Archives for August 2009

Education.au and immersive learning

SA-based Kerry Johnson is a an educator who let me know about two projects she’s been involved with. The first is a video called “Immersive Learning” it’s game on!”. Kerry states its purpose is “to help educators start conversations with administrators and policy makers regarding the educational benefits of immersive learning environments.”

This is one impressive effort that beautifully sums up the educational outcomes being generated in virtual environments like Second Life, World of Warcraft and Quest Atlantis. Watch it for yourself here:

You can download the video here and it’s licensed under a Creative Commons, Attribution, Non-commercial, No Derivatives license.

The second project is happening this Friday, 4 September. TAFESA are after educators willing to be volunteers to roleplay customers for a Second Life scenario for customer service trainees. If you are interested, register here.

The TAFE sphere have been key drivers of virtual worlds and education in Australia, and videos like the one above make it clear why.

The Watch – virtual worlds in the news

1. Hypergrid Business (Hong Kong) – Virtual drag a thorny issue for employers. “In recent years, companies have begun using virtual worlds such as Second Life, OpenSim, Forterra and Qwaq to hold virtual meetings — and employees have begun using avatars, or cartoonish animated online characters, to represent themselves in these meetings. Some companies and employees pick avatars that reflect their real identities — but other avatars are fantastical, whimsical, or gender-bending. As virtual worlds become serious business, however, corporate dress codes are being extended to the virtual worlds in a variety of ways — some more controversial than others. For example, in many jurisdictions, a company may not discriminate against employees who are in the process of changing their gender, or who have already done so. The laws do not cover casual crossdressing by non-transgender employees, however.”

2. IGN (Australia) – Planet Calypso Launches Into Space. “First Planet Company, the developer and publisher of Entropia Universe, has announced the launch of its much-awaited revamp of its game Project Entropia, now known as Planet Calypso. The new version, which has been in development for a couple of years now, utilizes Crytek’s CryEngine 2, possibly making it the best looking virtual world in existence. Because the game’s new graphics will be such a far cry from the original, pun intended, old players will be given an opportunity to remake their characters when they first login.”

3. Wisconsin State Journal (USA) – Massachusetts man arrested for Thursday night incident in Madison. “A Massachusetts man was arrested Friday afternoon after he allegedly drove Thursday night to Madison, impersonated an officer and pulled a gun on a woman whose son he had met playing the online role-playing game World of Warcraft. Trevor L. Lucas, 21, of Gloucester, was arrested by Massachusetts State Police, Madison police said. Lucas had been out on bail for several felony firearms and ammunition violations in Massachusetts, according to a criminal complaint filed Friday in Dane County Circuit Court charging him with second-degree reckless endangerment and impersonating a peace officer to aid in commission of a crime, both felonies.”

4. VIrtual Worlds News (USA) – Sulake: Bobba Confirmed for September. “Habbo’s new boss, Sulake Chairman of the Board Mika Salmi, has confirmed that Bobba, the company’s upcoming attempt at a virtual world for mobile devices, is on track for a September launch.”

5. The Daily Mail (Pakistan) – The paradox of the Jia Junpeng phenomenon. “et’s call it the “Jia Junpeng phenomenon.” What is it? It’s actually a sensation out of nothing or a demonstration of collective boredom. No one knows who Jia Junpeng is, but this name became famous in less than 24 hours due to a forum post that in effect said: “Jia Junpeng, your mother is calling you home for dinner.” It attracted more than 4 million viewers and nearly 200,000 comments in one day. The post appeared on the World of Warcraft (WoW) forum on Baidu, a Chinese portal. A WoW server outage in China has lasted for 40 days. Some 5 million WoW players, who have been angrily waiting for the operational return of the servers, have interpreted the post as a call for the service to start back up as soon as possible. Game experts have said that online players are bored and that the post provided them an opportunity to get away from this boredom. ”

6. The Independent (Ireland) – An abstract issue that suddenly became seriously real. SEBASTIAN Faulks has good reason to feel wary of people wielding tape recorders. So far, the promotional round for his latest book, A Week In December, has proved to be rather trying. Last Sunday, in an interview with a British broadsheet, he stumbled head on into the most incendiary ideological debate of our times. As part of the research for his book, which features a would-be suicide bomber, he read the Koran, and then gave a critical appraisal of it, which included the description “the rantings of a schizophrenic”. Commentators from all backgrounds had a field day, accusing him of causing grievous offence to those of Muslim faith. Faulks doesn’t seem to be the sort of man who would deliberately court controversy in the interests of creating noise and generating publicity.”

7. Escapist Magazine (USA) – Latest Second Life Surnames Include Unfortunate Slang. “In an effort to ensure unique names for each of its inhabitants, the developers of Second Life regularly add a new batch of user-selectable surnames to the open world game. The latest batch however, includes a rather unfortunate piece of slang.”

