Kinect and virtual reality hacks, taken to an extreme (for now)

Okay, still trying to figure out how to use this in a newsroom context, but KinectHacks says this is The Most Extreme Kinect Hack they’ve seen so far, so here it comes (waiting for Draxtor Despres to incorporate some Kinect magic in one of his news machinimas):

Adding another one from KinectHacks:

What is remarkable is the fact that clever but I guess not heavily funded geeks can make this stuff. There is a whole community out there around the Kinect developing awesome stuff and it seems Microsoft is wise enough not to try to prevent this DIY combining of virtual environments, gaming, serious applications and body tracking. It reminds me my near future sci-fi project – some of the scenes in those books could very well turn out to be spot-on predictions (remember the anthropomorphic virtual rabbit in Rainbows End).

Kansas to Cairo: vanishing cultural differences, or rather avoiding stereotypes?

If there is one thing which seems to be perfectly suited for collaboration and research in a world such as Second Life, it seems to be architecture. If such a project also involves geographically dispersed teams, education, and different cultures, it really becomes a fascinating challenge.

Students from Cairo and Los Angeles used Second Life to design a large open space situated between the Grand Egyptian Museum and the Pyramids of Giza. They had never met in the physical world, using their avatars and lots of other social media to communicate, collaborate and successfully complete the difficult task of creating sustainable urban design solutions while overcoming cultural boundaries. More about this project can be found on ArchVirtual.

Draxtor Despres made a news machinima in three parts about the project (the third part is in the making). One of the things which seems very interesting is a commentary in the video about the fact that people leave their identities behind when they enter Second Life. It’s a bit like leaving your country and becoming a citizen of another country, in this case a virtual one. Of course, one of the questions here is whether Second Life in itself is reflecting certain values, or whether it is value-neutral – being a place for very different cultures – or is precisely that diversity such an ‘American’ value?

It should come as no surprise that public diplomacy experts are interested – to put it bluntly, it provides a way to make American and foreign students work together and to spread certain values, while avoiding discussions about real world immigration issues.

A participant said the interaction was not hampered by external differences (people are like ‘color blind’, people ‘project their inner self’ in their avatar…) and that avatars reflect the inner qualities of people – and guess what, we’re all human beings and not that very different. At the same time though, cultural differences were being discussed regarding the architectural work itself. So it’s not really that there were no longer social and cultural differences – but I guess the virtual environment made it possible to have those discussions while avoiding stereotypes.

Here is part II of The Kansas To Cairo Project:

Discovering a virtual mine in the Appalachian mountains

Talking about virtual environments and machinima (see previous post), here is a very nice example: today in Second Life the Virtual Mine is being launched:

The Virtual Mine is a complete 3D virtual mountaintop removal mine created by Deep Down in the popular world Second Life.  The virtual mine, developed at BAVC’s Producers Institute for New Media Technologies with funding from ITVS and MacArthur Foundation, is an educational 3D environment, game, and educational curriculum for teachers, students, and anyone who’d like to learn more about mountain top removal, coal fired power production, alternative energies, and the amazing music and culture in the Appalachian mountains.  Read more about our inspiration and development at the Producers Institute, and our meeting with Second Life Education at the Institute.

Shooting video in virtual worlds and games with a virtual handheld camera

Machinima is a crucial aspect of the use of virtual environments for journalism. It basically involves shooting video inside virtual environments and games, eventually mixing this with video from the physical world. Examples can be found for instance on the YouTube channel of Draxtor Despres.

The blog Phasing Grace now has great news for machinima makers: the development of a virtual camera which can be used in a very intuitive way as a handheld camera in a virtual world or a game. The new development in virtual cameras at the University of Abertay Dundee is developing the pioneering work of James Cameron’s blockbuster Avatar using a Nintendo Wii-like motion controller – all for less than £100:


Read Phasing Grace for more details!

More news about the use of virtual & augmented reality in newsrooms can be found in this post by Terri Thornton on PBS MediaShift, where she explains how augmented reality invades newsrooms, kids’ shows and ads.

Minecraft, that strange 3D game in our browsers

I saw this fascinating video about Minecraft (via Kotaku). Wikipedia explains:

Minecraft is a sandbox game which allows players to build constructions out of textured cubes in a 3D world. It is currently in development by Markus “Notch” Persson on the Java platform. The gameplay is inspired by Dwarf Fortress, RollerCoaster Tycoon, Dungeon Keeper, and especially Infiniminer. Minecraft was developed for about a week before its public release on May 16, 2009 on the TIGSource forums, where it gained a considerable level of popularity. It has been continually updated since then.

