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Category Archives: Learning

Second Life: conference, land sale

I’m happy to say that I’ll be volunteering at the Virtual Worlds Best Practices in Education (VWBPE) conference again this year. It takes place from March 9-12 in SL and OpenGrid and everyone is welcome to attend, no charge. Some of the sessions are also streamed live and recorded to watch later.

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And that’s where I come in. Last year I volunteered as a greeter and a mentor: before the event I helped presenters get set up with the technology they needed, I served as on-site tech support during their events, and for a few hours, I stood at a landing point and welcomed attendees. Those weren’t the best assignments for someone who is terribly shy around strangers. Interactions are easier in a virtual world but I still get tongue-tied (finger-tied?) and uncomfortable.

So, this year I volunteered to be part of the streaming team. Not only is there less personal interaction, but I get to have the fun of working the camera and producing video content from the conference. Yesterday I attended a training meeting with other members of the streaming team and I’m excited by the possibility of creating professional grade recordings of an SL live event. I’m looking forward to learning more and playing with the tools in my spare time.

I haven’t been in SL much at all lately, which leads me to my next topic: my parcel on the Heterocera Atoll mainland. If any of you are looking for a quiet, low-lag place to drop a skybox or build on the uneven terrain, ping me (in SL as Kay Jiersen or with that same name – no spaces – at gmail). I’ve already abandoned a couple sections of my land, but I plan to give up another 3000 m² and limit myself to the land allowance on my premium accounts. The region I’m in is almost empty, just two long-term SL residents and abandoned land.  I’d happily chop off a section for one of my blog readers and sell it for L$ pocket change rather than abandoning it to be wasteland. In a perfect world, Linden Lab would say, “Oh, Kay! We’d really prefer you to just keep the land, because you landscape it nicely and don’t run idiotic scripts or put up ban lines, so we’ll waive your tier!”, but let’s not talk crazy.

Yesterday I was discussing my SL land with a new companion. I told him that honestly, part of the difficulty in downsizing is getting rid of things that belonged to Jakob that are rezzed on the parcel: bouquets of flowers, wind chimes, a lotus pond. “Take photos of them, then return them,” was his practical response. “Either way, it’s all just pixels.” True, but that doesn’t make it much easier.

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Posted by on January 26, 2016 in Learning, Relationships

 

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Off-topic: Misplaced responsibility for training in US capitalism

This is not a partisan political rant, I promise.  However, this morning on the drive home from physical therapy, I heard a local public radio piece that made me so angry that I couldn’t get it out of my head. You could apply this post to the theme of technology companies or education, but I know that it’s off-topic for this blog. That said, it’s my blog. Read or skip as you like.

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In a nutshell, the interview discussed job training for industrial sewing workers who are needed in Detroit-area manufacturing. The woman being interviewed (sorry, I have no names) spoke proudly about an initiative she’s heading, getting industrial sewing programs offered in area community colleges with funding available for eligible students through Michigan Works, a group of organizations (some run by the state, some private non-profits) focused on helping unemployed people find jobs. When asked how she came up with this idea, she said that she talked with someone from the Detroit Garment Group at an event and was told that they were frustrated with the amount of training new workers needed. Home sewing skills are not applicable to industrial sewing and the DGG person was displeased at the waste of putting someone through all that training just to have the worker decide that “it was not for them”.  The interviewee assured the radio host that there were plenty of industrial sewing jobs with garment makers, auto manufacturers, and others in the area, and that jobs pay around $10/hour.

The tone of the interview was “look at this great thing we’re doing to support both local industry and unemployed people!” I wasn’t in my car long enough to hear if the interviewer took any phone calls after that. The host was positive and asked no probing questions; it was a local business puff piece and nothing more.

But, let’s break that down. Companies need workers with specific skills, skills that do not give those workers any job flexibility or, with the condition of US manufacturing, many future options at all. That need is being met by having government-run institutions develop programs for students with government-provided funding (or I suppose the students can pay for it themselves). So, taxpayers are paying to train workers for $10/hour jobs at for-profit, private companies.