8. Brand e-Biz (UK) – Brands, charities heading to Habbo, Poptropica et al. “Virtually young. Forget Second Life. Brands are increasingly turning to virtual worlds aimed at younger consumers. One of the most active of these sites is surely Habbo, the hotel-themed virtual world which has played host to a raft of integrated campaigns for brands and charities, featuring everything from treasure hunts to branded discos. Perhaps one of the more unusual campaigns involved the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and its annual Earth Hour event. Habbo incorporated Earth Hour into its environment, representing the themes of the event – which aims to raise awareness of climate change – by dimming the lights of the hotel, encouraging users to get involved in the process.”

9. Foreign Policy in Focus (USA) – The Iranian Opposition’s Second Life. “On July 22, a week into Iran’s foreign media reporting ban, a group of Iranian protesters gathered on a grassy hill to speak out against Supreme Leader Khamenei’s continued support for Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Some wore black T-shirts with a blood-spattered slogan: “Where Is My VOTE?” By midday, the protest had attracted several hundred attendees. One woman arrived wearing little more than a thong swimsuit and a pair of purple angel wings. Iran’s security forces, however, were absent. In a nation with a frighteningly effective intelligence service, Supreme Leader Khamenei was entirely unaware of this protest because it took place in cyberspace.”

10. Stuff.co.nz (New Zealand) – Virtual world teaches skills for real life. “Preparing for a job interview can be extremely nervewracking and time-consuming. Decisions need to be made about what to wear, what questions to ask and how much research to do. But a group of students at the Manukau Institute of Technology are taking part in a pilot project that’s come up with a novel way to combat job interview jitters – by roleplaying in a virtual world. The foundation learning students will spend time in Second Life – a virtual world with its own currency and about 15 million registered users – practising their interviewing skills and critiquing their performance.”

Weekend Whimsy

1. Do You Want To Date My Avatar (Second Life Adaptation)

2. 3D Artwork in Second Life

3. (second life) Cranes – Diorama

Serious Health Threat

The next pandemic:

I went to a dinner party last night, where I and other guests enjoyed copious amounts of alcohol.

I awoke this morning not feeling well, with what could be described as flu-like symptoms; headache, nausea, chills, sore eyes, etc.

From the results of some initial testing, I have unfortunately tested positive for what experts are now calling Wine Flu.

This debilitating condition is very serious – and it appears this is not an isolated case.

Reports are flooding in from all around the country of others diagnosed with Wine Flu. To anyone that starts to exhibit the aforementioned tell-tale signs, experts are recommending a cup of tea and a bit of a lie down.

However, should your condition worsen, you should immediately hire a DVD and take some Nurofen (Nurofen seems to be the only drug available that has been proven to help combat this unusual type of flu). Others are reporting a McDonald’s Happy Meal can also help in some cases. If not, then further application of the original liquid, in similar quantities to the original dose, has been shown to do the trick.

Wine Flu does not need to be life threatening and, if treated early, can be eradicated within a 24-48 hour period.

Cheers!

Bodily Beauty in Second Life

The master content creators at Rezzable have created a stunning piece on their Black Swan sim in Second Life. The picture I took pretty much sums it up:

rezzable-aug09sml

It’s certainly one of the more striking examples of the beauty of sculpted prims. Thanks to Sarah Nerd for the heads-up. For the full power of the vision Rezzable have created:

Check it out in-world

Jokaydia Unconference: Australian virtual worlds education at its best

jokaydia2-aug09Australian Second Life educator and creative whirlwind, Jokay Wollongong, is holding her next Unconference from the 25th to the 27th September 2009 in Second Life and in conjunction with some great events at Macquarie University.

You can go here for the draft schedule and there’s still some slots left for anyone wanting to do their own session.

The sessions proposed to date include: Games in learning, Newbie skills in Second Life, Creating Cases studies and promoting your educational projects, Teachers without Borders, Quest Atlantis, Open Learning and Teacher Professional Development, Safety and Security in virtual worlds, Twitter, History education in virtual worlds, Assessment and evaluation of 21st century learners, Maslow’s hierarchical hideaway, World of Warcraft and the Second Life Education in New Zealand Projects.

Having had the opportunity to catch up with Jokay IRL, I’m a little biased in my assessment, but I’d argue she’s one of the most dynamic and prolific virtual world content creators and educators in Australia. The community basis of Jokaydia seems the primary foundation of its success, combined with a shared passion for education. So if you have the chance, get involved with September’s Unconference.

Dark Siren: Part 1

Dark Siren CoverLast week, Tateru Nino reviewed Dark Siren, and as promised we’re really pleased to be able to present the first of a few posts that serialise a large part of the book.

