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

 

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.

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.

 

A blog rotisserie

The other day this blog’s stats rocketed to a very high pointy spike! Further investigations revealed that the source of this sudden increase in visits was a website called alphainventions.com. This website cleverly locates recent blog posts from a number of blog sites e.g. WordPress, Blogger and Windows Live, it rotates the newly minted blog posts within a simple white frame. (A blog rotisserie displaying still warm blogs!)

cyberloom displayed on the alphainventions website
cyberloom displayed on the alphainventions website

Stop the blog rotation with pause/read
alphainventions gives you the option to stop the blog rotation and read a particular post, once you have finished reading you press play and the blogs start rolling again. If you don’t press pause/read you have just a few seconds to scan each blog before the next one appears. Like everyone else I am drawn by striking images, stylish layouts, witty or thought provoking blog names and/or blog post titles. If you are considering redesigning your own blog it might help to go to alphainventions to watch the blogs spin by and see for yourself what works, and what doesn’t work on other people’s blogs.

If you don’t click on pause/read you will only have time to read about two sentences before the next blog appears. While I hovered around perusing different blogs I saw that the frame displayed a little green button next to my blog name saying that I was online, and if anyone wanted to comment on my post they could do so. This creates the potential for immediate feedback to blog posts.

Top buttons on alphainventions
Top buttons on alphainventions

Blogs are like little platelets…and the secret of perpetual motion
The frame also offers other options, you can add your blogs to join the rotation. If your blog is featured, and you visit the alphainventions site, you generate yet more views to your own blog (in just a few minutes 20 views were generated). Question… did I cause this increase? Were these phantom hits I wonder? Is alphainventions some kind trick with mirrors, reflecting blogs into infinity?

No, perhaps alphainventions is more like a microscope capable of looking into the anatomy of the web revealing blogs spinning by like little platelets flowing down hidden web arteries. It seems as though the creator, Cheru Jackson, has established a kind of perpetual motion, a cycle of reciprocal behavior. First of all he randomly picks blogs and features them in his rotisserie, the blogger is then astonished to see all the hits on their blog and investigates. While visiting alphainventions the hits actually seem to increase; Cheru then encourages his visitors to leave comments on each others blogs; link to his site in their blogrolls; and write about his site. The reward is to get your blog into the rotisserie, and see stats climbing. This appears to satisfy many of Cheru’s visitors, that is, they use the site to get hits, and that is the end of story for them.

Nothing to shake a stick at…
However, if you study the stats information few visitors filter through to actually landing on your blog to read it. Out of 100 views, I would say I had 12 visits with 4 people reading the post.That’s nothing to shake a stick at of course, and possibly out of those 4 readers, 1 person might subscribe? Who knows? I would prefer it if alphainventions had some kind of filtering system that would help bloggers find blogs relevant to each other. What you get for now is a completely random array of blogs that cover every topic under the sun. It does not hurt bloggers to lift their heads out of their favorite categories and view the big picture, but I did find myself wondering how alphainventions could be improved.

I would start by making the frame more professional and polished looking; I would add some kind of filters so I could see the blogs that relate to my interests. I prefer to have fewer ‘hits’ and more real visitors; draw in folks because there is truly something of interest for them look at or read. And a funny thing, the view you see of other blogs seems to show the bloggers dashboards, not the public view but a private view as though from inside the blog program? Mind you, Cheru could be onto something if he develops the application. I could see this livening up a blogger’s personal feed aggregator page, rotating selected blogs effortlessly. With today’s information overload, anything that simplifies and helps us manage information is appreciated. If I had a personalized alphainventions application I would keep a ‘random’ button that would occasionally shift me out of my favorite category groove, and remind me of what else is ‘out there’. In the meantime I can visit alphainventions for its glimpse into the vast world of disparate blogs, I suggest you get yourself a cup of coffee and go for a spin and see what you think!

Visit alphainventions.com to learn more!

The gift of a coiled snake! (Some thoughts on blogging.)

Studying while wearing my Cutea Benelli Bogonic Skull Protector
Studying while wearing my Cutea Benelli Bogonic Skull Protector

I am awash with articles to read, papers to write, presentations to make. I resorted to studying in Second Life as it was quieter, just the sound of a script playing a sound loop of lapping waves in the background. I also donned my Cutea Benelli Bogonic Skull Protector to assist the erratic loops of my own brain waves. But the best thing I discovered is that my cup of green tea never grows cold in the virtual world.

