just a few of the most thought provoking articles, essays and blog posts I encountered over the previous week. This week’s threads are accompanied by photos from the Art Breaker Exhibition (extended until November 4th) at Claus Ulriza’s Pop Art Labs in Second Life. The pictures here show Bryn Oh‘s Desk Top Computer exhibit.

This week’s threads:

Somatic Cognition, a new frontier of human potential: On the Threshold of the Avatar Era by Jaron Lanier for the Wall Street Journal.

“No one knows how big a deal avatar-directed cognition will be. Will students routinely dance to learn chemistry in the future? Quite possibly. A student might also become a triangle to learn trigonometry, or a strand of DNA to learn about biology. Will professional nanotechnology engineers become molecular structures in order to refine them? Once again, it seems quite possible.” (Jaron Lanier)

Computer screen and keyboard by Bryn Oh
Computer screen and keyboard by Bryn Oh

Kevin Kelly: Technology is as great a force as nature by Tim Adams for the Observer.

‘Digital prophet’ Kevin Kelly says we are experiencing the most significant period in human history since the invention of language. (Tim Adams)

“The point of technology, I would say, is to create structures that organics cannot. What life is trying to do is to discover all the possible ways to evolve. What we are seeing is that there are possibly minds in the universe that biology cannot get to, but technology might be able to get there. We are making minds that biology can’t make. The long-term trend will be to make as many different kinds of mind as possible, because only in that way can we comprehend the universe.” (Kevin Kelly)

(This reminded me of an earlier post I wrote where I was trying to say that the internet has become so vast it has become a force of nature itself. See The Internet: Is it raw power for Cyberloom’s pontifications!)

Glow from Bryn Oh computer screen
Glow from Bryn Oh computer screen

Harold Jarche: Network Learning: Working Smarter Life in Perpetual Beta

… The amount of information flowing through the Internet today is measured in exabytes, or billions of gigabytes. We now create as much data in days as it took us centuries to create in the past.

This information overload has a direct impact on workplace learning. Workers have access to more information than ever before, but often don’t know if it’s the right information or if it’s current. In the industrial workplace, our training programs could prepare us for years of work, but much of what we learn today will be outdated in months or even weeks.

We need to re-think workplace learning for a networked society. Our organizational structures are becoming more decentralized, with individual access to almost unlimited information, distributed work teams, and digital media that can be copied and manipulated infinitely. In the interconnected workplace, who we know and how we find information are becoming more important than what we know.

Bryn Oh keyboard
Bryn Oh keyboard

I will end this post with this quote (by Herbert Simon) which Jarche uses to open his article:

“In the period ahead of us, more important than advances in computer design will be the advances we can make in our understanding of human information processing – of thinking, problem solving, and decision making…” ~ Herbert Simon, Economics Nobel-prize winner (1968)