The anti-Minecraft

Lots of Second Life-people don’t like Minecraft. They consider it too primitive, too childish or whatever. I disagree, I think it’s a fantastic game helping young and not-so-young people all kinds of digital literacies. Joseph Flaherty Wired made me discover another game with Minecraft-like aesthetics, but with themed worlds which can be fully destroyed. It seems the worlds are not persistent, they are generated anew by starting a new session, yet no two sessions can ever be the same.

The new game is called Moonman and was funded via Kickstarter.

William Gibson captures the (gloomy) mood of the time

Don’t miss the latest episode of The Coode Street Podcast as it features author William Gibson. One of the topics is of course his latest book, The Peripheral, a story set in multiple futures. I guess ‘multiple futures’ sounds complex and the first part of the book is indeed bewildering. Wikipedia has a nice entry about The Peripheral (spoiler alert). I found the book intriguing because of the gloomy times we live in – think terrorism, war in Ukraine, societies in crisis, climate and environmental tragedies. In The Peripheral Gibson refers to a major crisis wiping out a big part of humanity, mysteriously called The Jackpot.

There’s no detailed account of what happens during The Jackpot except for some references to the climate. Yet the way in which Gibson talks about the Jackpot seems remarkably realistic:

And first of all that is was no one thing. That is was multicausal, with no particular beginning and no end.

A bit further it is described as

androgenic, systemic, multiplex, seriously bad shit

The climate change, caused by there being too much carbon, is an important driver of the catastrophes. People in the past “fucked it all up” so it is explained, at first they did not know what was going on and then they were unable “to get it together to do anything about it”.

But it’s not only the climate and the climate has multiple consequences. Like I witness it from our newsroom the world is an extremely interdependent, complex and delicate system breaking up at various places – environment, culture, society, economy, finance. It’s not an analysis I talk about here but a certain mood, and Gibson captures that mood brilliantly in his book.

If you wonder what a “peripheral” is in this context: it’s a cyborg avatar that users can connect to from another location. (Wikipedia)

Author Neal Stephenson joins Magic Leap as Chief Futurist

Neal Stephenson is the author of Snow Crash, a book which helped me ‘get’ virtual worlds. Today he announces in a blog post that he agreed to become Chief Futurist of Magic Leap, which is a secretive company working on something which seems to get rid of keyboards and other clunky computer stuff in order to make things appear out of thin air. As Snow Crash was all about virtual reality and augmented reality (in 1992!), it seems to make sense to ask such a visionary author to become Futurist of this secretive company.

This is how Stephenson describes Magic Leap:

Yes, I saw something on that optical table I had never seen before–something that only Magic Leap, as far as I know, is capable of doing. And it was pretty cool. But what fascinated me wasn’t what Magic Leap had done but rather what it was about to start doing.Magic Leap is mustering an arsenal of techniques–some tried and true, others unbelievably advanced–to produce a synthesized light field that falls upon the retina in the same way as light reflected from real objects in your environment. Depth perception, in this system, isn’t just a trick played on the brain by showing it two slightly different images.

This is what our author hopes to do:

I’m fascinated by the science, but not qualified to work on it. Where I hope I can be of use is in thinking about what to do with this tech once it is available to the general public. “Chief Futurist” runs the risk of being a disembodied brain on a stick. I took the job on the understanding that I would have the opportunity to get a few things done.

He adds that Magic Leap is “not exclusively about games. It’s also going to be a great tool for readers, learners, scientists, and artists. Games, however, are a good place to start talking about why this tech is different.”

Keep an eye on his blog!

(Hat tip to Colin Dwyer on the two-way for bringing the news).

Is the Oculus Rift a Gothic Cathedral?

“Performance philosopher” Jason Silva brings us yet another interesting video, talking about the The Revered Gaze, explaining how immersive technologies are linked to our need to experience transcendence. As such the gothic cathedral and the Oculus Rift are very similar technologies.

I do admit there is the very real possibility of experiencing this Revered Gaze using immersive technologies, but for me personally that’s not really the most important aspect.