Author Clifford Wycliffe is Australian, and has put a huge amount of effort into his creation of Avataria, which draws very heavily on Second Life for inspiration.

Reproduced below is the Prologue and the first two chapters. If you like what you read, you can buy the full book as a PDF here for only US $7.95. Payments are accepted via PayPal or credit card. We’re not getting any kickbacks, just the warm glow of helping an Aussie virtual worlds fiction author 😉

Please don’t hesitate to post your thoughts on Dark Siren in the comments, and look out for further chapters in the coming weeks.

As Tateru says in her review:

“It’s a pretty solid Australian crime-detective novel, involving a very realistic portrayal of Second Life, with a solid blend of high-tech crime, political skullduggery and human weakness. On the whole, I’d heartily recommend it to fans of the genre.”

Prologue

Cold Finger Bar, Avataria.  16 January 2008 : 3am PST

At 3am the Cold Finger Bar was almost deserted. On both sides of the dance floor, a bored pole dancer in a sparkly lurex costume gyrated ritualistically on a podium, each surrounded by an almost empty semicircle of seats. To achieve good search engine rankings in Avataria demanded a high throughput of visitors, so avatars with outgoing personalities were hired to make the place look busy. That didn’t fool anybody in the Cold Finger Bar, least of all the rent boys who made up the bulk of the customers.

Ginger Stallion settled back against the cushions in one of the snugs and tried to look as cool and desirable as he could, given the limitations of the animation override on his avatar. Hanging around was a tiresome aspect of the job. The clients were another. Boorish college dropouts looking to liven up their onanistic fantasies or shy beginners unsure of their true sexual orientation. Give it another ten minutes, he thought.

Whitney Houston’s I Wanna Dance With Somebody stuttered intermittently in his headphones thanks to a slow Internet connection. His friend Blow Daley seemed engrossed in the gyrations of one particular dancer, a flashy looking shemale called Sugar Plumb whose costume emitted a shower of sparks each time she twirled around the dance pole in front of him.

Sugar Plumb: Like my dancing, Blow?

Blow Dailey:  Sure. It’s cute. And so are you, Sugar.

Sugar Plumb: Why thank you… would you like me to strip for you?

Blow Dailey:  How much that gonna cost?

Sugar Plumb:  Whatever you think I’m worth, darlin’

Blow clicked on Sugar Plumb’s tip jar and donated AV$20. An automated message lit up on the bottom left of his laptop screen:  Sugar Plumb thanks you for the kind donation. Sugar’s avatar started to shed garments piecemeal. Like taking a blowtorch to plastic, he thought idly. Gypsy Rose Lee she wasn’t, that was for sure.

Sugar Plumb:  So where are you boys from?

This time it was Ginger who answered.

Ginger Stallion: L.A.

Sugar Plumb:  Lookin’ for a nice girl?

Ginger Stallion:  Lol… not exactly. We work out of here… except it’s been kinda dead tonight.

Sugar Plumb:  Omg…  sorry…  I thought you were customers. I’m new here…  guess that’s why I haven’t seen you before.

Ginger Stallion:  And where are you from, hon?

An incoming message flashed up in Ginger’s viewer before Sugar had a chance to reply.  The caller’s name was unfamiliar and the grammar stilted.

IM: Joss Guest: Hello Ginger. I am friend of Ariana…  she recommend you

IM: Ginger Stallion: do I know you?

The caller ignored the question, which faded off the screen.

IM: Joss Guest: you are gay escort, yes?

IM: Ginger Stallion: yes… amongst other things…

IM: Joss Guest: I may have job for you. What are your charges?

IM: Ginger Stallion: Depends… basic AV$2500 per hour plus extras…

IM: Joss Guest: Extras?

IM: Ginger Stallion: Yeah… like room hire

IM: Joss Guest: don’t worry… I have room… dungeon actually

IM: Ginger Stallion: You into S&M?

IM: Joss Guest: If you’ve have suitable friend, I pay you $AV2500 each for one hour’s work… all included

IM: Ginger Stallion: Together?

IM: Joss Guest: Yes, together.

IM: Ginger Stallion: AV$3000 each upfront and you’ve got a deal

There was a pause before the text resumed.

IM: Joss Guest: You drive hard bargain Mister Stallion

IM: Ginger Stallion: That’s ‘cos we’re good

IM: Joss Guest: You’d better be. My client is very… how do you say? –  very particular

IM: Ginger Stallion: You won’t be disappointed

IM: Joss Guest: I hope not. Very well… it’s a deal. I contact you later to arrange time and place.

IM: Ginger Stallion: any particular likes and dislikes?

The text slowly faded leaving a blank screen. The caller was gone.

