Saturday, 29 August 2009

The Digital Concert Hall






At 7 p.m. on the evening, August 28, 2009, 4,000 classical music fans from around the world either visited the Berlin Philharmonic's Digital Concert Hall or logged in to the internet digital concert hall to see the Berliner Philharmoniker perform their first concert of the season. This premier performance was broadcast free of charge in excellent audiovisual quality on Deutsche Bank's homepage. Sir Simon Rattle conducted an exciting program with Berlioz's Symphone Fantastique and Britten's Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra as well as a premiere piece of a work by Kaija Saariaho, a Finnish composer.

It was such an exciting evening, a first for me but hopefully not the last. I have not seen Simon Rattle since he was near here in Birmingham – many moons ago – but seeing this was like being live in a concert hall. What a wonderful evening – especially the Berlioz!

More photos of the event are on Flickr: http://www.flickr.com/photos/24572238@N02/
The Digital Concert Hall makes it possible for internet users to experience the Berliner Philharmoniker’s concerts from anywhere in the world. To sign up for their concerts visit:
http://dch.berliner-philharmoniker.de/#/en/

Sunday, 23 August 2009

Emoticon - A Perfomance in Second Life





CARP - Cybernatic ART Research Program



The show was advertised as "A new phase in Emoticon - improvising emotions with Al Hoffmann and the responding choreography and visual show" which does not begin to cover whas it was!
The performers were:

Al Hofmann
Josina Burgess
Efrantirise Morane
Any1 Gynoid
Velazquez Bonetto
Medora Chevalier

There is a lovely write-up on the event already at the Second Arts blog page : http://secondarts.wordpress.com/2009/08/09/carp-presents-emoticon/

The show was a colourful, spectacular circus of dance and music with wonderful costumes and textures. Emotions were whispered and the questions was asked did we all feel the same emotion to the same stimulus? I think the answer is no - I did not feel any of the rage, fury rejection, gloominess etc, just a sense of wonder and awe that something so lovely could be created and presented in Second Life. The seats were scripted so that our camera controls were taken over and we were all sat inside the dance, it was almost interactive.

There is a You Tube video of the first version, it has changed quite a lot now but it is enough to give the idea of what the performance was like.
http://www.youtube.com/user/LexCongrejo

There are more photographs on Flickr http://www.flickr.com/photos/24572238@N02/

Sunday, 16 August 2009

Nik Peachey talking about teaching English in Second Life





Nik structured his talk around the SWOT analysis http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SWOT_analysis

"SWOT Analysis is a strategic planning method used to evaluate the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats involved in a project or in a business venture. It involves specifying the objective of the business venture or project and identifying the internal and external factors that are favourable and unfavourable to achieving that objective."

I will work through the points raised in SWOT order though Nik didn’t :-)

Strengths – Nik identified 3 strengths:

1. The attachment to an avatar, owners often refer to them in the third person, many refer to them in the first person but most have a strong identification. This puts Second Life in advance of the 2D web.
2. Also Nik identifies the attachment to space as a strength and I know that many of my students consider the plot where I teach as home. I actually own a plot and rent two other plots but feel far more at home in the sandbox on EduNation ll where I spend a lot of time. Nik refers to his own virtual office, I feel at home in a big empty space :-) but the attachment is there in both cases.
3. Nik says that he has more of a feeling of having met a person whom he has encountered in Second Life rather than just by e-mail or Skype, I certainly feel that I “know” people that I have met in SL even before I have met them in real life, and often know far more about them having had some in-depth conversations in SL that probably would never have happened in real life. This could be because that people with similar interests meet in SL even though they maybe geographically distanced.

