The year of DIY SOS

First of all,

Happy New Year!

Now that all that Christmas nonsense is out of the way it’s time to attempt to get back to writing posts a bit more regularly. Before anyone gets too excited that is likely to mean a lot of rambling on about fixing up our new house; 2011 was the marathon house buying year but 2012 is going to be a whole Olympiad of jobs that need doing on the house of many leaks!

Given the number of leaks we already have, one job that I’m not planning to do myself is replacing the bathroom. We’re still trying to figure out the best way to fit everything in without everything looking odd or squashed. My pencil and paper scribbles have evolved into a highly realistic 3D rendering quick 3D sketch in Second Life to see what it might look like. Apart from our bathroom looking extremely small when dropped in the middle of a field on its own, it was a very simple way to get a rough visualisation.

I haven’t quite managed to use bathroom sketches as an excuse to buy a Galaxy Note… yet… maybe if it was just a little bit cheaper!

The other project I keep contemplating is whether to put in some structured wiring. While decorating and pulling up floors would seem like the perfect opportunity. Unfortunately there’s no obvious place to put a so called ‘node zero’. I guess I could put a patch panel in the loft and defer choosing the final location until later. Would that work? And is there an easy trick for running cables behind dot and dab dry lined walls? Using 8 or 16 pair cable seemed like it might make things simpler than pulling through multiple cables, but that doesn’t seem particularly easy to get hold of in the UK. There’s a good chance decorating will just overtake any ideas about installing ethernet cables but I haven’t completely given up the idea.

Next job: sanding.


Clayton Tunnel

Tomorrow is the last of the 2010 Heritage Open Days and while searching through for something to do this weekend I spotted Clayton Tunnel North Portal on the list.

(c) Aaron Concannon. Some rights reserved.

By strange coincidence I finished my MSc 13 years ago tomorrow and my dissertation was based on the Clayton Tunnel accident. As Jo rightly points out, it’s not really that freaky a coincidence, but why let logic spoil a good story! My project was basically about modelling the accident, which is nicely explained by this more recent poster. After digging around some old files, I discovered a diagram of the tunnel:

…some screen shots of some exciting grey telegraph dials:

…and a bunch of other images; thirteen years on and .gifs are still going strong. The actual dissertation on the other hand was a little more tricky to look at. After several unsuccessful attempts with Microsoft Word Viewer, Lotus Symphony and Google Docs, OpenOffice finally did a passable job opening the ancient Word format:

Being able to step in and take on an agent’s role is one of the best ways to gain understanding about a system. In the Clayton Tunnel accident, and I suspect many other situations, there are interactions between agents that depend on the other agents having a different perspective on the model. Brown and Killick provide an excellent example of this. At one point in particular the difference between their views of the world results in the last mistake leading up to the accident. As far as Killick knows there are two trains in the tunnel whereas Brown is only expecting there to be one. Now when Killick sends, “is tunnel clear?”, to Brown as a train leaves the tunnel, Brown relies, “tunnel clear”. The modeler is omniscient about the model and hence can’t step in and act on behalf of agents with a limited view of the world without bringing with them knowledge the agent shouldn’t have: there’s a conflict of interests. This limits the modeler’s ability to accurately reproduce an agent’s behaviour.

I wonder if the Open Document Format will prove to be any more future proof. (I still have an original print out just in case!) I keep thinking it would be interesting to recreate the project in Second Life or Open Sim at some point. Maybe I’ll give it a go if I get a chance, although I would be surprised if either of those are around in the same form in 10 years time, unlike the tunnel.

Sadly the Clayton Tunnel tour was fully booked so we’ll have to find something else to do instead. Maybe it’ll be open again next year.

Recipe for a Virtual World 6: User generated content

If you even remember the previous posts, you may wonder what happened to 4 and 5. Unfortunately I got bit stuck on money (which was going to be the forth, but I never quite decided whether an economy is directly relevant to virtual worlds- my current suspicion is not) and physics (which was going to be the fifth, about the different approaches used to construct virtual worlds, rather than physics simulations), but I kept getting distracted! If it wasn’t for user generated content, I doubt I’d be the least bit interested in virtual worlds; I get bored being a spectator in computer games very quickly.

Luckily I don’t have to write a whole post about what’s so important about user generated content, because Dale’s done that already! Jonas’ “Dead Gnomes as Enterprise Collaboration Tools” post is also worth a read as it shows that the goal of content creation can often be something other than content which is produced. The content is just a means to an end, and user generated content can take care of the long tail requirements that virtual world developers would never otherwise get to. How far up the list of priorities would dead gnomes be?! And how long would you have to wait for the opinionator?! (My current all time favourite gadget in second life.) Even the opinionator is a luxury when you can just stack up cubes, but one that makes for richer interactions- you can’t have too many ideas like that to make up for the loss of real world interactions if virtual worlds are to be the next best thing.

News that professional design teams are getting tools to collaborate on content creation inside the world they are building makes things even more interesting, further blurring the lines between designers and users/producers and consumers.


(And I almost forgot to mention MQTT enabled ducks and UK energy price turbines on ReactionGrid!)

Information on Demand 2008

A slightly overdue look back at the Information on Demand conference; check Stephen’s post for another.

I spent most of the week in the InfoSphere demo room so I missed most of the rest of the conference. Luckily the demo room was the best part of IOD! If you missed it, you missed out on demos including DataStage, QualityStage, the MDM Workbench (with the user interface generator), and integration of Information Server tools and MDM Server at a rapid pace. (Okay, there were lots of other good bits but I’ve seen some excellent feedback comments from people who visited the demo room.)

InfoSphere demo room

InfoSphere demo room

One thing I was disappointed to miss was the Blogging Birds of a Feather (BOF) session on Wednesday although, since they weren’t offering free drinks like one of the other BOFs, it seems there weren’t many people there. I might have made it if Twitter hadn’t regressed as much as it has since the MDM Summit but that’s a subject for another day.

I did manage to escape our demo stand a few times during the week to find out more about IBM mashups, with some excellent sessions and even better chats. Just signed up for Lotus Greenhouse to play with some of the tools that were on show. The demo room was all packed up on Thursday night, so I made the most of the Friday morning for another mashup session, an excellent mashup usability workshop and (slight tangent here) the “Virtual Worlds and Databases: In-world Tools Using External Databases” session which I’m glad I got to. There’s a hint of what Lance covered on the Database Magazine Profiles in Innovation.

I’ve been on the look out for more of what I didn’t get to see, and this is the random selection of IOD articles I’ve stumbled across so far:

Plus Alex has a handy guide for a stay in Las Vegas, including a much better shot of the Excalibur hotel I was staying in than I managed to get- a very very silly hotel!

Update: just been sent a link to some brilliant photos of the demo room! There’s also one in there showing the globes that bounced out of the way of shadows when people walked in front of the projectors, which I enjoyed on the way to breakfast each morning- I’m easily entertained! (12 Nov 2008)

Justin Casey moving on

As Justin mentioned on his blog, and also reported elsewhere, he’s moving on to join the Fashion Research Institute and Friday was his last day in the Hursley Information Management team at IBM. Unfortunately, while there are many advantages to working from home, there are downsides, one of which was missing Justin’s leaving drinks at the Dolphin. I’m also going to be missing the Open-Source, Interoperable Virtual Worlds panel at the Virtual Worlds expo. Still, with the power of blogging I hope I won’t be missing out completely.

Good luck to Justin with what sounds like a tremendous opportunity.

BMW leaves Second Life

Earlier today I made a trip to the BMW New World1 island in Second Life after an invitation from Munich Express to hear an announcement. I have hardly spent any time in virtual worlds lately but I’ve had many interesting conversations about them with Munich in the past and was intrigued to find out what news BMW had.

Like others, BMW has decided to end its current virtual world experiments in Second Life. Although it will be a shame to see them go, the message was generally very positive about the future for virtual worlds, which BMW are still investigating to use internally, hosted on their own servers. The announcement ended with a free gift for the audience, which I still can’t drive; I can see why there were never any BMW cars to test drive in Second Life!



I’m glad I made it to the event, which sparked some great debate, and I’ll certainly be keeping in touch with Munich/Achim inside/outside Second Life.