Joss Guest? The name didn’t ring any bells. Ginger called over to his friend, who by this time was deep in conversation with the shemale dancer:  Blow… d’ya know anyone by the name of Guest… Joss Guest? I’ve just had an IM from this dude about a job… friend of Ariana’s, think he was foreign…

No reply.

hey, Blow…

Still no reply.

Never mind… forget it. I’m outa here… I’ll see you tomorrow.

And with that, Kyle Martinez, aka Ginger Stallion, second year student of the Computer Science Dept. UCLA, logged out of Avataria, switched off his laptop and went to bed.

Chapter 1

Alexandria, Sydney, Australia. 23 January 2008: 4am AEDT

Lit only by sidelights the large black van hissed silently past on the wet road and came to a stop in front of Simon Austin’s parked car. Pools of water from an early morning shower sat in depressions in the asphalt as he quietly got out of the vehicle and walked towards the van. As he approached, the back door opened and heavily armed police in body armour piled out silently and conferred with three local officers waiting in the shadows. Simon shook hands with the Inspector, who introduced him to the leader of the Tactical Operations squad.

“Sergeant Blake – this is Simon Austin, AHTCC Canberra. We’ve been through all the details, is there anything you want to discuss before we go in?”

“No, sir. We know the guy’s armed and dangerous, and we’re prepared. How many do you think are in there?”

One of the younger constables from the NSW police stepped forward.

“I’ve been watching the place since yesterday arvo, sir. Kyrylo went in around lunchtime, and his two blokes turned up around half past five. No one’s come or gone since.”

“So three then?’

“Yep.”

The team set off at a jog across the car park towards the two storey office block, dark except for the patchy reflected light of a few street lamps behind the trees. Keeping in single file, they moved soundlessly behind a low wall until they were up against the building, heading for the main entrance. Simon and the three regular police followed at a safe distance, trying not to make any noise.

Lady Carmen & AlanThe Senior Sergeant looked round to check that the team were in place, then producing a ram, swung it forward hitting the grey security door with enormous force. The echo of the crash reverberated in the silence and a flock of startled birds flew up from the trees lining the road. The impact bent the frame, but the reinforced panel refused to budge. A squad member forced a long metal bar into the crack that had appeared and with the combined leverage of two men finally snapped the locks. Black-clad figures carrying assault rifles swarmed through the gap and up the concrete stairs shouting ‘Police! Stay where you are!’; another crash, then shouts and banging could be heard coming from the first floor. A moment later the sound of a shot rang out, followed by a short burst of automatic fire, shouts and a door slamming. More confusion: noise of boots on concrete, a stifled curse, and from the other end of the building, the distant clatter of footsteps on a metal staircase. Then silence, broken only by the crackling of a voice over a police radio: “Clear! Officer down! Call the ambos! Now!”

The Inspector shone his torch into the stairwell, and ran up the stairs two at a time to the first floor with Simon following. Someone had found the light switches and a line of fluorescents flickered into life as they reached the landing. They passed through a splintered door into an anteroom, where police were pointing their weapons at the figure of a man lying face down on the floor clad only in underpants and T-shirt. Two camp beds with sleeping bags lined a wall decorated with pictures of Jessica Alba torn from Ralph magazine; the only table was littered with empty beer cans and the remains of a takeaway meal. A few discarded clothes lay on the floor and the room stank of stale sweat and pizza.

“Not exactly the Ritz, is it?”

The Inspector ignored Simon’s comment and led the way into a large shabby office painted an incongruous purple. There were four foldaway tables butted together; on them sat a laptop, several electronic components, two mobile phones and what looked like boxes of credit card blanks. Along the back wall were stacked unopened cartons of brand new plasma TVs, iPhones, digital cameras and various other electronic goods.

The leader of the police squad was lying on the floor, his head in a widening pool of blood that was already seeping into the grubby floor tiles. A colleague kneeling over him turned as the Inspector approached.

“Senior Sergeant Blake’s been hit, sir.” he said. “It’s serious.”

“An ambulance is on its way. Can you can do anything for him?”

“No sir. He’s been shot in the face.”

“Is he still breathing?”

“Yes sir, but his pulse is very weak.”

Simon turned away in shock, suddenly feeling sick and queasy. By the window a unshaven young man in jeans and singlet sat looking terrified, handcuffed to a battered office chair, a young constable’s assault weapon jammed in his ear.

“The bastard got Vince.” The policeman was almost crying, and spat the words out in a thick Scottish accent, kicking the chair for good measure.

“What happened?”

“It was dark. There was a shot and Vince went down. I let off a few rounds but must’ve missed. He got away through the door at the back.”

“You knew he was ex-Ukrainian special forces?”

“Of course we bloody did.”

“I’m sorry about Sergeant Blake. You did all you could.”

