Friday, April 29, 2011

China Part 1

On April 3, 2011 I headed off to China ..the filght from LA is a long one but the destination makes it all worth while.  We stayed at Beijing’s City Wall Marriott.  

The city wall of Beijing was a fortification built around 1435. It was 23.5 km long. The thickness at ground level was 20m and the top 12m. The wall was 15m high, and it had nine gates. This wall stood for nearly 530 years, but in 1965 it was removed to give way to 2nd Ring Road and the loop line subway of Beijing. Only in the southeast, just south of Beijing Railway Station, stands one part of the wall.  

The climate is very similar to what we have in the US however I did find some flowers in bloom around the hotel.

After that plane ride your first thought might be to crawl into bed and not move for 24 hours but we didn’t have that luxury..which maybe was a good thing.  Instead we hit the ground running, loaded onto the bus and headed to Tiannamen Square and the Forbidden Palace.

Our first glimpses of the people and the way of life in Beijing..

A light pole in Tiananmen Square: (I just liked it so snap snap)

A guard in Tiananmen Square:

Marching at the Forbidden Palace:

Inside the Forbidden city:

Some of the ornate “adornment” on the buildings in the Forbidden City.

It was very hazy and I am pretty impressed with the quality of my pictures:

When I looked at this picture allI could remember how exhausted I was by the time we reached this point!  The Forbidden City is huge and we did a lot of walking:

Many of their valuable pieces are housed in the various buildings throughout the Forbidden City.   We couldn’t go in so squeezed around people to get a picture of interesting stuff like this throne for the emperor I am sure:

We also visited the Summer Palace:

The Summer Palace (simplified Chinese: ; traditional Chinese: ; pinyin: Yíhé Yuán; literally "Gardens of Nurtured Harmony") is a palace in Beijing, China. The Summer Palace is mainly dominated by Longevity Hill (60 meters high) and the Kunming Lake. It covers an expanse of 2.9 square kilometers, three quarters of which is water. The central Kunming Lake covering 2.2 square kilometers was entirely man made and the excavated soil was used to build Longevity Hill. In the Summer Palace, one finds a variety of palaces, gardens, and other classical-style architectural structures.

What really fascinated me about China though was the people here are some pictures!

No matter where we went it seemed someone was always trying to sell us something, note the postcards the lady in the picture above has ready to sell to us. I really did like this gentlemen selling flutes!  He was very good, loved what he was selling and was really a charmer!

Another fine musician. China is full of sensations; sights, sounds and smells!


Bronze Qilin statue inside the Summer Palace

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Second LIfe ramblings

This is a bit of a ramble based upon Edem Williams, Bassey Eyo, Stephen Akpan’’ s article “ “Linden Labs Second Life: Understanding the Business Model and Sources of Commercial and Social Success or Decline of Second Life,” published on line at this website.

I can only speculate the impetus behind the creation of Second Life, in part it was the book Snowcrash, as well as created to be an online virtual utopia providing the platform necessary to bring together people from across the globe. Part of this would require the collaboration of these diverse people to develop the content for this virtual world.

I have been in Second Life for almost two and half years now exploring, participating and developing some of my own content as well. During that time I have experienced various levels of satisfaction with the environment. In spite of that, after exploring other virtual worlds, open sims, and participated in other social networks...I have always returned to Second Life. It is the rich social network, the imersive environment and the connections with others that kind of suck you into Second Life. Even though the feeling of “Second Life Euphoria or Utopia” isn’t as strong for me as it once was.

I am not going to predict the demise of Second Life however after reading the above article I can only offer some speculation on what it does well and what it can do better. I think sometimes, as consumers we want the instant solution to problems, once that Second Life experience becomes routine we want to recapture that feeling of Second Life Euphoria that we first experienced in the environment.

If I am not experiencing that I can attribute the change in my feelings regarding Second Life to changes in my real life, a change in job, a few moves and new priorities in my life. All of these have distracted me from Second Life and those I have met in Second Life, even though those who are most important to me are now friends on Facebook.

The observation that Second Life’s demise in imminent is a personal and individual experience I believe. The ideas, thoughts and feedback to improve Second Life should be considered and taken into consideration or discarded if they don’t seem possible or useful. End user input should always be considered in providing directions for making improvements...however in the case of technology in general and Second Life specifically the in put can vary greatly due to the users level of experience and comfort level in the use of technology.

That being said I have some opinions of my own. It seems to me Second Life is at the point where its future could go in one direction or the other. I believe that if they cannot find the answer to the new user’s question upon arriving in Second Life, “What do I do now,” then they will fail to bring that user back to Second Life.