No no no no no. I’m sorry, members of Detroit Garment Group, but if you need industrial sewing workers, you should take responsibility for training them. Some drop out after training? Since the other options would be indentured servitude or slavery, that’s a fact you simply have to deal with. If you have an industry group for marketing purposes, pool funds to pay for training workers as well, to alleviate the burden on smaller companies without looking for a government hand-out.

Why have we accepted that it is the responsibility of individuals and the government to provide specialized workers to corporations? Yes, I think it’s in all of our best interests to ensure that K-12 education — or K-14 with “free” community college, perhaps — gives students essential job and life skills as well as basic general knowledge. I also think that specialized vocational education programs in high school should be given more respect. (Mike Rowe, pictured above, is a hero to me for the way he supports, ennobles, and advocates for skilled tradespeople.)  But if a for-profit company needs workers with particular training, and it can’t find enough with the needed experience, it’s the company’s responsibility to train more or pay for their training. After all, who benefits most from that worker’s future output?

I’m not saying we should return to the medieval guild system, but the jobs under discussion were not craftsman level, either. $10/hour in the Detroit metro area is a few pennies under the living wage for one adult according to MIT’s excellent living wage calculator. (I also earned $10/hour as an unskilled worker… 25 years ago.) So, these companies expect potential workers to go through an unpaid training program that doesn’t guarantee them a job at the end, for a chance at a job that pays less than a living wage. Not only that, they have the gall to expect the Michigan taxpayers or those workers to foot the bill.

Bravo to companies that are trying to bring jobs to Detroit for workers of every skill level. It’s important for a healthy economy to have jobs for unskilled and low-skilled workers. That said, if your company can’t afford to provide a moderate level of specialized training and pay a living wage, perhaps your industry is not viable here.

I admire companies like Shinola — beyond coveting almost every item they make — because they invest in craftsmanship. In this short video, Shinola managers explain how they knew they wouldn’t find experienced watchmakers in Detroit, so they brought trainers from Ronda AG to work hands-on with each assembly line employee. They have a open position in industrial sewing (experience required), but they have quite a variety of jobs available, not all of which require college degrees or specific training.

I began this post by saying that it wasn’t partisan; I think there’s something objectionable in the interviewee’s program for people on either side of the aisle. Government spending! Borderline living wage job that requires specialized training! For me it’s not political as much as it’s an issue of respect, responsibility, and realism. A company should respect a worker enough to give her specific training for the job and pay her enough to support (at least) herself*.  A company should take responsibility for obtaining the assets needed to operate, and that includes those skilled workers. And realistically, some trainees will become excellent employees, but others will be incapable of the work, drop out, or be revealed as lazy or awful individuals. That’s how people are.

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*Personally, I’m intrigued by the system in other countries where unskilled younger workers can be paid less while learning a job, but then the minimum wage goes up. When I was cashiering at McDonald’s at 16, it was fair that I was paid a low wage because I was gaining experience in elementary job skills: showing up on time, respecting authority, etc. The employer could pay less because a person that age is a trainee in the most basic ways; he is inexperienced, might be irresponsible, and needs education and supervision. Expectations should be higher for an adult in the same job category, as well as responsibilities and pay.

And here’s where I get partisan, deep in a lengthy footnote: I don’t accept any rationale for paying an adult less than the living wage to support him or herself, in any job. Does that mean that fast food workers should be paid $15/hour? In some areas, probably. But other employees who earn less than a living wage should be brought up to a fair minimum too, whether they are retail workers, miners, or adjunct professors. Some people who oppose a higher minimum wage kvetch that it will be a disincentive to ambition, thinking of their early days, like mine, where they moved up to better and better jobs. They may not understand that the tier of manufacturing and general labor jobs that paid a decent wage to hard working people without college degrees has evaporated. They may not understand that many employers are requiring four-year degrees or higher for jobs that don’t actually require specialized skills from those degrees. (I’ve looked at job listings lately and it’s disgusting. Project management jobs like I did very well — with only a high school diploma at the time — are now listing a Masters degree requirement and paying less than I earned 15 years ago.) They may not understand that some people are not ready or able to get a four-year degree.

I get it, really, I do. I’m philosophically libertarian. I buy into the pull-yourself-up-by-your-own-bootstraps way of thinking. It’s how I was raised and how I behaved. I wish everyone could and would do the same, but if wishes were horses, I’d win the Triple Crown every year. Changing my opinion on this came from reading a lot, thinking a lot, and coming to three core conclusions: there are many reasons why people take a different path than I did, education and employment have shifted dramatically, and I believe we’d be better off as a society if we were as accepting and supportive of our weakest members as we are celebratory about our strongest. (I deleted a large section explaining that, because I was giving my opinion far too much airtime.)

Yes, I understand that many small businesses are barely staying afloat while paying low wages. Perhaps there should be a small business exemption. Then workers could choose to seek jobs with larger companies where they would earn at least a living wage or smaller companies, which might offer benefits that appeal to young workers or the second employed adult in a household: flexibility, camaraderie, on-the-job training, child/pet-friendly working conditions, and so on.  I’m no politician or economist, merely an opinionated voter.

 
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Posted by on September 25, 2015 in Learning, Side Topics

 

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Does the Internet need professional curators?

The word “curator” has become diluted, applied to anyone who chooses anything. Nonetheless, we live in an era where people all over the world are producing art and information every day, with far wider distribution and greater output than ever imagined, thanks to the Internet, cellular and WiFi technology, and the proliferation of digital cameras. This bounty leads to several problems:

  • Selection: How can a variety of items related to a particular topic be found? How do we find quality among the quantity?
  • Trust: Is this quote correctly attributed? Was this image or video altered? Is the caption correct?
  • Context: Does the presentation impose a bias? How is this connected to other things?
  • Archiving: Will this material exist and be accessible in 5 years? 20? 100?

The extension of the title “curator” to include editors/writers on blogs and social media is usually based on only one or two of those issues, but all four are included in the job description of an institutional curator, who is generally tasked with the choice, interpretation, and preservation of relevant items. Coming from an anthropology background, I tend to associate curation with cultural artifacts, from Pacific Island tribal masks to original manuscript pages from Borges to paintings by Magritte, but curators can work in many places and deal with a vast variety of topics. Digital curation is a graduate school option — one of my friends recently finished a Masters degree in it — though it still seems to be closely tied to museums and institutions.

This is NOT curating.

This is NOT curating.

In the absence of a formal system of curators for the living, everyday Internet, how are we meeting some of the needs above? What problems are associated with that? Is there a place for professional curators?

My original title for this post was “Facebook is a shitty museum”, a statement which didn’t cover the breadth of material I wanted to discuss but alluded to the idea that we are all curators now. Let’s take my Facebook feed as an example. My Friends list might be more diverse than many, but it’s far smaller than average, with only 160 people. Perhaps 40 of them post on a regular basis. If I weed out the personal posts, I can start to see each person as a type of curator for particular topics. Michelle* shares things about women in technology. Carson shares comics, convention, and superhero things. Lanisha and Sha’nel both post about being black women in the entertainment industry. Scott posts about fibromyalgia, Lenore posts about autism. Ricky posts about cars. Ben posts about religion and conservative politics. Jimmy and Ron both post about guns and gun control, on opposite sides. Several people post about parenting. Lana posts about music. Brenda posts about workouts, Savannah and Paula post about yoga, Sven posts about competitive swimming, Mike posts about wrestling. Daniel posts about new technology. Tammy and Becka post quick and easy recipes.

Some of them are really interesting and give me insight into different worldviews, but are they curators? No, not by a long shot. Going back to the four items with which I began this post, my Facebook friends do provide selection of topics that interest them. Some of them try to verify things they share but others don’t, so they don’t all provide trust. They all add personal bias, so the context is skewed by the nature of sharing items on Facebook. None are involved with the archiving of those items. They’re enthusiasts, hobbyists, fans, collectors, and perhaps even subject matter experts, but not curators.

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Let’s look at those four items, starting with selection. If I want to find online items related to a certain topic, I will probably begin with a Google search. What I’m presented with is not the result of careful evaluation of quality, it’s a list of sites ranked by their use of search engine optimization techniques. However, those results will include sites that provide some degree of selection: niche websites, themed blogs, Pinterest boards, Twitter feeds, etc. Because many of these sources are trying to parse relevant items from the nonstop inflow of created content, it might be more accurate to think of them as filters, but some try to go deeper and pull from the vast Internet repository to select topical pieces. The results are incomplete, though. Many archives are not available on the open web and we’re all limited to some degree by language and imposed content restrictions.

When I discover a source that regularly shares items that interest me, I follow or bookmark it. Sometimes that is based on the topic, but often it is based on the preferences of the person or team that maintain the site. For example, I read GoodShit all the time (NSFW, lots of female nudity), not because of a particular topic that Fred covers, but because he regularly links to items I find interesting, challenging, and new. I don’t mind scrolling through topless and spread-legged naked models to get to those. In a way, I think of GoodShit as a museum I visit often, where I walk through some of the galleries to get to the displays where I really want to linger.

One weakness in this system is that it’s easy to build ourselves echo chambers, where we select sources based on quality but also — consciously or not — because they tell us what we want to hear. Someone else is selecting the content, but I’m selecting the selectors. I see a sign of this bias kick up on Facebook when a friend, usually from the far conservative side of the aisle, posts, “The media reported about X nonstop, but why aren’t they talking about Y?!?!”, yet I’ve seen an abundance of coverage of both topics. My friend may have isolated himself from news sources that provide equal coverage (or, he may be using indignant, victimized rage as an indirect way of expressing controversial opinions). He’s not the only one who might have an echo chamber, though. Because I tend to avoid mainstream news networks, I may be shielding myself from a true imbalance in coverage. This starts to bleed into the context issue and can make it difficult for us to understand the worldview of others who have been informed by different media.

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If we select selectors who don’t make trust a priority, things get even worse. We can’t believe everything we read, nor can we believe the content of photos or videos. How many times do you see something that’s clearly fake spread across the web like wildfire?  Especially with echo chambers of sources we consider credible, but that reflect our own political, social, and religious views, healthy skepticism tends to evaporate.

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Though there are some telltale signs that an item might not be true, sometimes it has truthiness and we need to look further. Many of us turn to Snopes.com for fact checking (though I’m getting database errors all over their site, so I guess everything is true today!). Scroll partway down the page of this reddit thread and you’ll find a list of other sites that are useful for debunking. The Antiviral sub-blog on Gawker regularly posts “Forward or Delete” pieces that investigate images widely shared that week, verifying or debunking them, and often sharing the source photos that were combined to create the fake. No, John Lennon was not riding a skateboard in the original version of the photo above.

There are many motivations for creating fake content. Sometimes it’s for humorous effect or to display technical ability, as in Worth 1000 contest entries. A desire for attention. Political persuasion. Advertising. Trolling. Slander. We get so used to seeing photoshopped images of celebrities that it can alter our perceptions of what looks natural; one of my acquaintances seems to think we won’t notice when her face — and only her face — is softly blurred, completely line-free, and luminous in all of her group photos. Poorly altered images appear even when they should have passed through levels of approval; take a few minutes to visit Photoshop Disasters for some laughs and groans.

Hunger for cheap and easy content makes a lot of websites untrustworthy, whether they are personal blogs or professional, journalistic sites. For many examples, read this piece by John Bohannon about all the places that ran with his unsubstantiated story about chocolate helping weight loss. He explains that well-done research — especially in diet science — is often contradictory and confusing. When junk gets distributed so widely, it adds to the noise. People feel overwhelmed, which I think plays a part in unscientific thinking among otherwise educated individuals. Clickbait headlines make scientific findings seem like absolutes, rather than things that must be challenged and explored, so refinements and corrections appear to be contradictions. Whether clinging to the notion that vaccines cause autism, climate change is entirely natural, or that juice cleanses are healthy, the echo chamber effect and proliferation of junk science articles allow people to reject other opinions and find support for their own.

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On to context. I first began musing on Internet curation a few years ago when I was taking an ethnographic film course. We were debating whether it was more valuable to have a filmmaker inside or outside the group being studied, and my professor cited a few instances of films made by insiders. I argued that there was more insider filmmaking being done than we acknowledge, in homemade videos shot with phones and old camcorders, sometimes uploaded to the web. What we lacked was curation. Nobody was collecting, sorting, clarifying, and saving those videos. The short video below shows part of a 2014 Vodoun festival in Benin. Note the different types of cameras being used and who is holding them. It isn’t just the white tourists and academics anymore.

If that video was your first introduction to a Zangbeto, though, do you have any understanding of what you saw?  There are many videos of Zangbeto on YouTube, but few of them have meaningful descriptions. The videos that are likely to survive for the future are those from institutional users — anthropologists, sociologists, historians, students of religion and dance — and not those taken by insiders, unless someone begins to collect them and add context, preserving them in a relevant way.

Context is what can change a selection into a meaningful experience. The Deutsches Museum in Munich, as a physical world example, has many areas with excellent collections but terrible context. (The website makes the place look lively and interactive. It’s not.) When we were there, we often had the impression that they felt the need to put ALL THE THINGS on display and hoped that stacking them in the same room would create a compelling story. They would have been better off to showcase some items and include others in the context around them. I think that the Gawker properties do a decent job of adding context to items they find, particularly io9, Gizmodo, and Jalopnik, though I get aggravated with how often they share posts across the Gawkerverse without changing the context to show how the item is on-topic for that blog.

Context is also another place to check bias. It is factual to say that on August 9, 2014 Michael Brown was shot and killed by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri. In the Internet explosion around that event, the context makes all the difference. To one extreme, he was an innocent black teenager murdered by a racist. On the other extreme, he was a criminal thug killed in self-defense. I could point to sites, memes, and videos that are entirely biased, ignoring or discrediting any facts that don’t fit the preferred narrative. I linked to a New York Times overview of the event as the most even-handed I could find, but I don’t believe that they, or other journalists, are unbiased. I think the key isn’t to avoid sources that have biased context, but to be aware of it and consider other viewpoints as well.

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That leaves archiving on my list of four issues, and it’s completely neglected in the diluted definition of curation, where the final step is to publish or share. The Library of Congress is archiving Twitter, but so far, this Politico article describing it as “a huge #FAIL” seems appropriate. And, most of what they have to archive so far is just text and images, not multimedia in a variety of obsolete formats!  This short video from Al Jazeera America (which I can’t seem to embed) gives an overview of the Internet Archive, which stores snapshots of as much of the web as possible. You can browse previous versions of websites via the Wayback Machine. What’s actually captured is useful but limited. Sometimes images don’t appear and often comments on articles are lost. Going back only as far as 2011, there were some weeks when the Wall Street Journal site was only crawled two or three times, and that’s a significant website among the estimated 48 billion webpages today. The New Yorker published a good piece about the Internet Archive a few months ago, too.

When I’ve had to purge items from my own digital archives because of lack of technical compatibility, I can’t even begin to think about the challenge of archiving the Internet; not just preserving it, but indexing it so that it can be used for research. I’ve been in the basement of the Field Museum in Chicago, looking though the amazing anthropology collection that is sorted, labeled, carefully preserved, but too vast to be on display to the public. I understand that sort of archive, but when we try to save all digital content — from research articles to ragequit screeds to breaking news to photos of a dinner burrito — the scale is mind-numbing.

Anthropology Collection Storage, Field Museum, Chicago

Anthropology Collection Storage, Field Museum, Chicago

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Is there a place for professional Internet curators? I think so, but I’m having difficulty envisioning where and how they might work.

When I discussed this with my husband, he suggested that in the future, it would be easier to research American daily life in 1915 than in 2015, because — I’m rephrasing — so many of our current cultural artifacts are digital. I think that’s partially true. It also made me consider horrible PhD dissertations of the future: “Facets of the Selfie: The Evolution of Duckface”, “What Americans Ate: Revelations from the Instagram Archive”, or “‘U Mad Bro?’ and the Rise of Flexible Spelling”. Part of the (future) problem is that it may not be easy to separate the wheat from the chaff. How will researchers grasp subtleties from the data that survives? Things that went viral, even briefly, may seem disproportionately important as they appear in higher concentration. Eeek.

I think we can be mindful about our selectors, push them to be trustworthy, and think critically about the context. We can hobble together those parts of curation now. Archiving, as it has been for physical artifacts, seems to be the domain of institutions.

So I’m sorry, but I won’t call you a curator if you have a topical Tumblr, are picky about your Pinterest board, or share nothing but awesome street art photos on Facebook. Be proud to be an enthusiast, editor, or collector!  On the other hand, we need to look at the sources that provide some elements of curation and hold them to a higher standard. That’s a lot to ask of people who are volunteers, but it shouldn’t be too much for professionals. I’d like to suggest that they:

  1. Dig deeper. Don’t just funnel the latest news. Be thinkers, not filters.
  2. Be more inclusive. Push beyond English and corporate source material.
  3. Verify. If you’re not sure of authenticity but it’s really interesting, include that caveat. Otherwise, act as if you must personally support the validity of what you post.
  4. Be wary of absolutes. We’re at a point where it’s important to think of continuums and gradients in many facets of life, and we need people to step up intellectually and understand that. It’s weak writing to couch everything in words like possibly, maybe, as of now, and so on, but it’s detrimental to declare each new discovery as THE answer, too.
  5. Add useful context. Sharing a link without context is for amateurs. (Amateurs, go for it! This is how we find so many interesting things.)
  6. Strive to avoid bias. Or, make it blatant and let your audience decide to stay or go.
  7. Support archiving. Make sure your material has useful and relevant metadata, not only for SEO but also for human access. Archive your own things. Donate to archiving institutions.

 

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*Names have been changed, of course.

 

 
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Posted by on September 2, 2015 in Culture, Learning, Research

 

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Video game summer school

As someone who enjoys video games, even those I’m lousy at playing, it’s no surprise that I think gaming can provide unintentional learning opportunities. Of course there are games that target specific skills, but I’m seeing many ways that even the MMORPG I’ve been playing can be educational.

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That’s my second avatar in ArcheAge. Like my first, she’s of the Argent class and she just reached level 47, but she’s a different race from my initial avatar and I’m working on different proficiencies with her.  Since I’m nearing endgame levels and I refuse to engage in PvP fighting or join parties, guilds, or raids, at this point I’m doing whatever amuses me rather than playing the game as it’s designed. That means a lot of stealthy farming and gathering, leveling skills so I can craft everything I need, observing chat drama, and wandering off the edges of the map.  It’s given me a lot off time to see what other people are doing in-game and think about those behaviors.

I’ve seen players develop incredibly detailed profit and loss spreadsheets, as intricate as anything in a first-year college accounting class. Making money can be a big part of the ArcheAge gameplay, either as a goal in and of itself or as a way to afford high level gear. Someone who successfully farms for profit in AA has to track his costs carefully: raw materials (seeds, saplings, baby livestock), feed/fertilizer/medicine, land costs, the cost of the labor points used to plant and harvest, the cost of buildings/storage and carts/ships for transportation. He needs to know where he can get the most profit from what he raises and balance that against the risk of piracy on long trade runs. He must monitor the prices of raw materials he needs but doesn’t grow himself, as well as keeping an eye on the auction prices for his products, which sometimes may be cheaper to buy than grow himself.

Farmers like me, who don’t own or share land but instead seek out hidden places on the map where they can plant, have a different set of variables to track. We incur a higher labor cost and the risk of loss through theft or griefing, and we might need to keep track of numerous spots and the time that each particular crop will ripen. If someone intends to farm for profit instead of just playing 3D Farmville, the bookkeeping is no small matter.

Others monitor auction prices with the diligence of Wall Street options traders, snapping up underpriced items and flipping them for profit. Though some use bots and plug-ins that are against the game rules, many simply keep track of prices, fees, and profits over time. I’ve seen a trader buy up all of the listings for one particular item, then relist all of them at higher prices with differing auction duration.

Social and strategic skills are exercised in an MMORPG, for better or worse. In ArcheAge, trusted partnerships can be important for commerce and crafting as well as fighting. It’s possible to play as pirates and criminals, though there is a peer trial and prison system that provides consequences to those actions. Because people who have played the game long enough to have good gear, equipment, and land have a huge advantage over new players, new players who want to reach the upper echelon need to be socially strategic, making connections and getting into a powerful or very helpful guild. Once inside a guild, all the political and interpersonal pressures intensify. I was so burned out by leading a guild in another MMORPG that it will be a long time before I choose to be an active member again.

Even people who like to explore on their own face puzzles that require creative thinking. How is it possible to reach the peak of that mountain? Is there a hidden path, or a slope that can be tackled with some difficulty, or might I have to find a higher peak beyond my render distance and soar over with my glider?  Plotting a path through a bunch of monsters without attracting aggro is mathematical thinking.

It may seem mindless, but even relatively low-strategy gaming requires more cognitive work than passively watching a movie. When my stepson was younger, sure, I would have preferred for him to read a book, build something, play an instrument, or get a job in his free time, but I knew that his MMORPG time was valuable in helping him develop social and conflict management skills. Now as I lurk at the edges of ArcheAge, I see another generation engaging their brains along with their fingers.

 
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Posted by on August 3, 2015 in Gaming, Learning

 

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Recently discovered: medical robobear, UX reading, fast ethnography, useful websites

telescope

♦ WIRED has a story about this fuzzy bear robot developed at the MIT Media Lab for use with children in medical settings. They’re running a pilot study now. The video won’t embed, but you can watch it here. If it seems the bear is surprisingly aware and interactive, that’s because he’s more of a puppet, controlled Wizard of Oz style by a person at a laptop hidden nearby.

♦ This UX Reading List is a great resource for people interested in, as the author puts it, the disciplines of “User Research, Usability, Information Architecture, User-Interface Design, Interaction Design, Content Strategy or Experience Strategy”.

♦ When learning to be anthropologists, especially doing ethnographic research, we’re taught the value of time. Hanging out is a valid research technique, in the context of apparently doing little but observing, building relationships, or simply letting others get used to having you there.  A year of field work is a nice start. So, it’s really a change to think of writing ethnography quickly, to contribute an anthropological point of view as events unfold in a digital age. This essay by Yarimar Bonilla on Savage Minds would have sparked a big debate in some of my university classrooms, especially with my most traditional professor who would chide us with repeated lines like, “Anthropologists do not guess or predict! They describe, clarify, and contextualize!” (I break her rules all the time, as do most anthropologists I’ve known.)

♦ Lifehacker has a list of single-purpose websites that do exactly what they claim to do. I’ve used a couple of them and I’d add Can I Stream It? (canistream.it), too.

 

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A few final thoughts on VWBPE 2015

All in all, I thought it was a wonderful conference this year. Things appeared to run smoothly; a few small glitches I noticed along the way were quickly corrected or worked around. I can’t speak to any of the social events but I heard good things about them.  So, a few things:

Why the heck did I volunteer for people-facing things if I’m a shy introvert?

I was asked this recently, and the answer is simple, “I wanted to help and that’s what was needed.”  Sure, it’s a bit like an arachnophobe offering to watch your pet tarantula, but I’m capable of being pleasant and helpful regardless of the anxiety I’m feeling. Oddly, on two of my three shifts welcoming people to the conference, another volunteer was also there. He was far more chatty and social than I will ever be, and since he jumped to welcome people, I was largely irrelevant. I stood there awkwardly, and then changed into my pteranodon avatar and flew around and squawked. It’s remarkable therapy for shyness.

There is a way to take silent photographs.

Though I understand some people find silent photos creepy, hearing a Polaroid-like shutter sound over and over and over and over and over during a presentation can be a bit grating. Perhaps some people don’t know how easy it is to mute that sound. I can’t speak for the SL viewer, but in Firestorm we can simply use the Avatar menu, choose the Advanced tab and enable the Advanced menu. On the Advanced menu that now appears across the top of the screen, mark Quiet Snapshots.

Presenters would benefit from a very simple standing AO or a poseball near the podium. 

You’ve seen some awkwardly positioned avatars in my photos because generally, they’ve been standing at the front of the room without an AO (animation override), bending and turning in a way that isn’t often seen with experienced SL residents. The final keynote presenter specifically mentioned this. A speaker poseball or simplified AO could help them appear as professional as their talks. If I were a speaker, I’d probably use the capability for saving an AO in the viewer itself. I’d choose a simple walk and an appropriate standing animation or two from another AO and save it as a new “Speaking” AO. I may write about how to set up AOs in the viewer soon — it’s a splendid way to have a custom AO (or several AOs) available without adding to the script weight of a sim. I not only have two full AOs in mine, but I’ve used it to replace my dance and modeling HUDs.

The experience of attending the VWBPE conference outshines several conferences I’ve attended in the physical world.

The annual National Association of Broadcasters conference is a zoo. As much as I adore anthropology and always want to attend 90% of the sessions, the crowds at the annual meeting of the American Anthropological Association are unbelievable. I really loved the Popular Culture/American Culture conference when it was in DC, but that was overwhelming, too. There have been others, and my memories of them are mostly of holing up and ordering room service, unable to face the packed hallways and rooms of folding chairs any longer. Very social people might appreciate the physical conferences more, but there were plenty of opportunities to meet and mingle, play games, and dance at VWBPE.

If you want to provide access to your event for people on the autism spectrum, with disabilities or chronic pain, or with other conditions that make a physical conference very challenging, consider offering an online mirror in a virtual world. Even the crowded “rooms” at VWBPE aren’t that visually or perceptually full. Rather than rushing through jammed halls to try to navigate to the next session, I click a link and poof! I’m there. If my arthritis is bothering me, I can get up to pace and stretch during a presentation rather than sitting stiffly on a bad chair in increasing distress. The organizers do their best to provide sessions in both voice and text, to make them accessible to more people. I don’t think it is a coincidence that there were many people at VWBPE with disclosed disabilities; we want to participate, learn, and share, and virtual worlds give us a forum for that.

So in the end…

… a huge thanks to the organizers, presenters, builders/scripters/texturers, filmmakers and photographers, transcribers, sponsors, and other volunteers  as well as Linden Labs and the AvaCon Grid, who made the conference possible. Fantastic work.

 
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Posted by on March 22, 2015 in Learning

 

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VWBPE conference, day 4 (part 2)

The final keynote was from Jay Jay Jegathesan (Jayjay Zifanwe), who spoke on “Building Global Communities Through Virtual Worlds”. He talked first about how he began in a virtual world, building an online version of the University of Western Australia. Winning a Google SketchUp Build Your Campus in 3D competition with his team helped them gain credibility and funding from campus sources.

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His initial plan in Second Life was simply to reproduce the UWA campus so that people could enjoy the space. However, the campus soon became a living and breathing university, with in-world classes, an architecture competition, visualization research, artistic exhibitions, and machinima challenges. You can see more about that in the short promotional video below.

Jay Jay discussed a building launch where audiences were in both SL and the physical world, with cameras on both so that they could see each other.  After that, they did a full launch of the UWA online campus and the online presence was actually selected as one of the 100 Treasures of the university upon its centenary. Also, they made a point of connecting with media outlets for coverage. Jay Jay mentioned how he’s actually been able to travel extensively in the physical world to talk about his work in the virtual world.

He went on to discuss many ways that they’ve crossed between worlds: running film competitions, making physical books of the art from virtual competitions, taking part in a virtual world working group, and leading joint classes with other universities. They also created SLeducate to help educators and students learn about the opportunity in virtual worlds.

Then, Jay Jay showed a picture of a pretty, pixie-like avatar that he introduced as his friend Dianne. He showed a photo of her in RL — a lovely woman with a warm smile and mid-length white hair. Then, a third photo of her in her wheelchair. That was part of his inspiration for the Freedom Project, for artists and filmmakers with disabilities or chronic illness (in partnership with other organizations). He shared some of their artworks and words with us. It was a powerful way of reminding everyone how important SL can be to people who have limitations in the physical world.

It was remarkable to see how much Jay Jay, UWA, and their partners are doing. Wow, just wow. He attributed their success to the community, spread across arts and teaching and other fields, so the campus is always dynamic, and collaborating with other organizations. Before he left, he shared the film that won their 7th challenge, MetaPhore, by Tutsy Navarathna:

 
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Posted by on March 21, 2015 in Learning, Research

 

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