Saturday, 27 September 2008

Burning Life 2008 part 1

Wednesday morning I received an e-mail offering me a plot in the Burning Life 2008 Festival in Second Life. I had hoped for one, in fact, thought I would get one enough to have prepared some sections of build ready for use. Unfortunately it was about 6.30 am and I was just leaving home to run a full day's training so could not even get on the land until about 8pm the same day. The next couple of days were a bit hectic, it needed to be finished by Saturday and I have a full time job.

So – now it is Saturday, about two hours from opening and my build is finished. I am satisfied that is ia as good as I can make it.

It is basically a soundscape, an art work of colour, texture and sound. 
The build comprises mainly of a spiral of 3 metres in diameter, richly textured coloured balls that, when walked though, play snippets of music. There is a wide variety of 9 plus second musical clips and most times several are playing together as they are triggered by the collision of the avatar with the ball.  There is a second smaller musical work, a pentatonic platform giving several ostinati and tubes that play notes from the pentatonic scale when walked though.
It is late afternoon in the UK, early morning in Second Life. The Burning Life sims are closed to give the organisers a chance to check everything out before opening to the public at 9 am SLT.
All the information about the festival and how it relates to the real life Burning Man festival can be found here

What I am hoping to do is record some of the builds that I find interesting on the blog. I have had a chance to look around and there are some wonderfully exotic builds to see, it will be interesting to get the response of visitors. 

There is a lovely art build where the real life artist does paintings of scenes inside Second Life, two, at least, builds about pets, one about cats and one about several different pets. There is a huge washing up bowl with cups and saucers piled up toward the sky in a barely balanced column. There are people riding about on slugs, wearing cupcakes, carrying balloons etc, and even before it opens the place was a buzz of excitement, interactivity and friendship.

The whole event promises to be quite exciting and very interesting.

Saturday, 20 September 2008

Reality Check

Over the last couple of weeks three events have invaded my psyche, and having come together, had a marked impact on the way I am thinking about life at the moment.

A couple of Saturdays ago my son came home having just arrived at the tail end of a dreadful car accident, where, we found out later a well-known lady from our village had been killed outright and her daughter, a mum of a houseful of teenagers, left very ill in hospital, prognosis not known.

I thought at the time that could easily have been my son, he missed it be a few seconds, daughter and I, husband and I, any other member of my family. The driver was not doing anything wrong, just driving along one of the main roads into the village when a horsebox and Landover crossed a crossroad out of control and ploughed their car through a wall opposite.

The following week at some point I got into the office and chatted to a colleague outside the ladies loo – as you do – when she said “wasn’t that terrible about Joe?” It transpired that a well known head teacher whom I have worked with over the years, took early retirement in July to spend time travelling with his wife, came back at the end of August from a family holiday, was ill, diagnosed on the Tuesday with lung cancer and died on Sunday. The week before the end of term he was with us at another colleague’s retirement and looked a picture of health and was so looking forward to and excited about the future.

Yesterday I was helping the head teacher carry out a self assessment in a special school. She always shows me round when I get there, which is only once or twice a year. I love to see the stuff they are doing, it is always so amazing. She was telling me about new touch screens – and they are good, when one of the teachers said that XXX was using one we should go and see him. We went into a tiny room, a boy of about 15 was strapped into a chair eyes fixed intently on a screen. A butterfly was tracking diagonally across the screen, when it got to the corner it stopped and faded, a fish replaced the butterfly’s starting position. After about twenty seconds the boy managed enough concentration and coordinated movement to dab at the screen to touch the fish which started that tracking across the screen. We watched and encouraged him for a couple of minutes. He knew I was there talking to him, he looked at me several times obviously knowing I was different to the usual group of people around him. He seemed to take pleasure in showing me what he could do, and clearly knew when the games ended because we saw a very different movement to start it again. I felt quite privileged to be there and see his independence and success.

As I said in the first paragraph these things have made an impression on me. Any of my family could have been on that road at that moment – we all travel it, in various combinations of family or alone most days. I am very saddened by these deaths of both people though not particularly close to either, they are the very fabric of the place we live.

I am planning on taking early retirement, in the not too distant future and travelling... oh dear :-)

I have children – who mostly now have children – and they are fit, healthy and able in mind and body, independent people, with grand children on the same path. Whoever we are I am sure that as parents our biggest wish is to see our children grown, happy, settled with a family, knowing the joy that that has already brought to ourselves.
To me, even though it is a wonderful achievement, it seems so sad to see a young man, who should have the world at his feet, strapped in a chair to make sure he stays upright, tracking a butterfly across the screen. I felt and still feel quite humbled.