Weakness

1. Nik identified the absence of social norms of etiquette as a weakness. At the start of the session he set a standard whereby anyone who wanted to ask him a question was to do so by IM. I personally do not agree with that anyway – I feel that questions should be open for all to see not hidden away so that someone can decide whether they want to answer them or not! As it was people who wanted to ask questions did so with voice so the necessity to record them did not arise.
Nick did not feel happy with constant chat back going on, Dennis agreed that he found it annoying, but we all greeted everyone who joined the group – it would be rude not to do so, and when the joke was made about not being able to teach Italian without gestures even those people who were not using chat showed that they appreciated the joke by using chat for /smiles, lol, :-) etc.
2. Nik’s second weakness point was the lack of response, eye contact, gestures etc., is an issue but I feel that those chat responses actually replace the smiles, eye contact etc that we are used to in a real classroom.
3. Nik’s third point was the commercial aspect of not being able to teach big groups. It is well established that it is hard to teach more than 10 or 12 people and set paired or group work. I find discussions easy using Dekah’s Decks but for building it is harder. Ideally if teaching small groups and setting tasks that involve something like building it would be best to have a small parcel for each group to use. As a non commercial teacher of course I do not have to deal with this problem so it is unfair to comment.
4. Nik’s final point is the way that sounds and video is activated in SL. It is true that it is hard to get everyone watching video at the same time, it depends too much on the individual’s own computer and bandwidth – this is one thing I do struggle with constantly depending on video for much of my teaching material. I send people out of SL for the most part – I would prefer not to but it is so much easier to do so at present. He also mentioned Flash games etc, these are easy to play on the web but not possible in Second Life. Graham mention Disruptive Technology explaining that things we take for granted in one medium are not necessarily available in another medium – it takes a while to catch up and gave the example of video on the web. It used to be difficult and love quality – now it is very successful. Nik made a point about it being hard to interact with objects regarding playing sound.
5. Nik’s fifth point is one that infuriates us all – the lack of adequate text sharing facilities. We can use notecards but have no formatting facilities, we can’t use images or web addresses in notecards. It is hard, though we have managed to use images and shared writing facilities on various boards, but none of it is easy or totally successful. Marisa asked about sharing handouts etc – in my own case I do that through the ordinary 2D web not even able to use a VLE as not all teachers who do my course have access to that.

Opportunities

1. Nik identified the sense of space and being able to give student a sense of space or their own virtual space making a really good opportunity to get people to engage with the virtual world.
2. He identified websites that give opportunities for language exchange such as Live Mocha and similar language exchange sites and how they could be improved by offering that facility in Second Life.
3. Nik said that Second Life offers opportunities for authentic learning, and that Second Life is more authentic than first life where classrooms that have desks in rows which is synthetic and does not correlate to how language is learned normally.
4. Extracurricular opportunities such as role play, drama etc can be more successful in Second Life than real life because costumes, stage sets etc are so much easier to produce, looks better and it can all be filmed. People feel happier as they are not themselves – they are hiding behind an avatar.
5. The potential to create a video game is a good opportunity. SL is not a game, there are no rules or objectives, it is more like a playground where you can create your own games. It should be very motivating and engaging, the visual strengths in the environment makes it ideal. We need large spaces and good games to engage students. It should be possible to get student to practice tasks until they succeed.

Threats

There were two threats identified by Nik : Reliability and Stability.
1. These are key if you are teaching in Sl as a commercial product, one can never be sure that it is going to work reliability - though in all of my teaching sessions I have only had to abandon 1 session and I have taken part in two 24 hour conferences and only had a problem for the first 20 minutes of one of them. I have attended dozens of seminars and had no problem. I think it is far more stable than it used to be but there is still that element of will it / won't it?
2. Nik's reference to Stability was based on the changes brought about by constant upgrading where things got altered frequently and you could not be sure that the user interface was going to be the same as the last time you used it. Again this is something that has settled more recently, we have less upgrades and generally it seems much more stable than a year ago for example.
3. Marisolde (I think) identified griefing as a threat but Nergiz said that you can often engage griefers in discussion etc., and that has been my experience to a certain extent. Simply to mute them is to solve the problem if you are away from your own area so that you cannot evict them.

For a recording of the session visit : http://blip.tv/file/2482035/
There was lots of discussion about how to engage students etc. once the session was concluded and this is on the recording.