Kyrylo’s FBI mugshot didn’t match either of the two captives. Simon walked over to the Inspector who was talking into a mobile phone.

“Can you get some men to search for Kyrylo? He got out the back way. And check for blood stains – he might have been hit.”

“Taken care of. They’re doing it now. Just don’t hold your breath.”

“I am so sorry. About the sergeant, I mean. Will you keep me informed?”

“Of course. But don’t beat yourself up about it. He was doing his job and he knew the risks.”

“Even so… it looked pretty bad.”

“What do you want us to do with all this stuff?”

“We don’t need the TVs and the iPods, just all the gear on the tables.”

“OK. I’ll get it all bagged up for you.”

“I’ll need to take the computer back to Canberra with me.”

“No worries.”

“I’m going catch a few hours sleep, but I’d like to interview those guys first thing. Eight o’clock OK?”

The Inspector was already making another phone call.

“Inspector?”

“Sure.”

Simon was privately seething. The two arrested men were small fry and one of their own was badly hurt. The target of the raid had got away. The FBI had given them good information and Whitman would not be impressed. They had screwed up big time.

“Just make sure you take bloody good care of that laptop.”

He left the office and headed downstairs. From behind him came some muffled cries and what he knew to be the sound of someone being kicked. As he walked across the car park an ambulance was backing up against the front door, now hanging forlornly on one hinge. By the time he got to his car, the paramedics were going inside with a stretcher, the scene lit by the ghostly flashing of the blue lights on a parked patrol car. Shaking his head, he turned the ignition key, pulled out from behind the black van and headed back to his hotel.

Chapter 2

Kings Cross Police Station, Sydney, Australia : 23 January 2008 : 8am

Three hours later after a snatched rest, a shower and a strong cup of coffee, Simon phoned his supervisor at the AFP in Canberra. He was expecting to be read the riot act, as Chapman was a man given to intemperate outbursts.

“The bastard got away, I hear.”

“I am as angry as you are, Wayne. He slipped out through a new back doorway that wasn’t on the plans. They searched for him for an hour, but no luck.”

“Luck doesn’t come into it Simon. It was a stuff up, mate, pure and simple.”

“We’ll get him Wayne. We’ve effectively busted his organization in Sydney.”

“Sergeant Blake died this morning on the way to hospital.”

“I know. I feel responsible.”

“It was a bloody shambles. Can’t be helped, I suppose. That Kyrylo fella is one tough customer.”

“We did get his laptop though. I’ll bring it back with me and we’ll let the techos loose on it.”

“And the two blokes you caught?”

“Just going in to the interview room now. But I’m not expecting much – they’re local crims that Kyrylo hired to do menial stuff. I’ll keep you posted.”

Simon replaced the phone in its cradle and briefly pondered how he was going to conduct the interrogations. There’d been no joy from the owner of the offices involved. The premises they had raided had been on a short lease, managed by a local real estate agent and signed by someone who apparently didn’t exist. The new interconnecting door had been installed without planning permission six months earlier when the landlord had bought the building in the next street.

Lady Carmen_2The two suspects were being held in separate cells. The first, the swarthy man in jeans, had given his name as Salim Chamoun, 28 years old, originally from the Lebanon but a naturalised Australian. The second was a no-hoper from The Cross, Australian-born Gareth Johnston. Both had a string of petty convictions going back years, and according to the Inspector, neither was in a mood to talk. Simon sensed that they were scared witless by Kyrylo, and judging by the violent response to the attempt to arrest him, Simon could understand why. Johnston had been recruited by Salim, who had a distant family connection with Kyrylo’s sister, who had married into a family living in Beirut. Both denied having anything to do with the laptop; their role was to skim credit card information from legitimate credit card holders, and use the resulting fake cards to buy high value goods before the owner discovered the theft. To those ends Salim had taken up employment as a waiter in a busy upmarket restaurant, while Gareth worked as a cashier in a petrol station.

Simon had expected the interviews to commence on the dot of 8am, but as he entered the police station, the duty sergeant pulled him aside.

“You the bloke from the Hi-Tech Crime Centre? I’m Sgt. Crawford. I don’t think Salim’s going to be much use to you this morning. He’s not feeling very well.”

It all came back to him with a rush. The muffled cries and the sounds of a bashing as he left the warehouse. NSW’s finest settling a score.

“What do you mean, he’s not feeling very well? “What happened?”

“He tried to make a run for it as they were taking him out of that building this morning. Fell down a flight of stairs… few cuts and bruises, but he’ll be alright.”

“So when can I see him? It’s very important. And what about Gareth Johnston?”

The Sergeant leaned across the desk and lowered his voice conspiratorily.

“Look mate, I don’t think it would be wise to formally interview Salim at the moment, if you catch my drift. But I could arrange a few minutes in his cell, if that’s any use to you.’