What is important to me is the sense of connection and of sharing the same space with others, wherever in the world they are physically located. It’s about exchanging points of view, projects, ideas and yes, emotions. That’s something very different compared to being overwhelmed and in complete awe for some experience which happens to you. So for me the Rift is not really a Gothic Cathedral where one has mystical experiences – it’s a tool for connecting to others to have great discussions and for exchanges of ideas using immersive media.

(Hat tip to VRPat on reddit for starting the discussion there)

Oculus needs smaller avatars in Second Life

This is the Berlin 1920 area in Second Life is testing for Oculus Rift. They scaled part of the environment to fit the Oculus Rift immersive environment. It also implies one should downsize one’s avatar (avatars are typically unrealistically big in Second Life) – but one can use the Oculus Rift headset everywhere in this virtual world, even though it is not really optimized for it. What I noticed here was that some objects did not render in my Oculus (some furniture such as a couch in an otherwise interesting Berlin 1920 house).

picture of the test area of the Berlin 1920 area in Second Life

This is the notecard about this place:

Welcome to the Oculus Rift and Real Scale Test area.

In this little corner of Second Life you can explore a street, a bar and a house that have all been build to a real world scale.
A lot of places in Second Life have been build to different ideas of scale, often just guesses or estimations based on how large some of the avatars are.
By using a realistic scale, things feel more natural.
We use the scale of the “prim”, the building blocks of Second Life, translating real world scale straight into Second Life Centimeters.

When using the Oculus Rift, realism and realistic scale becomes very important.
You will be seeing Second Life trough the eyes of your avatar, while normally you would see the virtual world trough a camera view high above the head of your avatar.
This makes visiting a lot of places in SL a strange experience as doors and ceilings appear to be made for giants.

This Test area allows you to see what the use of realistic scale looks and feels like without having to change your avatar or your avatar’s clothes so you can visit the actual 1920s Berlin sim.
If you would like to visit an entire city build to this scale and with immersion as one of its main goals, please change into some of the (free) 1920s clothes and get on the train behind the little station.

If you want to return to this place at a later time, you can use this slurl or this landmark;

I’d appreciate it if you wrote down your experiences and shared them with me, perhaps for my blog.
And if you’re interested in discussing the potential of using the Oculus Rift in Second Life, join us on facebook;

With regards,

Jo Yardley
The 1920s Berlin Project

It sure is a place to keep an eye on…

Discover Isovista, a place for 3D art and education

This video illustrates two things: first the interesting stuff the Isovista people are doing and second how difficult it is to translate the Oculus-experience into a 2D-video.

What is obvious is how one can immerse oneself into a virtual art exhibition and use clever tricks to navigate around (follow a green path) or to show various art works one after another (walk through ‘boxes’ to trigger the appearance of new art).

The environment is also rather original as they experiment with for instance floorless spaces rather than trying to imitate physical world buildings. is a group of 3D-design people who build and show art accessible using an Oculus Rift but you can also visit the gallery in your browser (powered by Jibe and using the game creation system Unity 3D) and eventually meet other people there.

Bringing together Jibe and Oculus in one project seems interesting. For now you walk or drift alone in the Oculus-experience while the Jibe-environment of this project feels like a primitive version of Second Life or OpenSim – but sophisticated enough to meet others and to text chat and speak. So wouldn’t it be nice to have collaborative and social futures inside an Oculus Rift environment?

After Facebook acquired Oculus Mark Zuckerberg mentioned that this technology would enable students and teachers all over the world to share a classroom. These days one can use the Oculus in collaborative spaces such as Second Life, but the interface is not yet adapted for an easy and natural user experience – we’ll have to wait for the new Second Life to get that, I guess.

The site has a very interesting page about literature and theory.

These are Isovista’s goals:
– Provide opportunities to show virtual work and help students, recent graduates and young professionals develop their design skills in virtual media.
– Create new innovative 3D virtual works in Data Visualization, Interaction Design, Education, Music and Social Interfaces through a blending of HCI/Usability and Digital Fine Art.
– Record the rich history of virtual design, connecting the broad academic disciplines that have explored the domain of 3D virtual space and design.
– Connect educators, professionals, and students to support innovation, create opportunities, share examples, and break the new conceptual ground.

Isovista wants to become a 501(c)(3) charity and create a library and marketplace for 3D work and educational content. “Becoming a self-sustaining non-profit that supports independent innovators, students, and the community as a whole is our overarching goal.”

What I learned after all those online courses

Listening to Stephen Downes discussing Massive Open Online Courses (see previous post) I felt the need to make an overview of the online courses I participated in during these last few years. Downes inspires me a lot and I fundamentally agree with the discintions he makes between connectivist MOOCs which are more community-driven and so-called xMOOCs which are more institutional.

However, this won’t stop me from participating in all kinds of online learning, whether the teaching is in a top-down institutional style or rather in a more freewheeling learner-centered style.

Here is am incomplete list of what I tried out since 2008:
– CCK08 as mentioned in the previous post. This first experience in 2008 was the most impressive one and determined my attitude toward online learning.  The course was very learner-centered but also overwhelming and completely different from traditional education.
These days I’m attending on an irregular basis ConnectedCourses which is another connectivist course.
– Awakening the Digital Imagination (2011): A Networked Faculty-Staff Development Seminar coordinated by Professor Gardner Campbell, Virginia Tech. This was a great experience, I participated as a member of a small cohort in Second Life. We used the MIT textbook The New Media Reader and read texts such as the famous “As We May Think“ by Vannevar Bush. This course was not massive but very open with a small group of highly motivated and kind people. Just learning to know these folks in itself was very enriching.

– Coursera-courses: Professor Cathy N. Davidson of Duke University recently taught History and Future of (Mostly) Higher Education, while being very critical about xMOOC-like features such as multiple choice questions. She also incited the students to reflect in a free way and to share their insights also outside the boundaries of the Coursera universe. I paid for a certificate. It was a way to motivate myself to complete the course – and yes I finished the course. You can read my final assignment here on MixedRealities.

Other more ‘typical’, institutional courses at Coursera I completed were Gamification by Professor Kevin Werbach of Wharton, University of Pennsylvania and a Computer Science 101 course by Professor Nick Parlante of Stanford. Stuff I looked into seriously were Buddhism and Modern Psychology by Professor Robert Wright of Princeton University and Understanding Media by Understanding Google by Professor Owen R. Youngman of Northwestern University.

On the Canvas Network I tried another approach. Various experts taught in a more classical xMOOC style about Doing Journalism with Data, but I gathered a small group of fellow journalists to have weekly discussions about the course (at my newspaper, during lunch hour). I blended online learning with meetings in the physical space (I don’t see much difference).  I guess I invested more time and effort in the course than I would have done without the meetings, but I can’t say I really completed it.

–  Introduction to computer science and programming: this is an MIT open courseware which I started in 2011 but I never got very far. Why did I fail? Maybe because I was trying to do it alone, or because I was trying out too many courses at once. The abundance of free courses of high quality makes me feel like a child in a candy store, and I underestimate systematically the real cost of these courses, which is time.

– Howard Rheingold courses: Howard is the guy who invented the notion “virtual community”, a writer about digital culture and digital literacies, an artist, a community builder and a teacher. I learned about him in Second Life – I guess it must have been in 2008 – and I participated in various courses of his Rheingold U community. The courses included Toward a Literacy of Cooperation: Introduction to Cooperation Theory, Think-Know Tools and Introduction to Mind Amplifiers. In these courses we used asynchronous forums, blogs, wikis, mindmaps, social bookmarks, synchronous audio, video, chat, and Twitter.

The courses were neither free nor massive: about thirty people worked together and had intense interactions, culminating in a last session which was self-organized by the co-learners. I finished almost all those courses (I even took several courses more than once). The Rheingold-courses are very interesting: they are community-driven and try to emancipate the learners while at the same time Howard is being much more than ‘just a facilitator’.

– Project based learning: contributing to an actual digital artefact is a great way to learn. In yet another group facilitated and inspired by Howard Rheingold, I contributed to an online Peeragogy Handbook (Peeragogy as in how to learn peer-to-peer).

– Miscellaneous online courses: I’ve quite a history of learning how to code online. I tried Codecademy dabbling in HTML, CSS, JavaScript, jQuery and PHP. I like Codecademy, but it’s very different from the other courses I mentioned here – what seems to lack is a real sense of connection to other participants (even though there are learner forums which are very active). Treehouse is another great, video-based and interactive place to learn coding, but again not much of a community.

The more expensive and intense option was the O’Reilly School of Technology where you get feedback by a tutor (again not really community driven). Even though I’ve a good insight now in the very basics of web design, I cannot consider myself as being a web designer or developer. In order to achieve that, I would have to actively build something of my own – and I lack time and motivation to do so.

So, what did I learn?

I’m 55 now and I’ve a more than fulltime job. I also was deeply influenced by the connectivist MOOC in 2008. So what I learned was to put myself in the center as a learner and to have my own objectives, while reaching out to others who I assume have different objectives and perspectives.

Mostly my objective was to learn new concepts and ways of thinking in order to look at the world in a different way. For instance, I learned that computers and networks can amplify our brains. I discovered that people can learn a lot outside of the traditional institutions: fan communities learning Japanese in order to immerse themselves in the world of manga culture, people who learn scripting and 3D-building as ‘residents’ of virtual worlds, or youngsters learning everything about video as part of some YouTube subculture.

Often these informal ‘educations’ are far more efficient than the programs prepared and implemented by professional educators. It reminds me of Ivan Illich and his book Deschooling Society, but then again I must admit I went to college myself were I graduated in applied economics and philosophy. I still feel very grateful for that ‘institutional’ education.


Supporting Radiotopia

I just supported (very modestly) the Kickstarter project of Radiotopia – and if you care about storytelling, radio shows and podcasting, you should consider it too. The Kickstarter campaign for this new kind of public radio still runs for 4 days as I write this. The goal of $250,000 was attained and right now Radiotopia got pledges for $529,673 which means they’ll be able to ‘level up’ as they explain on the Kickstarter page.

If you think it’s important to enable podcasts about subjects which would have a hard time finding money on the commercial market, you should support this project.

These are the shows enabled by the project:

I particularly like 99% Invisible, a show about “design, architecture & the 99% invisible activity that shapes our world.” Roman Mars (@romanmars) is the creator of 99% Invisible.

I discovered the project via my friend Charles Maynes, a Moscow-based podcaster. You can listen to one of his fascinating stories on 99percentinvisible about the composer Arseny Avraamov who heard music in the cacophony of the modern world…

Waiting for the new Bee and PussyCat episode

Just learned about Frederator‘s Bee and PussyCat show in The Wall Street Journal. It’s a great story about an indie production for YouTube, getting no corporate response yet mobilizing a lot of devoted fans on Kickstarter and now launching on YouTube. This is the first video they published in August 2013 and which got about 10 million views. While cartoons traditionally are produced for 13-year old boys, as Mike Shields writes in the WSJ-article, this production is more girl-oriented, puzzling the male executives of this industry.

Today the series will launch and the fan community is extatic. I guess digital culture experts are observing all this very attentively.

Understanding Google, embeddable content and MOOCs

googlecourseWhat makes mobile so transformative? Why is Google a revolutionary company? These are questions asked and answered in the Coursera course
Understanding Media by Understanding Google. Professor Owen R. Youngman (Northwestern University) focuses during six weeks on Google and what makes it so important, not just for media people but for all of us. If you use a smartphone or a social network, you should know why these technologies are so much more than gadgets. The course offers the typical talking head videos but professor Youngman also adds his talent as a curator by selecting half a dozen books and many press articles dealing with fundamental aspects of Google – and of course both highly critical and more jubilant commentators are being discussed.

MOOCs and embeddable content

This is a second run for this course. Of course, it would be interesting to ask the question What Would Google Do (title of a book by Jeff Jarvis) about Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) such as they are organized by Coursera. In an interview by Youngman, professor Jeff Jarvis promotes the idea of the ’embeddable article’. Just like Google makes YouTube-videos embeddable, media companies could do the same for their news articles (incorporating their brand and ads in the embeddable content and adding a link back to their site). Wouldn’t this be a great idea for parts of the Coursera-content – or not really? Maybe this is less a problem for more connectivist-styled MOOCs such as Connected Courses – ultimately it boils down to choices about the business model (or lack of such a model).