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.

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.
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

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

A Trip with the SL Web Viewer (Beta)

Select your avatar with SL Web Beta Viewer
I received an email invitation to try out the SL Web Viewer (Beta). Once I had watched the introductory video I was invited to enter my email address and then granted permission to enter Second Life. (Apparently, not everyone is given access perhaps because numbers using the viewer simultaneously are limited?) I quickly selected an avatar from a generous range of possible looks (around 18).
Alarming SL avatar
My avatar (826950 Guest) was a dainty creature compared to this calligraphy loving amazon. (Note we are almost standing side by side... I was not scared...)
SL Web Viewer provides a range of destinations in Second Life
The SL Web Viewer provides a range of destinations in Second Life. These are displayed along the bottom of the viewer. When you land after a teleport a helpful tip box pops up to guide newbies around the viewer and Second Life. At one point I tried to make the whole viewer bigger on my Mac screen, this worked for a moment before freezing and crashing my computer. I had to reboot and debated about trying the viewer again, as I could trace the cause of the crash I headed back to the new viewer vowing to avoid making it larger this time around.
cyberloom meets SL Web Viewer avatar
At first I was not sure where I was, could this be a special version of SL for a browser? Or was it Second Life itself? When I realized this was SL 'actual' (to borrow from Battlestar Gallactica) I fired up my Imprudence viewer and logged in. I teleported over to the same location as my SL Web Viewer avatar and met myself!
These last two screen shots show a section of my Imprudence viewer alongside the SL Web Viewer. I was unable to adjust the time of day in the web viewer (it appears to be set to default time).

This new viewer is very cool and points at new possibilities for Second Life. I have a new high end computer and worried it was going to start smoking but then I was pushing the envelope a bit after all. The tutorial pop up box is a sweet system for training newbies in context. Maybe such an aid (with an optional on/off switch) could be added to the standard viewer? This web viewer would be great for educators introducing students to SL but I guess such considerations are coming to an end? I am used to the full spectrum of options available with a standard viewer and found the web viewer slightly claustrophobic but all in all this was a wicked fun (one hour) trip.

Love the Ending

Many recent tweets, blog posts and tech news sites have commented on the Linden Labs layoffs. Some commentators are filled with doom and gloom for the future of Second Life (SL). Others tend toward a more matter of fact approach, pointing out that even virtual worlds are touched by the moving shadow of economic recession. One writer, Alex Salkever at Daily Finance writes that social gaming on sites like Facebook’s popular Farmville is drawing people away from mega-social worlds like Second Life. I wonder, is Farmville remotely comparable to Second Life? (Not to mention the fact that most users don’t perceive SL as a game in the first place.) Is Farmville really the place where folks retiring from Second Life’s lag and bustle go to play? I know people who visit Second Life and also play Farmville with their Second Life friends; demonstrating that the general public mix and match their entertainments, and few have a totally singular focus anyway.

sleeping lady and wings
Church by Thatch Thibaud of the BOSL & Co Group. In the background you can see 'The Grand Odalisque' (in all her glory) sleeping in the nave.

I understand that Linden Labs is looking at implementing a mobile version of SL for the iPhone and the iPad. I am guessing such applications will be similar to Web.Alive? As there have been different SL viewers around for a while, a simplified, easy to use web application for mobile devices sounds like it could be fun and useful. The skill will lie in maintaining the different levels of interaction (i.e. perhaps permit a range of different viewers with varying levels of complexity that can co-exist alongside each other?) SL just needs to beware the dangers of turning itself and its ‘easy to use’ viewer into something it was never intended to be, a gaming app for distracted people. In the meantime, the wind of change is reaching far into the corners of our favorite virtual world. (For more thoughtful blog posts analyzing the implications of the recent layoffs in Second Life see: Gwyneth Llewelyn, Taturu Nino, Rob Knop, Grace McDunnough and TidalBlog.)

Change is inevitable of course and our response to inevitable change has an intriguing impact of its own… Will we let something like Farmville threaten how we use SL?  When we consider the extraordinary level of creativity that SL makes possible to those prepared to spend a couple of hours learning its tools, then Farmville is like a child’s wax crayon compared to a master oil painter’s palette with SL. Farmville has its place but it is stunningly limited whereas Second Life has unlimited potential.

The Grand Odalisque (created by an unknown artist) sleeping below heavenly wings and billowing clouds.

A beautiful illustration of the depth and power of Second Life and its potential for realizing creative collaboration can be seen in the work of D.B. Bailey (architect David Denton) and his friends at Cetus. In fact, D.B. Bailey’s Cetus is so extraordinary it has received the ultimate compliment and is due to be preserved for posterity by Stamford University Library and the Library of Congress. These two institutions have developed a program capable of archiving the entire glorious site. When the digital curtain closes on Cetus (and that will be soon so hurry over) a slew of creative works by SL artists and architects will be saved by these libraries. This may be an obvious point to make, but the reason these two institutions have invented the means to archive the work of virtual world artists is because it is worth preserving! SL art can be outstanding (and sometimes appalling.) However, some truly exciting work is made in SL and we have seen it vanish into the ether over and over again. Machinima and photography capture memories but opportunities to walk in each particular creative 3D space vanish away.