Stopping LSL scripts running in the wrong object

I’ve been dusting off a very old project in Second Life and giving it a fresh coat of pixels (details to follow) where I wanted to use llRemoteLoadScriptPin to load scripts into objects as I rez them. It would however cause odd things to happen if these scripts ran in the object doing the rezzing, so here’s how I stop them:

        // Check whether we should be running...
        integer disable_marker = llGetInventoryType("DisableScripts");
        if(disable_marker != INVENTORY_NONE)
            state disabled;

        // ... the real code

state disabled
        llSetScriptState(llGetScriptName(), FALSE);
        // Nothing else in this state so it shouldn't matter if the
        // script doesn't stop immediately

So the script magically stops running if I put it in any object that contains a notecard with the name DisableScripts, which seems to work pretty well.

Giveup vs. catchup

I haven’t read many blogs lately (I blame Technorati favourites going AWOL… erm, and I’ve been a tad busy). I could do the same as Kelly and declare blog bankruptcy but I thought I’d try something different. I’ve had a skim through and these look kind of interesting:

Let me know if any of them are worth reading properly!

Mapping the future

I’m a bit of a fan of maps, even strange ones, and I’ve been wondering lately about a world of virtual worlds and how that might look on a globe, with each virtual world represented by countries, with continents of related worlds. So a continent with countries for the Second Life grid, corporate grids and Open Sim grids for example. Beyond just looking cool, I think mapping out our virtual world – be that social networks, information/tags, 3d environments – in a visual way will make it more accessible. Still checking to see if someone has done it already but if they haven’t I’m thinking FreeEarth might work for a little experiment…

Just thinking out loud.

Recipe for a Virtual World 3: places

Virtual Worlds need people and people need places. For collaboration or socialising, a sense of place sets virtual worlds apart from alternatives like instant messaging and conference calls. As in the real world, meeting to play games or do business (or both) in a virtual world needs a place to do it. Unlike the real world, there are few constraints to limit these places. It doesn’t rain if you don’t want it to, and you don’t need shade from the sun, so a roof becomes an aesthetic choice rather than a necessity. Physics; what goes up, might come down if you want it to. Yet the possibilities are not endless if you want a virtual space to be successful: the remaining constraints, other than any technical limitations, are formed by people’s expectations. And discovering what those are, and how they vary, is going to be interesting. (I’m going to predict that 3d blinking text won’t be popular!)

With all these virtual places, navigating virtual worlds has startling (to me at least!) similarities to navigating the real world. To make things interesting, some of the problems navigating the real world are magnified. My first experience of Second Life was teleporting to a totally random set of locations and some subsequent aimless wandering/flying. I have absolutely no idea where any of those places are! I did try and go back to one of them later but without any GPS I didn’t stand a chance. To start with teleporting reminded me of stepping out of tube stations in London- I gradually get to know the area round stations I visit frequently, without realising that they are in fact practically next to each other! To make matters worse, navigating by landmarks can be unreliable when the landmarks can change so quickly and completely. It’s like going back to a home town after moving away for years, when new roads and buildings have replaced old familiar landmarks. Except that change happens much faster in a virtual world, and even mountains can move!

I quickly learnt to save landmarks of places I might want to return to in Second Life, which leads to the next tiny problem. Places change. In the real world, people and businesses move. In the virtual world they seem to do it a lot! I might go back to a cake shop I visited a month or two ago in the real world to discover that it now sells clothes. In the virtual world, I might go back to a shop to discover that the shop has gone, along with the town it was in! I might teleport in to the middle of a battlefield! It will get even more interesting when places move from one virtual world to another- my Second Life landmark is not going to do much good in Kaneva!

The DNS system already provides a way to look up the address of a computer based on a name. So the computer this weblog is hosted on could move from one country to another and the name you use to view it would stay the same. Instead of a post code (isn’t a zip what you use on clothes?!) system, maybe a Place Name Service (PNS) would help. No need to restrict this one to virtual worlds either. Register your place name and when someone uses it, they could end up with a real world address, a Second Life landmark, etc. etc.

That doesn’t solve the problem of finding places in the first place. This is a bigger problem on a general purpose virtual world, since not finding a place you think is interesting or useful is likely to mean you leave thinking that the whole virtual world is not interesting or useful. There could have been the most amazing place just round the corner and you would never know. (You’ll live without it but thats a big problem for a virtual world that wants more active users.) In the real world, you might use a guide book or go on a tour to find interesting places. Why not do the same in a virtual world? Or, as with anything on the internet, look out for where other people are going. Tom Werner’s blog might be a good place to look, although I must admit I am slightly biased!

So what are your top 5 virtual places (Second Life or anywhere else)?