Simon nodded his assent and the Sergeant grabbed a bunch of keys and led him downstairs. He stopped in front of one of the cells and looked through the viewing flap.

“Still asleep, the lazy bugger!”

He unlocked the door and they both walked into the cell. Salim was lying on the bunk fast asleep, his face to the wall. The sergeant shook him roughly.

“C’mon ya bastard! Wake up! There’s someone here to see you.”

Simon was visibly shocked when Salim finally turned round. He’d expected the police detail to rough him up after what had happened to Blake, but not to this extent. One of the prisoner’s eyes was almost shut and black with bruises, and there were deep cuts on his cheeks. His knuckles were raw and bloody and one arm was in a sling.

He turned to the sergeant.

“Injuries incurred whilst resisting arrest, eh? I hope you got the ambos to look at him.”

Crawford was offhand. “We took him to the hospital with Blake. They checked him over and discharged him this morning. He’ll be right.”

Simon asked the sergeant to step outside, then turned back to Salim.

“You know you could be charged with accessory to murder over the shooting this morning?”

Salim responded with a grunt and turned back to the wall. Simon shook him again.

“Look mate, help me with this one and I’ll put a good word in for you. I’m only interested in what Kyrylo was up to with the computer.” Salim muttered something that Simon couldn’t catch. He shook him again. “C’mon, speak up.”

“I said, he used the computer to make new cards.”

“And was that all?”

There was no response.

“Salim!”

“Fuck off and leave me alone. I ain’t sayin’ no more without a brief.”

“Alright, if that’s your attitude, maybe the sergeant will help change your mind.”

Salim half turned around and raised himself on one elbow. “Look, as far as I’m concerned the bloke was a psycho. We didn’t ‘ave nothin’ to do with the computer. He wouldn’t let us. All I know was that he used to visit some funny porn sites.”

“Porn sites? What was funny about them?”

“They didn’t ‘ave real people in them. They was cartoons… like those Japanese anime things.”

“What were they doing?”

“What weren’t they doin’ more like.”

“Tell me.”

“It was gay porn… not that I could see much, but that was what it was.”

“And that was all?”

“In dungeons… with two blokes. That was what it was. Now leave me alone.”

Simon was about to ask another question, but thought better of it. He called to Crawford who was waiting outside the door.

“We’ve finished mate… thanks. Where’s Johnston being interviewed?”

A few minutes later he was shown into a shabby room with three other occupants, Johnston, a police constable, and the Duty Solicitor Marcus Freeman, an ethically challenged silvertail in a pin-stripe suit whom Simon knew from a case in Sydney some years before. He sat down opposite Johnston, who was looking decidedly the worse for wear.

“You realise you’re in serious shit, Gareth. Sergeant Blake is dead, and I want some good reasons why you shouldn’t be charged as an accessory to his murder.”

Johnston squirmed in his seat, and ran his hand nervously over his two-day old stubble. “It wasn’t me that shot him. It was that crazy Ukrainian bastard.”

“I thought he was a mate of yours.”

“He was no bloody mate of mine, I can tell you. Salim rang me a few weeks ago and asked if I wanted to earn a few bucks. If I’d known what Kyrylo was like I woulda said no.”

“So what was he like, Gareth?”

Johnston shot a glance at Freeman, who shrugged unhelpfully.

“We was ‘sposed to copy all the numbers off the credit cards I got off the customers.”

“And?”

“The first day, I didn’t know ‘e wanted the codes on the backs of the cards as well as the numbers and expiry dates. When I told ‘im he hadn’t asked for them, he head butted me, and told me if I didn’t get ‘em the next day he’d put me in hospital. The bloke was mental.” He raised a lock of unkempt hair in his forehead to reveal an ugly red weal, already going brown and yellow around the edges.

“So you supplied the card information and he made up the copies?”

“Yeh. From the stuff that me and Salim gave ‘im.”

“And who bought all the TVs?”

“We did… Had to get the stuff real quick before the cards got stopped.”

“How did you get rid of it?”

“Salim had a mate who ran a market stall.”

“Not the best place to sell a $3000 plasma TV.”

“He’d shift all the small stuff like the iPhones. Any stuff he couldn’t handle would get sold on to someone else.”

“What else did Kyrylo do? Apart from make counterfeit cards.”

“He played around on that laptop a lot. I don’t know what he was doing, I don’t know much about computers.”

“But you must’ve seen what he was up to?”

“He played that cartoon game a lot. What’s it called? The one with the avatars.”

Avataria?”

“Yeh. He’d get on to it in the afternoons, after three usually. We couldn’t talk to ‘im then. He didn’t want to be disturbed.”

“Did he ever make any long distance phone calls?’