There have been a lot of issues with Second Life through the years. In many ways the users’ real life issues parallels the virtual. These are related to property rights, human social interaction, and frustration with a less than stable technology. It is the technology issues that sometimes provide the greatest frustration ..however this is, I believe, an issue with the infrastructure not keeping pace with the technology, aged equipment of the end user, and lack of experience by the end user and even support at Second Life.

The interaction by users in Second Life, at least initially, seems intensified. For myself and for many Second Life users this seems magnified by the environment and the social networking tools used for communication and perhaps even the sense of presence..sense of presence in a virtual world is what you aim to achieve, it is not a bad thing but it is startling to a new user. Over time this feeling does seem to level off as one adapts to the direct communication of text chat and instant messaging as well as the fact that if you don’t like someone you can mute them or teleport away from them. You also learn how to communicate, if someone says something you don’t like you can ask them to clarify or you can clarify and give further feedback.

In my opinion Second Life lost out when they discontinued the discount for education and education institutions. This could still be remedied if they provided incentives and assistance to individual educators who which to bring their educational programs into Second Life. I feel that their support and communication to new educators who entered Second Life was inconsistent and sloppy. They lost any potential of tapping into these students as growing their base users..if those educators were dissatisfied..who do you think they complained to! Second Life lost any potential market and any other marketing approach has been, at best scattered and without focus. In fact marketing of Second Life has been non existent relying instead on press coverage of individuals, campuses and corporate project in the virtual world. The problem with this is that Second Life does not control the marketing that does occur.

In a nutshell it is interesting to me that Second Life has yet to take advantage of the marketing pipeline that was and still is available to them by having large scale educational institutions in Second Life. I have learned from experience that if you do something right students can be your best channel for marketing … like alumni they speak for your product via word of mouth fact look at the University of Phoenix!

Of course Facebook trounced Second Life as a social networking platform. I would not be surprised if in the future they also swallow up Second LIfe as a virtual world or 3Dimensional environment. And why not? They have the critical mass and the social networking tools in place to connect users. I feel this is a shame, really, as I like the social networking features in Second Life much better.

I read another interesting article on learning in immersive environments by William Ryan and Marin Siegel “Evaluating Interactive Entertainment using Breakdown: Understanding Embodied Learning in Video Games,” found here at this website.
I learned some new terms in my reading of this article one of which was the methodology they used in their research; breakdown analysis a technique for analyzing user interaction sequences which looks at times when users are focused on figuring out how to use the system (a “breakdown”) versus times when users are performing their intended tasks.

Another term they used was domain of experience: basically this is the knowledge, past experience that a user brings to, in this case the game or technology that contributes to user satisfaction.

The authors of the article identify these four domains as Perceiving Environment, Developing Strategy, Taking Action, and Meaning Making. Under each of these domains they identified breakdowns which may impact the users experience in using the technology. These are:

Perceiving environment: Cues and affordance, Cut Scene Transition, Depth, Camera and navigation.

Developing strategy: task order, task delivery, discerning importance, events triggering, and task frequency.

Taking action: spatial layouts, controller mapping and scaffolding

Meaning making: Map schema, object schema, avatar schema, character role, and schema familiarity

I took a look at some Second Life Blogs yesterday and here is a bit of what I found:

The Alphaville Herald: I liked the article on the top three sites in Second Life. You will have to check this fact I will be writing more on one site they mentioned in the article The Forgotten City a Steampunk Sim in Second Life..looks like a good article for Steampunk Adventures.

Check out Botgirl’s Second Life Diary too. I did spend sometime thinking this blog posting may fall under her Micro Rants...oh well!

Stop blathering on about the future of Second Life. I'm much more correct in my under-informed pretentious speculation than you are. It's natural and beneficial to discuss our collective future through social networks, blogs and other public forums. But it's delusional to believe we absolutely know the one right way to proceed or can predict how the future will unfold.

Daniel Livinstone wrote a thought provoking article on Second Life which is posted on Educause...All I have to say is that it is ironic that Linden Labs which relied greatly upon their users to create content, attract new users, and developers has treated those very same contributors so poorly.

I also checked out Skoolaborate this week. If you are a K-12 educator and you are interested you should check them out as well. From their website they are:

Skoolaborate is a global initiative uses a blend of technologies including, blogs, online learning, wiki's and ‘virtual worlds’ to transform learning. We aim to use these tools to provide engaging collaborative learning experiences for students aged between 13 and 18 years of age.

Ultimately if Second Life is facing a “demise” it is due to their own early successes! They can no longer rest upon that but instead must earn new users..sometimes the hard way .. not the “if we build it they will come,” mantra.

Blog spot wiped out all my links..grrrrr: