Archives for September 2010

Trivia Contest

Well, I lost the Trivia Contest at our fishing club last night by 1 point.

Not only got the last question wrong, but was immediately asked to leave.

The question was: “Where do women have the curliest hair?”

Apparently the correct answer is Fiji

Diabetes, Second Life and health outcomes

This story appeared over at Metaverse Health originally.

The Boston University Medical Center continues its work on health and virtual worlds, succeeding in gaining a US$950,000 grant from the US National Library of Medicine. The funding is for a study on the efficacy of using Second Life for Type 2 Diabetes education with African-American women versus more traditional face-to-face interventions.

You can read more detail on the study here, but there’s one key strength of the study that stands out for me: quantitative health data. Each participant will have cholesterol and ‘diabetes control’ blood tests taken before and after they receive the education sessions, as well as blood pressure readings.

The results of the study are likely to be be groundbreaking: either virtual worlds-based interventions for diabetes will be shown to be effective, or a very large challenge will be laid down to virtual worlds advocates if the results aren’t of the quantum expected. This is a study to watch.

Mashups: some of the best

One of the reasons I keep going back to YouTube is to see great mashups. As a musician / tech-head myself, I know how much work must go into each mashup on the audio side, let alone when you add video to the equation.

Tom Compagnoni has been creating mashups since 2003 and it shows. This year he’s released three gems, which you can see below. Mashups are an artform that excels when it is both seamless and striking in the contrast of songs, and Tom’s work on the three below, achieves those aims with flying colours. If you’re interested in how he does what he does, you can find out more here.

Here they are in no particular order (I’ve got to admit Thunder Busters is my favourite):

1. Whole Lotta Sabbath (Led Zeppelin vs Black Sabbath Mashup)

2. Thunder Busters (AC/DC vs Ghostbusters Mashup)

3. PJ Harvey, Tori Amos, Björk & Massive Attack Mashup

Would love to hear your favourite mashups – post away in the comments! No Rickrolling or Trololololing please 😉

Games are cool for school

You may have heard of the term Serious Games before: essentially they’re games with a purpose beyond entertainment. There’s a growing awareness that games can be used for wider purposes such as business productivity, health support and for education. It’s that last point I’ll focus on here.

Arizona University’s James Paul Gee has completed a brilliant piece on the usefulness of games in education, which you can view below. The key point is that games are one ongoing test, like school, and there’s a bunch of good reasons why combining the two can be incredibly useful for educators.

Sceptical? You may be less so after hearing the case for serious games:

Over to you: would you like to see more games-based education in schools? If not, why not?

via [Edutopia]

The Watch – virtual worlds in the news

1. (Australia) – Michael Jackson inspiration for new MMO game. “THE estate of late superstar Michael Jackson has entered a licensing deal to crate a massively-multiplayer online game (MMO) where dancing will be the main weapon.
Unlike many MMOs, which place an emphasis on combat, “Planet Michael” will stay true to Jackson’s claim that he was a lover, not a fighter. “Because Michael Jackson was very much a pacifist and into healing and creativity, our focus isn’t on violence,” said Josh Gordon of game publisher SEE Virtual Worlds. “There won’t be guns in this world or things like that. It’ll tend to use music and dance and more creative ways to navigate through the world.” In the game, dance moves will act like spells as shuffles and jigs are strung together to take the enemy down — and it most certainly won’t be wolves and orcs at the receiving end of a fleet-footed pummeling.”

2. The Press Association (UK) – ‘Virtual worlds’ work up for award. “University of Ulster researchers using “virtual worlds” to train the next generation of students have been nominated for a top UK teaching award, it has been revealed. The team at the university’s Magee campus in Londonderry has been shortlisted for a prestigious Times Higher Education Award for their contribution to information and communications technologies. Formed three years ago, the Serious Games and Virtual Worlds team (SGVW) is quickly gaining an international reputation for cutting-edge innovation in a new and constantly evolving field. Video game technology is maturing and becoming a serious educational tool, with Ulster and many universities using “Second Life” and other virtual world platforms as teaching and learning aids.”

3. Virtual Worlds News (USA) – Crisp Thinking Signs Eight New Partner. “Crisp Thinking has signed eight new deals to bring NetModerator software into top youth-oriented MMOs and virtual worlds. Crisp Thinking’s new clients are Ubisoft, Electronic Arts, the LEGO Group, Kidzbop, Sweety High, Vizwoz, Bin Weevils, and WeeWorld. Crisp Thinking attributes the new deals to a rise in the popularity of social and online gaming. “As online social gaming and interacting have become part of our daily lives, Crisp has emerged as an essential tool for online businesses in the social space. More than 84 million young people around the world upload and download content every day. Socialising via web and mobile technology is part of our daily routine – it’s how we communicate,” said Adam Hildreth, CEO of Crisp Thinking, in a press statement.”

4. The Guardian (UK) – Coins of the online realm. “It used to be that a gold star earned in your favourite video game wouldn’t be worth much in your local supermarket. But that’s changing. There is a thriving economy in valuables like virtual swords and spaceships in online gaming. And Facebook recently released a currency system with which you can purchase services in online games and applications. The growth of these social networks is edging us closer to a structure that bridges the real and virtual worlds. The more these social networks connect with viable online financial systems, the more anyone on the planet can provide knowledge labour based on his or her ability. The resulting meritocratic economy erodes the geographical inequality between the first world and the third world – and simultaneously enables copious criminal enterprise. So far, the most nefarious use of this development has been money laundering. A criminal in one country anonymously buys a game card worth an hour of play and uses it to pick up a load of virtual goods from another character in an online game such as World of Warcraft.”

5. Forbes (USA) – 3-D Avatars Get Their Own Farmvilles In IMVU. “Talk about a game within a game. IMVU, an online community where members interact with each other through 3-D avatars, on Tuesday said that it has launched the first slew of social games in its world. Members can now play more than 75 social and casual games, like fashion game Top Modelz, provided by partnering game developers Viximo, Heyzap and Omgpop. IMVU chief executive Cary Rosenzweig sees this not as a mere feature add, but an entire re-branding and re-positioning of the company. “We no longer call ourselves a virtual world,” Rosenzweig says. “We are a social entertainment company.”

6. BusinessWeek (USA) – Sony’s Wii Avatar. “The living room workout has come a long way since the days of Jane Fonda in spandex. In 2006 the interactive Nintendo Wii system successfully bridged the gap between hardcore gamers and those looking for a cheap sweat. Four years and 30 million units sold later, other companies are looking to get in on the action. Sony’s (SNE) entry in the category, the PlayStation Move, isn’t technically a new console. The Move, released on Sept. 17, can be purchased as a set of hardware add-ons for the existing PS3 system. The $100 starter pack includes a controller, a mounted camera, and a copy of the Sports Champions Blu-ray game package, which includes six games, from bocce to beach volleyball. Those without a PS3 can pay $400 for the console plus the Move accoutrements.”

7. Armed with Science (USA) – How Air Force is Designing Classroom Instruction for the Future. “It will come as no surprise that the Air Force has a systematic approach for just about everything, including how our instruction is developed! Our formal process is called Instructional System Development, or ISD, and it applies to all personnel who plan, design, develop, implement, approve, administer, conduct, evaluate, or manage Air Force instruction. The goal of Air Force ISD is to ensure our personnel are trained to do their job in the most cost efficient and effective way possible. In many ways, our education and training have remained unchanged for quite some time. The ISD process has served us well and will continue to be a solid basis for our course development efforts. The one area in which we will need to make some updates or to at least think differently is in our design, and that design will rely heavily on good analysis.”

8. The Daily Mail (UK) – Can online games be as addictive as heroin? “Despite the restricted view through the letter box, it was clear that something was terribly wrong on the other side of the front door. The hallway of the three-bedroom semi was filled with what looked like a year’s worth of dirty clutter. Deeply worried by the scene in her neighbour’s house, the concerned resident immediately alerted the authorities. Entering the £250,000 property in the Kent commuter belt, police officers, who have seen some squalid scenes in their time, were stunned by what greeted them. Every surface was strewn with rubbish and rotting food. The homeowner, a 33-year-old woman, admitted that things were ‘in a bit of a mess’. But it also quickly became evident that her children had been as neglected as the house. Aged nine, ten and 13, the children told officers that they had been left to fend for themselves, at times being reduced to eating cold baked beans straight from the tin.”