“Not that I know of. He was paranoid about us making phone calls. Told us never to mention ‘is name, and to keep them as short as possible.”

Simon told the Duty Solicitor that he was leaving. Johnston paused the audio recording and stood up.  Simon inclined his head towards the door and followed him into the corridor.

“Keep up the pressure on them about what Kyrylo was doing with the laptop,” he said. “I don’t hold out much hope. I’ve got a feeling he kept ‘em out of the loop – they’re not exactly the sharpest knives in the drawer – but anything they give us could be helpful.”

The sergeant nodded and returned to the interviewing room. Simon retrieved the laptop from the evidence store and headed back to Canberra.

The Watch – virtual worlds in the news

1. Daily News Online (USA) – Do you know where your children are? Look in a virtual world. “Once upon a time, Tinkerbell was known as the magical fairy who helped children fly. Now Disney is summoning the mischievous little sprite from Peter Pan to get kids to go online. In a virtual world called Disney Fairies Pixie Hollow, girls and boys can become a fairy, dress up, fly around, befriend other fairies and help paint lady bugs, teach baby birds to fly or go on other nature-related quests. It’s packaged as the world of Tinkerbell and her friends, and their work is to make nature happen.”

2. Hypergrid Business (Hong Kong) – Private grids, public grids, and intragrids. “I occasionally get announcements or news from new grids running on the OpenSim platform, but they require the creation of a new avatar to visit. I don’t personally have anything against these kinds of grids, but there isn’t usually an interesting business story there. Semi-public grids — grids which don’t allow hypergrid teleportation, but allow anyone to create an account — are commonly referred to as “Second Life clones.”

3. Forbes (USA) – Wall Street Vs. ‘Virtual Street’. “For the last year, the world’s financial markets have been in utter crisis. There is one sector, however, doing well: virtual worlds that sell virtual goods. Netizens are buying and selling everything from virtual pets and gifts to games to iPhone apps. The worldwide virtual “goods” economy, which some are calling Virtual Street, is estimated at about $5 billion right now (see: “The Fall of Wall Street and The Rise of The Virtual Street”) and 80% of the industry is in Asia (China, South Korea and Japan). The beauty of Virtual Street is that it grows like a virus. The growing number of consumers getting on the Internet, the popularity of smart phones and the seemingly unstoppable proliferation of social media deep into the lives of consumers should continue to provide lots of momentum.”

4. Virtual Worlds News (USA) – Gartner: Virtual Worlds, a Long-Term Play. “The researchers at Gartner Inc. released their 2009 Hype Cycle Special Report last week. The report, prepared by the organization since 1995, is at its core a comparative tool for risk judgment which, this year, looked at over 1,500 technologies and nearly 80 tech sectors. Among the nearly 1,800 data points mapped on the cycle’s peaks and troughs is virtual worlds, an area which Gartner thinks is nearing an inflection point as a technology: virtual worlds, says Gartner, are close to owning the basement of the hype cycle, bottoming out in the dire-sounding Trough of Disillusionment.”

5. WA Today (Australia) – Tourism industry casts eye to the future. “The global financial crisis, swine flu fears and a forecast dip in international visitors has left a cloud over Australia’s tourism industry in recent times. But throw in virtual worlds, pirates on cruise ships and robot sex workers, and the future of the industry looks a scary place indeed. The national Tourism Futures conference on the Gold Coast this week heard the future of the multi-billion dollar industry would be shaped by global warming, social responsibility, huge advances in technology and a more individualistic traveller.”

6. Times Higher Education (UK) – Second Life out as techies embrace cloud email. “Virtual worlds are about to plunge into a “trough of disillusionment”, lecture podcasts are fast becoming obsolete, but cloud computing will soon be on the “slope of enlightenment”. These are the findings of an analysis of the “hype cycle” of technology in education, published by Gartner, an IT advisory firm. The annual study looks at the popularity of emerging technologies, from internet TV and e-books to microblogging sites such as Twitter, across a range of sectors. It tracks their progression as a function of expectations. The cycle ranges from over-enthusiasm as technology is hyped, through a period of disillusionment when it fails to deliver, via a slope of enlightenment to a “plateau of productivity”, as users learn how best to employ it.”

7. CNET (USA) – Cataclysm hits World of Warcraft. “Pretty much exactly as predicted, Blizzard Entertainment announced the next expansion for World of Warcraft Friday afternoon during the opening ceremonies for its annual Blizzcon convention in Anaheim, Calif. Called Cataclysm, the next expansion will, among other features, raise the character level cap to 85, introduce two new playable character races, and involve a wholesale refresh of Azeroth, the setting for the original World of Warcraft game released back in 2004.”

