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Second Second Life Meeting January 31, 2007

Posted by Michael McVey in Online Tools.
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slmeet   Pictured: Oyama and Beaudrillard , spend time chatting in Midnight City.

For the second time in as many days, I have participated in online meetings in the virtual world of Second Life. This evening, I met a colleague from the comfort of my home office. She, on the other hand, was speaking in front of a class of students back at the university.

During both meetings, all the participants complained that they were spending too much time typing and had trouble following the flow of conversation since their eyes had to constantly go back down to the keyboard and their fingers were busy dealing with finding objects in the inventory, exploring the control buttons, and directing the movements of our avatars. Our solution: Skype.

The next meeting we hold will be facilitated though the use of Skype, an internet communication tool. Once Second Life is up and running, we will then log on to a Skype conversation with the other participants and spent our time exploring the site with greater flexibility.

Weird Mathematics January 30, 2007

Posted by Michael McVey in Online Tools.
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mallett   Today I encountered two interesting stories about weird mathematics and one that happened to me.

As I was catching up on podcasts in the car, one of my regular shows, AstronomyCast with Pamela Gay and Fraser Cain, discussed black holes and the breakdown of mathematics at the extreme edge of the physical universe. As a person travels toward a black hole and increases their speed to almost light speed ( c ) time appears to stop for the observer. Forget about the spaghettification of the human body. Their point was that advanced mathematics is unable to answer certain questions about black holes because there are some features that “mathematics doesn’t get” about physics.

On another podcast, This American Life, one of the topics was about a man, Dr. Ronald Mallett [pictured], who spent his life since the age of eleven trying to build a time machine. He focused for years on many elements of advanced mathematical theory as well as theoretical physics including quantum mechanics and eventually became a tenured professor of physics. All the while he worked on the fringes of accepted science in a quest to build a time machine. His simple goal was to return to the past to warn his father to take better care of his health. Mathematics wasn’t up to the task of time travel but Mallett made it bend to his ambition.

Then my own mathematics/time travel story. My daughter came into the kitchen after dinner sporting a very grown up hair style. My wife and I told her how cute it was and, with a demi-curtsey and a little flip of her hand, she tossed us a smile and skipped out of the room. In one brief moment, my daughter aged five years and, in the same moment, in a bizarre twist of time, I aged ten.

The arithmetic does not work out, but fathers with eleven years old daughters who are going on sixteen, know that there are some things that mathematics just doesn’t get. This was one of them.

Musings through Checkers January 28, 2007

Posted by Michael McVey in Online Tools.
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checkers   I just played an electronic game of Checkers with somebody in the world. The game played to a draw, which, when offered, I accepted. What was especially intriguing was the interactive message system that allowed you to send a message to the other player.

At first, I thought I would be able to type a message of encouragement, but it turns out I had to select from forty phrases. I choose ones such as “good job” and “uh-oh” and my partner chose similar ones. Then it dawned on me that my opponent might easily have been sitting in a cyber-café in Turkey or Japan. The screen that my opponent saw only needed to be relevant to his or her own language.

So Hiroshi clicks the message, “sugoi” and I read “well played.” I click “that’s safe” and he sees “abunakanai desu.” He thinks he is playing against someone in his home country and so do I. What possibilities this poses to internationalization, at least through simple phrases.

I can envision entering a forum in which all the participants write in their native languages, a virtual Babel, but we only see our own language. I am certainly ready for that. Such technology could certainly make the world that much smaller.

Historic footage January 27, 2007

Posted by Michael McVey in General Comment.
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Happened   In 1975, I sat through an entertaining slide presentation one evening at my high school. It was entitled, “The Truth About the Assassination of President Kennedy” and was delivered by an auto shop teacher from another high school, Tony Centa. The place was packed and conversations about the topic raged on for weeks after. The presentation reviewed the mound of doubts raised about the Warren Commission and reviewed the Zapruder film in detail.

Since that evening, I have looked for footage from television stations taken the day the assassination occurred. I was a child in Grade One at the time and remember that Friday well, or as well as a first grader might. I do not recall if the local district cancelled school that Monday of the funeral but I have strong memories of staying home to watch it and my mother’s reaction to it as I sat and played on the floor.

Years later I discovered my father in law was one of the soldiers standing on honor detail along a wet Washington street that weekend. Now, thanks to ABC News, the expansion of their popular series “The Day it Happened” includes this footage and I am downloading it as I type.

I am not sure why it is so important for me to see this film. I am part of a rapidly dwindling number of people who were alive in 1963 and have any recollection at all of the events of that weekend. Perhaps that need to have a link with one’s past is the reason. Perhaps that need is why I am still in contact with my Grade Six teacher, a friend from Grade Four, and the neighbor from across the street who remembers me from my infancy. No matter what changes in our lives and in the world some of us need to refresh our memories of our days of youth.