9. Hypergrid Business (Hong Kong) – There’s something about InWorldz. “Last week, InWorldz became the second-largest grid running on the OpenSim platform, after shooting up the charts over the course of just the past three months. Between April and September 15, the grid grew from 130 regions to 531 regions. In addition, the grid now has over 15,000 registered users — up from just over 10,000 a month ago. Their secret? A strong focus on community-building. In this area, InWorldz seems to be picking up where Second Life left off. For example, the latter shut down its mentor program at the end of last year, but the InWorldz mentor program is up and running.”

10. The First Post (UK) – Gamers save shekels as The Bible Online launches. “Even the most esoteric backwaters of Second Life – the online universe in which users interact through avatars – can’t compete with this. A new MMO (Massively-Multiplayer Online game) to be released next week lets gamers live out the Old Testament. They can’t actually play God – but they can play Abraham, Jacob or Isaac. Chapter one of The Bible Online, produced by games publisher FIAA, moves from testing to the real thing next week. The game is set in the time of the Patriarchs – about 50 years after the Flood – and is based on the book of Genesis. Like a cross between the strategy game Civilisation and the role-playing ‘virtual world’ World of Warcraft, the game lets users construct villages, manage resources and protect a tribe. They can even horde a virtual currency – shekels. Users can play either as a Patriarch, or alongside Abraham and his sons and are given quests to complete based on bible stories.”

Texting while driving: now a proven deadly habit

Photo courtesy

A study by the University of North Texas Health Center has shown what may be unsurprising to a lot of people: texting while driving has killed a lot of people.

The study looked at United States drivers between 1999 and 2008, and amongst other things found:

  • After declining from 1999 to 2005, fatalities from distracted driving increased 28% after 2005, rising from 4572 fatalities to 5870 in 2008
  • Crashes increasingly involved male drivers driving alone in collisions with roadside obstructions in urban areas.
  • Increasing texting volumes resulted in more than 16000 additional road fatalities from 2001 to 2007.

Of course, the challenge will be somehow convincing the huge number of driving texters out there that they in fact aren’t better drivers than the sixteen thousand people who have died already. There are already sites devoted to the issue, such as this one.

It’d be interesting to know what the gender breakdown of the fatalities were i.e. are males the primary offenders like they are with accidents more widely? Or is it something that females dominate?

Would love to get your thoughts / close call stories.

via [LA Times]

The ‘fun’ side of tech maintenance

I think most of us tend to forget the behind-the-scenes aspect of the technology we use. Take broadcast towers for example – some lucky person gets to climb to the very top of them, as you’ll get to see in the video below. It must take some courage to do that sort of work – certainly more than the average worker in a data centre or IT department.

Have a look for yourself, unless you have a fear of heights:

Weekend Whimsy

1. SECOND LIFE: The Trial

2. The Hot Men of Jungleboys in Second Life

3. Second Life – King Kong meets TÜV Nord

Run! Robot learns to use bow and arrow

Like monkeys, everyone loves a robot, and they continue to evolve in complexity at an impressive rate. The ramifications for society more broadly are obviously huge and although I doubt we’ll be facing a Dalek / Terminator scenario in the near-future, there’s still plenty to ponder. Take the iCub for example: it’s the result of a five-year project funded by the European Commission through Unit E5 “Cognitive Systems, Interaction & Robotics”.

The purpose of the iCub project is:

to study cognition through the implementation of a humanoid robot the size of a 3.5 year old child: the iCub. This is an open project in many different ways: we distribute the platform openly, we develop software open-source, and we are open to including new partners and form collaboration worldwide.

Said iCub nailed a bulls-eye on its eighth attempt at Archery. How long can it be before it has a death ray and an attitude to match?

via [Technabob]

Avatar Repertory Theatre’s Oedipus Rex

Second Life’s Avatar Repertory Theatre (ART) has a few shows under their belt now, including Shakespeare’s The Tempest. Their latest is Oedipus Rex (Oedipus The King) by Sophocles. During October there’ll be six performances, with tickets costing L$500. A short promo has been produced to give you a taste:

More information on the show over at the ART blog, or you can check out the theatre space itself in Second Life.

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