8. Telegraph (UK) – Teenager obsessed by World of Warcraft first to attend US internet addiction retreat. “The 19-year-old man will undergo a 12-step treatment at the reStart Internet Addiction Recovery Programme in Washington state, which has opened for business to cater for the growing number of “cyber junkies”. A typical 45-day residential stay, which will include camping and wilderness adventures, will cost patients $14,500 (£8,800), but the retreat is also open to outpatients seeking respite from an overreliance on joysticks, internet pornography and spending days on end staring at a computer screen.”

9. BBC News (UK) – Castle ‘rebuilt’ in virtual world. “Invergarry was burned down by Oliver Cromwell’s forces in 1654. It was rebuilt, but ransacked by government soldiers after the Battle of Culloden. The MyGlengarry.com Conservation Trust has “built” two versions of the castle, near Fort Augustus, on Second Life. Virtual tours of the building in its ruinous state today and how it was in 1740 have been offered. A computer expert who writes codes for Second Life was brought in by MyGlengarry to recreate the castle.”

10. The Guardian (UK) – The technological secrets of James Cameron’s new film Avatar. “In real life, we see images in three dimensions because our left and right eyes see slightly different images that, when combined by the brain, deliver a picture that has depth. In old-fashioned 3D cinematography – the sort where your glasses had red and green coloured lenses – a pair of closely-aligned images with different tints gave the impression of depth by fooling the eyes. But modern 3D films have developed new techniques to drag them out of their B-movie past, and Avatar takes things a step further by using both computer generated imagery and advanced stereoscopic filming methods to create the illusion of reality.”

Weekend Whimsy

1. Torley’s Second Life

2. Sisters&Warriors in Second Life (Ep.2)

3. Woodstock at 40 in Second Life Day 4

Senior Citizen

This is a story by David McClure from the Dallas News Community Opinion page.

$5.37. That’s what the kid behind the counter at Taco Bueno said to me. I dug into my pocket and pulled out some lint and two dimes and something that used to be a Jolly Rancher. Having already handed the kid a five-spot, I started to head back out to the truck to grab some change when the kid with the Emo hairdo said the harshest thing anyone has ever said to me. He said, “It’s OK. I’ll just give you the senior citizen discount.”

I turned to see who he was talking to and then heard the sound of change hitting the counter in front of me. “Only $4.68” he said cheerfully. I stood there stupefied. I am 48, not even 50 yet – a mere child! Senior citizen?

I took my burrito and walked out to the truck wondering what was wrong with Emo. Was he blind? As I sat in the truck, my blood began to boil.
Old? Me?

I’ll show him, I thought. I opened the door and headed back inside. I strode to the counter, and there he was waiting with a smile.

Before I could say a word, he held up something and jingled it in front of me, like I could be that easily distracted! What am I now? A toddler?

“Dude! Can’t get too far without your car keys, eh?” I stared with utter disdain at the keys. I began to rationalize in my mind. “Leaving keys behind hardly makes a man elderly! It could happen to anyone!”

I turned and headed back to the truck. I slipped the key into the ignition, but it wouldn’t turn. What now? I checked my keys and tried another. Still nothing… That’s when I noticed the purple beads hanging from my rearview mirror. I had no purple beads hanging from my rearview mirror.

Then, a few other objects came into focus. The car seat in the back seat. Happy Meal toys spread all over the floorboard. A partially eaten doughnut on the dashboard.

Faster than you can say ginkgo biloba, I flew out of the alien vehicle. Moments later I was speeding out of the parking lot, relieved to finally be leaving this nightmarish stop in my life. That is when I felt it, deep in the bowels of my stomach: hunger! My stomach growled and churned, and I reached to grab my burrito, only it was nowhere to be found.

I swung the truck around, gathered my courage, and strode back into the restaurant one final time. There Emo stood, draped in youth and black nail polish. All I could think was, “What is the world coming to?” All I could say was, “Did I leave my food and drink in here?” At this point I was ready to ask a Boy Scout to help me back to my vehicle, and then go
straight home and apply for Social Security benefits.

Emo had no clue. I walked back out to the truck, and suddenly a young lad came up and tugged on my jeans to get my attention. He was holding up a drink and a bag. His mother explained, “I think you left this in my truck by mistake.” I took the food and drink from the little boy and sheepishly apologized.

She offered these kind words: “It’s OK. My grandfather does stuff like this all the time.”

All of this is to explain how I got a ticket doing 85 in a 40 mph zone. Yes, I was racing some punk kid in a Toyota Prius. And no, I told the officer, I’m not too old to be driving this fast.

As I walked in the front door, my wife met me halfway down the hall. I handed her a bag of cold food and a $300 speeding ticket. I promptly sat in my rocking chair and covered up my legs with a blanky.

The good news was I had successfully found my way home.

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