There is now a multiplayer version. I just ran the game in a browser on an office computer – no download was necessary. The game is pretty addictive, the fact that it’s clunky and in some early development phase seems to add to its charm.

It’s another example of how much more is possible in browsers, apart from the usual text/2D animations/video – and also how an individual can create something beautiful and inspiring, going viral.

Metanomics innovates once again, adds meet-ups, gets celebrity-guests

The Second Life show Metanomics is about to start a new season, and is innovating once again. In fact, Metanomics would be a great research topic for communication and media students, as it demonstrates key principles of new media.

Metanomics is owned and operated by Remedy Communications which also owns the blog Dusan Writer’s Metaverse.

Dusan Writer, in “real life” Doug Thompson and owner of Remedy, explains on his blog: “Metanomics provides insight into the changes in governance, economics, policy, enterprise, education and the nature of work facilitated by newer technologies. Guests have included authors, researchers, technologists, professionals, theorists and government policy makers and recently celebrated 100 episodes.”

In fact, Metanomics does many things. It is a gathering in Second Life, where people backchat while the host, professor Robert Bloomfield,  interviews the guests and takes up questions from the backchat. Treet.tv video streams the show on the Metanomics website, where the episodes are also archived. People who cannot join ‘in-world’ can participate in the backchat from the site.

This season another element will be added: a series of local meet-ups timed to show days. The first live meet-up will be held at Research Triangle Park in North Carolina. The audience will watch and participate in a Metanomics broadcast followed by discussion and networking.

Metanomics is a great example of how to immerse a global audience in an intellectual show, using web chat, virtual chat, video, blog texts providing context, transcripts, virtual community meetings and now also interaction in the physical world.

Join us at 12pm PST on October 4th at 12:00 p.m. PST/SLT in-world, when the usual host, professor Bloomfield, will this time be the guest and talk about Real World Lessons from Virtual Worlds, a subject which interests me, being a financial journalist, a lot: “Can virtual worlds provide insight into economic behavior? Does playing a game equate with how we interact in the physical world? What would a system look like that would let us test assumptions about how governments, companies and individuals act?”

I also have a background in philosophy, so I’m equally exited about the show on October 12th, featuring professor Noam Chomsky. Professor of linguistics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), he has written and lectured widely on linguistics, philosophy, intellectual history, contemporary issues, international affairs and U.S. foreign policy.

Installation, performances, group about identities in SL about to be launched

Identity is a fascinating subject, in some complicated ways it also determines the attraction and/or rejection people feel for virtual environments. The idea of being mediated by an avatar, who shares many characteristics of your real life persona, but who also is different, confronts people with the fact that their identity is not some homogeneous, simple and unchanging substance which can be easily described.

On Saturday 2 October and continuing through October there will be performances about this subject in Second Life.

The Caerleon Museum of Identity is the latest in the series of collaborative installations by the Caerleon Artists Coalition, a project of the Virtual Art Initiative. The show opens Saturday, 2 October at 12:00 PM (noon) PDT/SLT on the Caerleon Isle sim, with entertainment beginning at 1:00.

The Caerleon group was established by Georg Janick (Dr. Gary Zabel of the University of Massachusetts, Boston) and consists of artists, writers, musicians, and scholars who are using the immersive and interactive digital media to develop new forms of artistic content.

The Creative Identity group in Second Life will continue the discussions beyond the show and invites others to join.

“Georg Janick’s six Theses on the Art of Virtual Worlds are the framework for the series of collaborations on the Caerleon sims. In addition to major builds on each of the six theses, there have been numerous theme collaborations on various topics, including consumerism, imprisonment, surrealism, and masks, as well as limited resource challenges like the one-prim and limited texture shows.

The Caerleon Museum of Identity is an interpretation by the collaborative team of Georg’s fourth thesis: the Ambiguity of Identity. It states in part, “…digital bodies, and the names that uniquely identify them, can be altered, multiplied, discarded, or exchanged at the will of the user. Since bodily presence is open to such radical discontinuity, the identity of the virtual person is protean and ambiguous, including indicators of age, gender, race, and even biological species.”

The project has been in development for over a year. Weekly discussions about the project inevitably centered around the subject of identity and how people in virtual worlds both express themselves and interact with others. This is a subject of tremendous interest to many in SL, and some of the team members have formed the open Creative Identity group to continue talking about issues, especially as they relate to creative work.

In this context have a look at this machinima by BotGirl Questi:

Or this machinima by Ian Pahute: