Reviewing My Second Life

Suke sitting thinking_001

Yesterday I added a post to Cyberloom, and I realized that it is three years since the last post was added to this blog! All I can say is time flies when you are preoccupied! Today, I have been reviewing some of my 190+ earlier posts. The reason for this review is that my friend Suzanne asked me to send her the link to this blog. Gosh, I thought how to guide someone through a blog about a peculiar hobby visiting the Metaverse? Well, Suzanne, I hope that this post will help.

I began writing this blog in 2008 when I was an Adult Education student looking into online education for my Certificate in Advanced Studies. One of the first things that hooked me into the virtual world was the discovery that I could interact with it. In an early post, I wrote about this in a piece titled: Living in a Painting: Introducing Second Life and Windlight. I had discovered I could take photographs and adjust the lighting in a virtual 3D space reached by my computer. Strange that this machine of glass and metal and tiny computer chips could open up such a vast and visually imaginative realm.

 

Sands of Time_006
Majilis al Jinn. Sands of Time by Calein Flux

 

I have a few preoccupations when traveling in the virtual world. The first is an ongoing interest in adult learning in its various manifestations:

Self Directed Learning Exercise #2: Virtual flying

Maslow’s ghost in a virtual world 

Second Life – Simulations#1: Watch the monitor my darling while the gentlemen go by…

Another recurring theme concerns a stack of sketchy questions about who we are as we connect with each other across the room, across virtual space and multiple time differences? Here are some of these posts:

Social Presence Theory & Second Life

My blog is my connectome…

Fear of the ‘Stopping Point.’

 

Ars Simulcra_001
Reunion by Andrek Lowell 

 

Virtual Art is another area that fascinates and my approach to the work of Metaverse Artists stems from when I was a photographer working in London, and I would help artists by photographing their work for publicity purposes. I soon found that Second Life was teeming with incredibly thoughtful and talented artists. I also saw that there was a problem in that if you did not enter the 3D online space via your computer, you could not see and experience the work of these artists. This lead me on a mission to record the work of virtual world artists, here are just a few:
Archetypal Robots and Giant Donuts

“its not real art is it?”

The happy jellyfish tree

Love Dot

Over the years, I have created a series with the title: “Second Life – Why would you go there?”

Second Life – Why would you go there? #1: To look at books!

‘Second Life – Why would you go there? #2: To be creative and express myself!

‘Second Life – Why would you go there? #3: Deep Sea Diving 

‘Second Life -Why would you go there?’#4 Foul Whisperings 

‘Second Life – Why would you go there?’#5: To practice Tai Chi in Narnia

‘Second Life-Why would you go there?’#6 To enjoy the nocturnal art of architecture

‘Second Life-Why would you go there?’#7: To stand at the edge of the underworld 

Second Life – Why Would You Go There? #8 – To be a dancing banana

Second Life – Why Would You Go There? #9 – To walk into panoramas (and perhaps even take a ‘kinetic’ shopping trip?)

Second Life – Why Would You Go There? #10 – For Weird Fiction on Halloween

Image locations in Second Life:

Majilis al Jinn. Sands of Time by Calein Flux

Reunion by Andrek Lowell on display at Ars Simulacra: NMC’s SL Artist Showcase Island

 

Second life: What would Fellini do?

Fellini Mural SLmuralIn the 1960s Federico Fellini decided to start a dream diary and ended up keeping this diary for 22 years. Fellini’s ‘Book of Dreams’ (packed with notes and sketches) was published in 2008, about 15 years after his death. Today, a brand new hard back copy can be purchased from  Amazon for $775 (there were 4 new copies left when I visited) and apparently Amazon used book sellers have copies available ranging in price from $176.28 to $1,221,71. Oh, and the book weighs 8.2lbs and measures  2.4 x 10.2 x 13.5 inches, really rather a tricky book to read on the morning commute. Now, the reason for telling you all this is because Fellini’s dreams will soon become highly portable as the tome is to be published as an ebook. To celebrate this new digital publication an exhibit devoted to the ‘Book of Dreams’ has been built in Second Life and you can take your avatar for a spin through Fellini’s dream world.

closer up close up_001

Second Life is the perfect place to promote the ebook edition of Fellini’s dream journal. This world of shared imagination inevitably conjures up strange random juxtapositions. For virtual tourists like myself this chance aspect is a major attraction. At times a teleport to a new location can have the quality of a game of dice with Salvador Dali the evangelist of surrealism. On other occasions we might encounter the gentler dreamy surrealism of a Federico Fellini film. What is more, this surrealistic dream state can often be encountered in the most most mundane areas of the virtual world. For instance, a friend has a house in Second Life suburbia and her neighbor has completely enclosed his virtual home with a giant wooden box. It is just there, no explanation just an object awaiting interpretation. I wonder what Fellini would have done with a virtual world at his finger tips?

fellini-notebook-pages

Please visit Imparafacile Island to see the extensive exhibition of note books and old movie posters.