It was a very enjoyable and fascinating session much appreciated by all attendees. It was interesting to think about teaching in Second Life through the SWOT Analysis, it gives food for thought and that is always good :-)

Cropredy Festival 2009

It was wonderful festival as usual - rather too many people in my opinion but I am sure others would disagree :-) It was dry and windy, and alternated between being overcast and sunny.

We could not move by Saturday afternoon, it was a struggle getting in and out of our spot to fetch food, drinks and wander round the stalls etc.

There will be loads written about it and hundreds of brilliant pictures. I have uploaded just a few photos of the event, did not get many, it was so crowded I did not bother to fight my way through the crowds to get more. Most of the pictures that I took were actually taken from about two thirds of the way up the field, so the projection screen is mainly what can be seen with very small band members at the bottom of the photos. http://www.flickr.com/photos/24572238@N02/?saved=1

Other sets of photos (more will be added to as they are posted)

http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=30683&id=1041115279&ref=share

http://www.facebook.com/photo.php?pid=2549822&id=621923015&l=783de55e89#/photo.php?pid=2549836&id=621923015&l=783de55e89

http://www.facebook.com/album.php?page=3&aid=116138&l=773bf943d5&id=548197440


Yusuf playing Peace Train with Fairport
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FFggpom3leA

Richard Thompson's Cropredy set is already being torrented at Dime a Dozen:
http://www.dimeadozen.org/torrents-details.php?id=262556

Following are two video clips from the warm-ups at Woodford Halse: Matty Groves and Meet on the Ledge.

Highlights for me

Feast of Fiddles
Ralph McTell
Richard Thompson
Fairport - as may be expected.
Special Guest Yusuf Islam - formerly known as Cat Stephens, whose music I have loved for years but whom I have never managed to see live before!

An unexpected bit of fun was the ukelele number - the band played ukeleles and song a song with a funny animation projected onto the big screen.

For all Fairport information visit http://www.fairportconvention.com/


Matty Groves - Woodford 2009

Fairport at the warm-ups 2009

Meet on the Ledge - Woodford 2009

Monday, 10 August 2009

Holiday in Ibiza August 2009

Wednesday

We arrived in Ibiza airport, were bused the 60 or 70 metres to the terminal building… from where we caught a minibus to Portinatx, furthest point north of the island arriving there in the middle of the afternoon. We started to look around, found some lunch, went swimming, walked down to the beach – 200 steps? A long way down anyway, we needed a drink when we returned that is for sure! One of the very first things that was noticable about Ibiza - even as we were coming in to land was the colour of the sea. Later we learned that this was due to the Neptune grass that grows on the sea floor.




After dinner we decided to walk down to Portinatx town. That is a long way down and had very little to see except another tiny cove like the one below our hotel except about three times the length. Having walked down hill a long way the next necessity of course was walking back up! This is the story of Ibiza we soon learned. As an island it is approximately 44 km long and 20 wide, the trouble is that it seemed ten times that because there are so many hills and what may be 5 km as the crow flies can be 15 by the time you have wound your way up and over the hills.
Ibiza is a hilly island, flatter and wetter in the south where apparently the land is very fertile with rich iron minerals making the soil red and crops such as potatoes, olives, nectarines, plums, prickly pears and avocado pears are all grown. It is much drier and hillier in the north and mostly comprises of pine forests. There is a regular hunting season and apparently the hunted are mostly rabbits that are used for meat.

Catamaran Tour - Thursday


Thursday morning we had booked to go on the catamaran to investigate round the outside of the island. We sailed into a smuggler’s cave that used to have a rope ladder hanging at the back forming an escape route to higher land. We looked at lots of coves, houses belonging to some of the world’s great and good, looked at many of the tiny Balearic islands and headed towards Es Vedra.

Es Vedra is an imposing rock, approximately 400 metres high, and with almost vertical sides. There is a cross on top which may be a mark of respect for the monk who apparently spent his life there. The story says that he took goats over with him, they have bred and there are now a herd of about 30 living as wild animals on the island.