If you blog, your blog plays on your conscience if you have failed to write in it for a while. It has a way of rankling in your mind. Rankle is a wonderful word! Take a look at it over on The Free Dictionary. Not that I feel my blog is a festering sore (!) as this definition describes but I relate to the idea that it is like a coiled snake!

My (very kind) solution to blogger’s conscience is to create a page on cyberloom that contains a little guide to help select blogging software if you are starting out as a blogger! This means yes, you too can experience the rankling of a blog playing upon your conscience. You too can sense the coiled snake of an unwritten blog post snoozing in your brain!

I would also provide every blogger with a bogonic skull protector but they are very rare items treasured by those who own them (so unlikely to appear on eBay). I found that the soothing hum that emits from my skull protector eventually sent my avatar to sleep! If you start to blog be warned! You will also find yourself operating a keyboard when under the influence of a sleepy head.

cyberloom falling asleep at the keyboard
cyberloom falling asleep at the keyboard

A beginners guide to free blogging software lurks on the Blogging Tips page of cyberloom

Blog Jamming.

‘Information overload’ has made its way into Wikipedia, this makes sense as Wikipedia’s success is largely due to its ability to focus on specific information quickly. Of course, there continues to be a debate about the quality of Wikipedia, and whether academia can accept Wikipedic references in student papers.In the meantime Wikipedia is striving to upgrade its credibility by gathering together solid sources and citations for its communally created entries.

cyberloom blogging whilst seated on Nebulosus Severine's TV sets (wearing TV avatar skin by Nebulosus)
cyberloom blogging whilst seated on Nebulosus Severine's TV sets. Nebulosus' installation 'The Culture of Television' can be seen for just a few more days at Arthole in Second Life™.

That’s enough Wikipediapology! I will now point you to the wiki’s entry on information overload , here you will find the analogy of ‘low signal-to-noise ratio’, an apt descriptor! The term addresses how it is becoming increasingly difficult to discern the useful message from the mass of information swirling all around us. If your work regularly sends you out into the Internet you can feel as though you are trudging up sand dunes all day. (Two steps forward and one step backwards.) Or perhaps you feel as though you are trying to construct a sandcastle? Trouble is building in dry sand is tricky! It is hard to create a coherent shape out of all these random, tumbling pieces of digitized text.

Closeup showing TV avatar skin by Nebulosus Severine
Closeup showing TV avatar skin by Nebulosus Severine

Blogs are another information overload solution, and like Wikipedia, blogs have popular appeal whilst being simultaneously disapproved of by serious folks! (Who are these ‘serious’ folks anyway? Certain academics, some paper based journalists; plus assorted others who see modern technology causing huge changes that they consider to be generally destructive.)

Blogging helps bloggers to organize the information they are interested in. A blog can act as an information filter, a file for references and web links. Blogs can work as a focal point for personal ideas and reflections. At the same time blogs have become part of the problem by adding yet more ‘blah, blah’ matter to the information overload. Wikipedia credits Jakob Nielsen for coming up with the expression ‘information pollution’, a term that conjures up visions of felled blogs floating down clogged virtual rivers.

cyberloom adding to the blog jam from inside 'the Culture of Television Installation'
cyberloom adding to the blog jam from inside 'The Culture of Television' installation

Oh well… not to worry! Just think, where will all our blogs go if there is a massive, lasting power failure? Without electricity everything will just vanish away. Dinosaurs probably thought they had a pretty solid grip on existence but look what a falling meteorite did to them! What’s another blog going to matter? Just as dinosaurs altered the landscape with their big feet, bloggers en masse are influencing the ‘infosphere’ with our collective blog jamming!

I see my blog as a glorified note pad that helps me organize information and ideas. Weeks later I can retrieve my own thoughts. (Useful!) My thoughts get lost in the ‘low signal to noise ratio’ mentioned earlier. I keep a number of notebooks for catching ideas and information, I write in a horrible spidery scrawl and sometimes I can’t read my own writing. I lose my notebooks, I doodle in them, tear off corners, spill coffee on them, and my children get hold of them to draw monsters on their wrinkled pages. But, thanks to WordPress, I can find things resting here on my blog. I will just keep an eye out for falling meteors…

Nebulosus Severine’s installation ‘The Culture of Television’ can be seen at Arthole in Second Life™. Head over there quickly as the exhibit ends soon. Don’t forget to collect your free TV avatar while you are there!

cyberloom’s notebook was created by Flea Bussy and can be purchased at Grendel’s Children.