Some day my daughter will seek out videos from the news of her childhood just to confirm her memories, restore them, or build them anew. I suspect she will do what I did a few weeks ago and call up on YouTube the title sequences of every show she ever remembers watching. When I did it, I stopped when I had a collection of almost forty of them from Batman to The Man from UNCLE.

My conclusion: I spent a lot of time in front of the tube when I was growing up. Perhaps that’s why I watch so little now.

Synergy Happens January 26, 2007

Posted by Michael McVey in Online Tools.
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talk   On Wednesday, I gave a talk to the college that was a huge hit. Last November, I had the idea of doing a talk about Web 2.0 to my colleagues in the College of Education. I was concerned that too many of us had no real practical experience or general knowledge of what teachers were doing these days with the Internet, more specifically, with the read/write web, sometimes known as Web 2.0.

I reached this conclusion after we had a guest speaker in the College who waxed rhapsodic about virtual worlds, avatars, intelligent agents, and blogs. After speaking with a few of my colleagues, I noted that, with few exceptions, they really did not have much of a practical perspective about his subject matter.

Consequently, I worked up a presentation and contacted the Dean’s Graduate Advisory Council to see if they would host me during a lunch hour brown bag. We had the talk on Wednesday and about thirty showed up, a good turnout. We had faculty, students, and administrative assistants in attendance. From the encouraging comments I received, they were quite entertained and informed.

In response to popular demand, about ten e-mail messages to be precise, this evening I re-created the presentation and dubbed a soundtrack onto it using Breeze technology. I hope to have it posted on a website later this week. What was exciting about the talk was the synergy that occurred toward the end.

In the final ten minutes, I had the opportunity to demonstrate a virtual world, Second Life, with those in attendance. Just as members of the audience were asking what the educational value of such an experience would be, we encountered a pair of avatars chatting with each other through their keyboards. According to their label, one was a French tutor, the other was his student, and they were sitting on virtual chairs in the middle of EduNation, an island dedicated to education.

As I tried to communicate with them, the owner of EduNation arrived to chat with us. His avatar gently dropped in front of us and I introduced myself to him. He was quite intrigued with the fact that I was representing an audience of thirty and he encouraged me to post their questions to him. One of the questions was to find out where he was physically in the world. Barcelona, Spain. That small fact knocked off a few socks.

After only five minutes, we had developed three separate lines of inquiry including one about the use of avatars by disabled individuals. By the end of the week, I hope to have a paper well started on the implications of virtual learning environments for research in the field of disability studies.

Evening Comet January 11, 2007

Posted by Michael McVey in Online Tools.
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comet   I always love it when the sky turns dark and cloudy. The smell of the rain in Tucson is intoxicating and welcome. This week, clouds on the western horizon were the last thing I wanted to see. Reports on sites like spaceweather.com and space.com noted a sharp brightening of Comet McNaught as it passed closer to the sun each day.

Unfortunately, for the past few days we have had clouds to the west. However, tonight, just as I was about to settle down to dinner, I noticed the west had brightened up a little. I ran outside and scanned the horizon with the binoculars I always keep by the door. There, after just a little looking around, was one of the brightest comets in the past thirty years.

I only took a moment to soak it in and ran to get my daughter and wife. They are used to my excitement about matters astronomical so when I told them they had perhaps five minutes to see this thing before it sunk below the horizon they were outside with me right away.

We may get perhaps one more chance to see it. I would urge you to look toward the sun immediately after it sets and scan the horizon with binoculars. You will not be disappointed, that is, unless the comet has already crashed into the sun.

Bleeding Edge January 8, 2007

Posted by Michael McVey in Online Tools.
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vista   I knew I should not have done it but I did anyway. My Computer Operations Support Specialist made the sound decision to pick up a copy of Microsoft’s Vista from the bookstore so he could learn about the tricks of installing it on his dual core laptop. We knew our more adventurous faculty would be asking us questions. The trouble began when I agreed to try it out also.

Soon after inserting the disk, I ran into the first problem. Some programs were not going to function with Vista. After careful consideration, I decided I could do without the two pieces of software, a firewall, and a disk-burning suite. Already I was feeling a little naked.

An hour or two later, Vista was up and running on my machine, a relatively new computer from Gateway. The first sign of a problem came when I could not hear anything through the speakers. To simplify the complicated, my audio card would not function with Vista. Creative Labs still have three weeks to work out a solution before the official release date of Vista, but they are not moving too quickly about it.

The next crisis occurred when I tried to run Second Life and meet a colleague on a pre-arranged island. Second Life saw my graphics driver as some generic inferior chip and refused to work with it. I was flabbergasted.

Exhaustive searches of all the driver sites taught me several things: 1) beta releases of major software can be problematic; 2) it is not always fun being on the cutting edge; and, 3) always have a back up plan.

I am not ready to give up on Vista yet, but I will give it a month and wait for the software and hardware vendors to catch up. Next time, I think I will wait a year or two for the bugs to be squashed before I plunge on ahead of the curve.