Es Vedra and its smaller sister island Es Vedranell have many mythical tales surrounding them. They are supposed to be magical and mysterious being similar on the magnetic force to the Bermuda triangle – or so we were told :-) This is where the sirens in the story of Jason and the Argonauts are supposed to have waylaid Persius’ (I think) party. Please don’t get cross if I need to check my Greek mythology, I have not read the tales for years – in fact there is a good idea!





We drank sangria and swam from the catamaran, it was a lovely tour, thoroughly enjoyed by all. We took lots of photograph from the sea looking back to the island. The rock formations of the land, coral reefs in the sea, fish and weed were all clearly visible, there was a glass submarine area but it was permanently full with children who seemed to be enjoying the underwater views. We decided to look from in the water instead.

The sea bottom has huge areas covered in a plant called Neptune Grass

“As well as providing an important habitat for a great variety of marine species, seagrasses play a role in protecting our planet from the increasing build up of carbon dioxide. They act as a "carbon sink", like land-based plants, absorbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and thereby helping to slow down the effects of global warming.”

Quoted from http://www.divesitedirectory.co.uk/seagrass_meadows.html

Friday - A Coach Tour of the Island

We booked a bus tour, billed Magical Ibiza, where we were going to learn all about the island. We certainly learned a lot – mostly about hippies – taught by possibly the last of them!
The hippies seem to have been very important to the development of Ibiza, time seems to have been measured before and after the hippies. There are many hippy markets where local arts and crafts are sold, music is played and many locals gather to sell their produce.

As we drove around the island we saw people harvesting almonds, to achieve the harvest they drag out closely woven nets under the trees and hit the branches with sticks so that the nuts fall off into the nets. Carob beans were all ready and hanging in brown pods ready to be harvested after the almonds. Prickly pears had been picked in some places but not others.

We had a couple of breaks from the bus to take photographs of the salt flats and to visit a church.

The Church of Sant Josep De Sa Talaia

The area was very rich in the 18th Century and a beautiful church with gold plating on the altar and paintings on the pulpit, and huge highly ornate statues was built. It was badly damaged in the civil war but much of it has been restored now and it is, once again, quite beautiful.


The ceiling decoration is coloured blue, as many building entrances, windmills etc are., this is to prevent the little people of local folklore, familiars as they are known, from entering the houses and creating mischief.




The Salt Flats

“The island's salt flats measure six million square metres and were deemed worthy of conservation by the Spanish government in 1995. In 2001, the Balearic government confirmed the area's national park status. It contains 26 salt pools and the salt harvested there is considered to be one of the finest varieties in the world. The main buyers for the "white gold" are Norway, the Faroe Islands (Denmark), Iceland and Great Britain. At the beginning of the last century, the salt company even had branches as far away as Canada and Calcutta. Ibiza's salt is mainly used to preserve cod and as table salt. Ships stop off at the sa Canal jetty all year round to take on a load of salt. About 4,000 tonnes of salt are on hand to be collected at any given time.”

Quoted from: http://www.ibizaa-z.com/print2.php?name=Ibiza%27s%20Salt%20Flats where there is a load more information. There are more photos on the Flickr page.



Cava de Can Marca in Puerto St Miguel


The bus tour ended at the Cava de Can Marca in Puerto St Miguel. The cave is over 100,000 years old. Down about 300 steps – has stalactites – but also an artificial waterfall, coloured lights and piped music – pity!

It was far too hot to be on a bus for most of the day. Unfortunately we had done a full tour of the island picking up passengers – by the time the tour started we had more or less had enough by 5pm we were just so glad to get off and take a very long drink to the swimming pool!

Ibiza Festival 8th August 2009

Saturday

The day was free until evening, we went down on to the beach very early and went for long swims around the rocks and towards the next cove. We just relaxed until about 3pm when we decided we needed to eat. After eating we got ready to go out to the festival.