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!

Fear of the ‘Stopping Point’

Head in water by Rose Borchovski
Head in water by Rose Borchovski

There is an awful lot to know. According to my old copy of the Shorter Oxford Dictionary the word ‘know’ made its first appearance in the English language in 1592: “The act of knowing; knowledge”. The very earliest reference to ‘knowledge’ in the Shorter Oxford Dictionary dates back to 1477 when it was used to describe “The fact or condition of being instructed; information acquired by study; learning.” I wonder, when ‘know’ initially appeared was it viewed as a bit of slang used by trendy young Elizabethans?

Fear of Sleeping by Rose Borchovski
Fear of Sleeping by Rose Borchovski

My father inherited a small library and his study was lined with books organized in tall dark bookcases that scraped the ceiling with their pointed gothic trim. Most of these books caused me to feel quite faint with the stunning dullness of their long winded (picture-less) yet at one time (at least) solidly knowledgeable texts. Hidden amongst these musty books there were some gems; one was Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary which contained words that have long since fallen out of use. Interesting to consider that the eventual standardization of the English language actually caused words to vanish. The classifications of Johnson’s Dictionary trumped earlier dictionaries and 173 years later the Oxford English Dictionary trumped Johnson’s. It is a funny thought that we lost words as we tried to organize and standardize their spelling and meaning.

These dictionary knowledge-games sprang to mind recently when I heard a NY Tech Council talk given by David Weinberger author of the book Too Big to Know: Rethinking Knowledge Now That the Facts Aren’t the Facts, Experts Are Everywhere, and the Smartest Person in the Room Is the RoomWeinberger observes that we have conjured up some successful strategies for managing the infinitely unknown amount of things we may one day need to know. We have developed these strategies because, as he says, the world is way bigger than our skulls and our skulls simply don’t scale; in truth, as we learn more and more, we do indeed find our skulls don’t get bigger. (In fact, they have got smaller when compared to Cro Magnon‘s skull.)

As Weinberger says, we manage the infinite amount of things that there are ‘to know’ by breaking off brain sized chunks of the world, we get to know this chunk, master it, and in due course become expert. If we need to find answers to certain questions (beyond our ken) we can go off and find someone who knows the answers (because of their particular chunk of expertise) and see if they can resolve our questions.

The Smaller Spectacles by Rose Borchovski
The Smaller Spectacles by Rose Borchovski

Now (suggests Weinberger) this is a very effective system, it gives us a mechanism where ‘experts’ know what we don’t know so we can stop asking the questions! This is what Weinberger calls a ‘stopping point’. He also suggests that this idea of containing knowledge is not natural; knowledge finds itself stored in libraries, folded within dictionaries and other learned tomes where it might end up laced through 8pt font footnotes. The result is that knowledge is rationed out, compartmentalized, freeze dried and re-packaged. Knowledge is manipulated through good intentions and attempts are made, by generally well meaning people, to carefully control it. (I am not including overt manifestations of political censorship here just actions done with the kindest of intentions.) The result is that experts, libraries, dictionaries, books and footnotes turn into stopping points for ideas and imagination. Education itself, the honorable dispensary of knowledge is a stopping point. Schools and universities and libraries are stopping points, good ideas themselves can be stopping points! All quite alarming when you stop to think about it…

Rather Puzzled by Rose Borchovski
Rather Puzzled by Rose Borchovski

Knowledge found at a stopping point is:

  • Settled
  • Scarce
  • Orderly
  • Clean
  • Perfect in its organization.

