The Watch – virtual worlds in the news

1. BBC News (UK) – Police investigate Habbo Hotel virtual furniture theft. “Thieves have struck again in the virtual world Habbo Hotel. Finnish police are investigating up to 400 cases of theft, with some members reporting the loss of up to €1000 (£840) worth of virtual furniture and other items, according to Detective Sergeant Marko Levonen. “We have done five home searches in five cities in Finland,” he said. This is not the first time Habbo Hotel, which allows users to meet friends and buy virtual goods, has been targeted. In 2007, a Dutch teenager was arrested for allegedly stealing virtual furniture worth thousands of euros on the site, which is believed to have more than 100 million registered “avatars”.”

2. AsiaOne (Singapore) – Students create virtual-world temple. “Internet users can now visit a three-dimensional virtual world of Thailand’s past, presenting a new and surprisingly real insight into Thai heritage, arts and culture. Called 3D Virtual World Heritage Wat Chaiwattanaram, the glimpse into Thailand’s history is a joint effort by Kasetsart University, Sun Microsystems and the Inter University Network, UniNet, using Sun Wonderland technology. Above all else, the project, at http://niramit.hpcnc.com/WatChaiWatanaram, involves pride in the Thai heritage, by promoting a kind of Internet tourism. A professor at Kasetsart University’s Computer Engineering Department, Putchong Uthayyopas, said the three-dimensional virtual world of Wat Chaiwattanaram had been developed by students of his department.”

3. New Scientist (UK) – Impossible figures brought to life in virtual worlds. “Ever found a computer game truly impossible? If not, you soon might, thanks to Chinese computer scientists who have found a way to depict physically impossible figures in 3D virtual environments. The endless staircases of the Dutch artist M. C. Escher appear impossible and possible at the same time, and able to go in all directions. Such visual trickery depends heavily on the observer’s viewpoint – and that makes it difficult to animate Escher-type figures in games. If the viewpoint pans around a 3D computer depiction of such a staircase, “the impossibility is lost”, says Tai-Pang Wu at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.”

4. Entrepreneur Magazine (USA) – Should We Meet in Another World? “Like so many things in cyberspace, Second Life, a 3-D virtual world, began with a lot of hope–and hype. Who could resist what was promised? Islands full of new friends! A new era of human interaction! Hundreds of retailers opened virtual stores, and Reuters even launched a Second Life news bureau. Well, the bureau closed early last year, and Linden Lab’s virtual utopia is full of malls selling nothing but pixilated genitalia. But Second Life is hoping to polish up its reputation in the business world by solving virtual reality’s very real problem: the absence of security layers and administrative control functions that would make such an environment a safer place to do business.”

5. Destructoid (USA) – Browser-based Star Wars Clone Wars Adventure revealed. “This fall, Sony Online Entertainment will release Star Wars Clone Wars Adventures, a free-to-play, browser-based virtual world based on the popular animated series. Based on SOE’s Free Realms engine, the game will allow players to create a character and then enter a world where they’ll have immediate access to a host of mini-games, with an emphasis on action, competition, and socializing. The game, like the show, is clearly aimed at a younger audience. But after a short time with an early build of the game — from pick-up-and-play speeder bike racing to a typing mini-game, to a super-addictive tower defense game — there may be a bit of something for everyone in Star Wars Clone Wars Adventures. ”

6. Department of Defense (USA) – Technology to Drive New, Better Ways to Educate the Force. “Got a cell phone handy? It could be your ticket to keeping up with your professional development requirements. That’s just one concept being explored at Air Education and Training Command, the Air Force’s training and education component. Like its counterparts in the Army, Navy and Marine Corps, AETC hopes to take advantage of new and emerging technologies to provide more efficient, effective educational opportunities to the force. Most servicemembers are familiar with the concept of distance learning, with training delivered through the Internet or snail mail. Distance learning is a big money saver for the military, reducing travel and temporary duty costs associated with classroom training. And in light of heavy mission requirements, it enables servicemembers to meet many of their educational requirements without extended absences from their duty stations and loved ones. But with ever-expanding technologies and young “digital natives” now entering the force, officials hope to take military education to a whole new level.”

7. Kotaku (USA) – When World Of Warcraft And The Real World Come Together. “This is a charming short film about everyday people and their World of Warcraft avatars, interviewing a few players while their characters stroll around in the real world. It’s only four minutes long, but in that four minutes you get to meet a number of Irish players who give honest, enjoyable stories of just why it is they play the game, and what it is they’re getting out of it.”

8. Otago Daily Times (New Zealand) – Screen technology taste of the future. “Imagine ultra-high definition TVs not much thicker than a millimetre, electronic books made with plastic screens that flex like a magazine and displays that let you touch a virtual version of yourself on the other side of the glass. The technology to build these crazy new gadgets was shown in Seattle last week during Display Week, the Society for Information Display conference. A combination science fair and industry bazaar, the event attracted almost 6000 people from most of the companies developing TVs, monitors, touch screens, electronic books and cellphone screens.”

9. Kotaku (Australia) – World Of Warcraft Creatures Prowl The Waters Of Southern Australia. “Behold the Pink Handfish, one of fourteen species of bottom-dwelling marine fish endemic of the waters of Southern Australia and Tasmania, or, as World of Warcraft players know them, Murlocs. It’s easy to imagine the handfish as the inspiration for some of World of Warcraft’s most hated and beloved enemies. They’ve got the same hands and feet as the fantasy race, after all, as well as that striking crest, formed out of its secondary dorsal spine and a flap of skin.”

10. The Daily Mail (UK) – ‘Avatar’ mother goes missing after becoming obsessed with online 3D world. “A mother has gone missing after becoming obsessed with a 3D virtual world on an internet chat site. Annemarie Squires has not been seen for three weeks after leaving her home without warning. Her partner of eight years, Andrew Jobe, and her son have not heard from her and her mobile phone is switched off. Miss Squires’ family said in the months before she vanished, the 40-year-old spent most of her spare time on imvu.com.”

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