I am just so lucky, I have a wonderful family, home, friends, freedom to drive to work,in fact virtually anywhere, walk the dogs, be home alone to carry out every day chores, plan my time, my work, courses, resources etc. I can do more or less whatever I want to do any time I want to do it - within normal constraints of being part of a family and working. Two of the people mentioned about have died and the last one will never know this sort of freedom or independence.

It is Saturday and I am not at work, I got up early, spent an hour in Second Life over coffee and toast, started the laundry, chatted to daughter, received a phone call and went off with a friend on a treasure hunt round local village yard sale day :-)

I returned home, did shopping, more laundry, e-mails, added a few words to a wiki, and am cleaning the house between other things. I just cut some lavender flowers to put in a dish in the house, scratched my leg on a log and am bleeding... and the blood running down onto my foot somehow seems proof that I am really here. I am still here at the moment and still in control of my life after the not so gentle reminders of our frailty of life over the last fortnight ...

Thursday, 11 September 2008

Digital Storytelling in Second Life

I attended a few sessions from SLCC 2008. the in-world presentations from the conference in Tampa. The Digital Storytelling one particulalry impressed me.

The intro from the programme of events: Good storytelling is a rigorous and rewarding journey for every author who is digging deep into the meaning of their story for themselves and others. As part of a digital storytelling week, classes at Suffern Middle School in Ramapo Central Schools, NY were guided by Bernajean Porter and Peg Sheehy in the task of finding their own visual parallel personal story to unfold while narrating a voice interpretation of Robert Frost’s actual poem, The Road Less Traveled. We wanted them to create more than a literal connection to the Frost poem by stretching to uncover a metaphorical story of their own using the larger theme of struggling with decisions that had had an impact on their lives. Students were introduced to Porter’s Take Six Elements of Good Storytelling to first craft a narrative written storyline, ultimately expressing a clear sensory experience of their own personal story reflecting a choice in their lives, the emotions behind it, and the lesson learned! Creativity, engagement, and deep introspection into sharing something real in their lives gave this project a special glow for everyone! Suffern NY Middle-Schoolers filming in SL (machinimas) share their personal storytelling of Frost's Road-Less-Traveled.

The presentation was very interesting, the speakers clearly passionate about their work with the children. The actual work, inspired by Frost's poem "The road Less Travelled" in Second Life is quite amazing. The build, created as requested by pupils, is based on the story of the death of a young girl, Jenny, due to an eating disorder.

To visit the build go to and teleport from the sign post to Ramapo. This leads to the story Keeper's Garden where you can experience the video, narrations etc., that formed the preliminary work to the project. From the garden there is a teleport sign leading to the Storyteller's World.

Teleporting into the Story teller’s World lands you at the entrance to a school building. You arrive to listen to a young girl crying and newspapers telling of teenage eating disorders and a greeter shouting "Jen needs to gain some weight." Robert Frost is reading his poem in the background. As you enter the building there is frantic whispering in the background and narrations showing the dilemma recognised by other pupils who were concerned but frightened of upsetting Jen by saying anything. In the canteen there is the background sound of pupil at lunch, but the canteen is deserted and questions are asked in each place setting about how to react to an eating disorder.From the main hall area viewers have to decide whether to call help or choose to not say anything. The choice leads to the next scenes.

To wander round it and experience it make shivers run up my spine it is so dramatic. Video clips play in various places such as the toilet block where it is clear that Jen is making herself sick, and whilst friends ask her what is happening she claims to be okay and asks them not to tell.

Newspaper reports float up in random places all round the build forcing you to register the rather sad headlines. Sounds play – whispering, short narrations and an ambulance siren. It is situated in a school and focussed in a canteen, the toilet block and various other school areas.

Outside the school is a graveyard is misty, deserted and utterly depressing, there is a ghostly car, not quite sure of the significance of that but it certainly adds to the atmosphere.

The feelings of anguish, fear, confusion and misery are evident, the emotions portrayed are raw. It is clear that the whole process has bought the story to life for those pupils who were involved in the project. They have told their story in a completely new and different way in this multi-media presentation in a virtual world. The quality of work surpasses “normal” expectations and it is quite thrilling – in a dreadful sort of way. I can only recommend that anyone interested in developing pupils’ literacy skills have a look.

The teacher's wiki is available I would certainly love to join their summer camp - alas that will not be happening!

Monday, 1 September 2008

The Owl and the Pussy-cat - part 2

Well the Owl and the Pussy-cat build in Second Life is complete and students are going to see it for the first time today. That is exciting; unfortunately due to training commitments I will not be there to see their reaction to it.

I have learned a lot. Over the last week I have tried many times to get a podcast playing in-world but failed completely. Last night I tried a media player and “with a little help from my friends” as a well known band once sang about I needed a lot of help from my friends, well one in particular :-) Many thanks once again!

Needless to say I am thrilled with the result – bereft without something now to work on so looking for a new project.

Work – first day back and lots of training – will try to add more later 