On those occasions when we avoid, or fail to contain knowledge i.e. when knowledge has not been forced into a stopping point it is characteristically :

  • Unbounded
  • Overwhelming
  • Unsettled
  • Messy to its core
  • Disorganized
Why by Rose Borchovski

Weinberger observes that knowledge ‘unbounded’ shares the same characteristics as the Internet and (perhaps more profoundly) also shares the same characteristics of what it means to be human. He rounds out his talk by identifying some new methods of knowledge management and education via our messy Internet. He gives an example of how education in the future might avoid stopping points when he describes how software developers act as if education is a public act. I think he is referring to the open source community where software developers ask their questions in online forums, and help each other out by posting code for all to use. Through this process they communicate the very act of learning across their networks and reap rich results by developing rapid learning environments tailor made to meet their needs.

Perhaps online educational experiments such as CCK MOOCs demonstrate another avenue for the open sourcing of knowledge? I am also wondering whether online dictionaries of slang might allow knowledge (and the words we use to describe it) to expand into infinity and beyond?

Eyeball and butterfly net by Rose Borchovski
Eyeball and butterfly net by Rose Borchovski

Images of the work of virtual world artist Rose Borchovski taken in Second Life at her exhibition The Susa Bubble Story located at http://maps.secondlife.com/secondlife/Cariacou/97/113/22

Article about Rose Borchovski (aka) Saskia Boddeke.

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

Out of the Painting and into the Cocoon

A tale about a woman who escapes from the trap of a painting where she was held like a dead moth in a dusty case. Where was she from? Where was her home? Who was she? What dastardly magic had caught her and imprisoned her in art ?

Delicatessen and Fog Painting
Delicatessen and Fog Painting

There is a very special art gallery in Second Life, it is a huge shadowy room filled with paintings that glow in a dark cavernous space. It is intriguing to learn that all is not as it seems at the Meta_Body Exhibit found in the Petrified Gallery, for here we discover that these paintings can be brought to life. We the viewers supply that ‘life’… With just a few simple mouse clicks that lightly touch upon the canvas we can become the strange and mysterious beings of the paintings. (Truth be told, if we should ever pause long enough for thought, such activities could be seen as some form of arcane magical practice.)

Fog avatar leaving the gallery
Lady Fog running for the exits

I selected the image titled ‘Fog’ and before I knew it I was the lady known as Fog! It was almost as though the woman in the portrait had jumped down from her gilded frame and was making a run for the exits with my soul in her possession. Her shoes were very thin ballet shoes and they made a light swishing sandpapery sound as she ran across the dusty floor. Her dress was rough to the touch and she smelt of hessian sacking, garlic and hair spray. The next thing I knew I was trying to yodel like an Alpine shepherdess but found (rather sadly) I sounded more like a cheap imported fog horn. This ululating caused a fabulous mechanical flying boat to materialize, the astonishing machine then lifted me right through the gallery roof and high up into the dark skies overhead.

Princess Fog escapes the gallery by skyboat
Lady Fog escapes the gallery by mechanical flying boat (the Morpheus Meriman)

The flying boat flew across the electric night of virtual space and I wondered where Lady Fog was heading as the stars flew past us and I concentrated on not falling out of the flying contraption.  As dawn broke across the digital heavens the flying boat began to descend to a land I later discovered was known as Cocoon. To be continued

Cocoon
Dawn over Cocoon

Meta_Body

Meta_Body
The virtual experience of the body is not exactly an experience of the flesh. These sensations, albeit having a physical sensorial aspect, continue to be experienced in our bodies behind the screen, not in our avatar body. The virtual body is a metaphorical body, all language, therefore open to experimentation and possibility.
In this new project, Meilo Minotaur and CapCat Ragu invite you, once again, to rethink your bodies through your avatars, making available all kinds of skins, shapes, body parts, clothes, etc. All these items will be fully modifiable, shareable and copyable, thus challenging the audience to become creators and also share their derivative work with us, in the All My Independent Women RL exhibition. While the avatars will be available in the Second Life Sim Delicatessen, the pictures and machinimas of the derivative work will be displayed at VBKOE, Vienna, giving a glimpse in RL of the new creative flux, beyond the concepts of author and work of art, happening online.

The above text is taken from Meta-Body on Flickr:  http://www.flickr.com/photos/capcatragu/6175364863/in/photostream

Post Credits:

The Petrified Gallery: Meta_Body Exhibit created by Meilo Minotaur and CapCat Ragu.
Slurl: 
http://maps.secondlife.com/secondlife/Porto/126/113/703

Mechanical Flying Boat by Sextan Shepherd

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