Arcade walkway with moving invisible walls of secret code by Selavy Oh

Finding the means to save the work of virtual world artists presents fascinating posssibilities. DB Bailey’s Cetus is the first to be preserved in this fashion by Stamford University Library and the Library of Congress, and it sounds as though other virtual creations will follow in time. Cetus will no longer be accessible to the public but it will be available for private viewing in the future. It has always been tantalizing to consider how the work of SL artists might be shown in the physical world, preserving Cetus may be the first step towards such an experience? There are other projects attempting to save the works of virtual 3D artists but it seems all such initiatives are in the early experimental stages. In many ways we all struggle to come to terms with the potential of virtual environments. Our brains have difficulty comprehending that which is extraordinary and different. Flying through Cetus in D.B. Bailey’s balloon is a glimpse into the future, at least I hope it is. Cetus is a metaphor for the future we cannot understand, it is full of awe and mystery and imagination. I cannot (or will not) say the same for Facebook’s Farmville. So visit Cetus while it is open to the public in Second Life. Please note that though the creation ‘Cetus’ is being archived away, the artists are not. In fact D.B. Bailey is now hard at work on Locus and you can visit that location and watch it evolving into a new future…

lDB Bailey takes Cyberloom on a balloon tour
Balloon tour of Cetus with DB Bailey

This blog post is titled ‘Love the Ending’, this is not a reference to layoffs or Linden Labs’ refocus; it refers to a picture hanging on the ‘back wall’ of Cetus. If we think of building in SL as an activity that explores the creative use of 3D space, we can see it as an expressive medium like painting. In the physical world the finished painting would be taken and hung on a gallery wall but in the virtual world what usually happens when the work is finished? It must be broken down until it all vanishes away into the abstract folders of virtual inventories. Thanks to these two libraries, D.B. Baileys fabulous creation known as Cetus is being saved for a future where it can be seen again.

Love the Ending..

Double click on these images to see them super large.

Cyberloom’s following post will show more photos of Cetus.

Visit Flickr at http://www.flickr.com/groups/dbbailey/pool/ To see D.B. Bailey’s Creations

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

Q: Second Life – Why Would You Go There?

A: To walk into panoramas (and perhaps even take a ‘kinetic’ shopping trip?)

Interactive panoramic photography is well suited to the internet. Take a look at  360 Cities and ViewAt.org to see 360° views of different (and often spectacular) locations. The photographs are high-resolution images that fill your monitor while also allowing you pan right round the scene in a complete circle. Most images provide overhead views enabling you to study ornate ceilings, fluffy clouds, and even the odd base jumper. These pictures give a sense of space on a grand scale as in Rode to Elfrida.

San Francesco Assisi in Second Life
San Francesco Assisi in Second Life

The only thing missing in the panoramic photo experience is the option to walk into the picture. While the photo resolution is nowhere near the superb levels achieved in the above-mentioned photographs you can walk into panoramas using virtual worlds.

San Francesco Assisi - Interior
San Francesco Assisi – Interior

Maybe the time is coming when stunning photography will be employed in 3D online environments? The Second Life location San Francesco Assisi shows scaled photographs ‘stitched’ together and placed within a careful 3D rendition of the basilica. While obviously it cannot be compared to the experience of really being there, it is fun to explore the location both inside and outside. You travel with your avatar through archways, up staircases, across plazas, into and out of grand halls and religious chambers.

San Francesco Assisi - Interior view 2
San Francesco Assisi – Interior view 2

As companies explore virtual environments to sell products, we will see shops such as the one featured in Toledo, Mezquita de las Tornerias in 3D online spaces. Added features will allow us to virtually ‘walk’ in and wander around freely. We will determine where we want to look, and we will be able to ‘touch’ items. Objects in Second Life can be clicked upon to trigger scripts which in turn cause items to transform before our eyes. Rezzable’s King Tut exhibit in Second life allows us to interact with display items; we can opt to see their finer details enlarged for better viewing. We already visit online sites where we can change the color of clothes or zoom in upon pockets and buttons. Future interaction with salable items will be more fluid and kinetic and closer to real life shopping but without the aching feet.

San Francesco Assisi interior 4
San Francesco Assisi interior 4

San Francesco Assisi in Second Life created by the Project Assisi Group.

Panoramic Photo Reminder

Mikhail Blavatskiy: B.A.S.E. in Sankt-Petersburg

Toni Garbasso’s: Rode to Elfrida

Bernard Custard Gascó: Wandu Palace, Valencia, Spain

José María Moreno Santiago: Toledo, Mezquita de las Tornerías, tienda.