Ibiza Town is the capital of the island and Saturday 8th August saw the festival of its patron Saint. We attended the event arriving at the harbour as it was getting dark. Around the harbour and port were shops, jewellery stalls, musical events, street theatre etc., it was all very lively and interesting. We headed towards the old town or Dalt Vila. We climbed right up to the top walking up through the city walls called the Murallas de Ibiza and navigating the narrow, windy, cobbled streets. It was fascinating to see the tiny houses, shrines built into the streets, designer shops with room for half a dozen items, the market stalls as well as the dozens of cafes, restaurants, and bars making a very vibrant atmosphere. It was a slight shock to see KFC there – a bit sad really!

The city walls were built in the 16th Century as a defence against attacks by the Turkish smugglers. They are well preserved, and have been classed as a world Heritage Site. There are many tiny, hidden entrances that only local people would know and could use in case of attack but the main entrance is called the Portal de Ses Taules.


Looking out over the whole island at the top of the city is the Castle and Cathedral de Santa Maria with impressive gothic architecture it was built sometime between the 14th-16th century. The castle wall still has four cannons trained out over the port. It is all illuminated at night it very pretty to see.

After the cathedral visit and taking many dozens of spectacularly poor photographs of the wonderful views we returned to the port to watch the firework display. There must have been thousands of people including many young children and babies there – it was a very festive atmosphere, not something we are really used to here in the UK.

video

Real information about Ibiza is hard to find on the web, maybe there is far more in Spanish, but here are a few write-ups that give useful information.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/destinations/europe/spain/menorca/718886/Ibiza-Feeling-groovy.html

http://www.articlesbase.com/travel-articles/holidays-in-ibiza-534083.html

http://ibiza.costasur.com/en/misterioso-ibiza.html

Saturday, 1 August 2009

A Court Experience

I have had the very mixed blessing of being involved in a court case for the last three weeks. Justice is something we all take for granted in this country but how it has been achieved has always been somewhat of a mystery to me having never before been involved in any way, shape or form.

The constant referrals to the law books and ensuing discussions have been a real eye opener. The effort involved in making sure that the defendant has a fair trial and is not damaged by prejudice, contamination, collusion, evidence that is biased in some way, or does not actually help either for the prosecution or the defense to the lay person seems totally over the top but is clearly very necessary.

The judge, treated with absolute respect by the court staff and other regular personnel but human enough to instantly dismiss the obvious faux pas worrying counsel when a witness sat in the stand. He had an amazing skill in cutting through the legal arguments and establishing the fair line, which everyone then adheres to is something to admire as is the cross questioning by the counsel on both sides to try to establish the truth of a matter.

So I am in awe of the system, the thoroughness etc. that it involves and the total commitment by everyone to make sure the trial is fair with all parties being supported as necessary. What I was totally amazed by was the apparent time wasting that the current system seems to be unable to avoid.

Once the trial to all intents and purposes was over and the jury was out the counsel and police involved in the case were waiting for a considerable amount of time for the verdict. On the morning after retirement there was a legal question from the jury where counsel and the judge needed to discuss the answer. In the court was a live link video conferencing system, probably just an in-house link at the moment, but it could have easily been used for all concerned parties to have that legal discussion over the airways and then counsel for the prosecution, who has another case waiting and on hold, could have been working on that one. Clearly this would take organization but from this experience I can see that there is time before court convinces at 10am, coffee break about 11.15, lunch break, 1 – 2 and afternoon break about 2.45 when such opportunities for discussion could easily be taken without people having to be sitting around for days waiting. The next trial has to have these fifteen or so minute breaks at the beginnings or endings of sessions anyway to discuss the same legal questions so it would make no appreciable difference to the running case but enable these highly qualified people to be moving forward instead of waiting. In this way overlap between trials would not involve so many people sitting around waiting endlessly in one court whilst another is waiting.

I would guess that the overlap in most cases is only going to be a day or two – as long as the jury is actually out which seems, most times, to be up to a day, occasionally a couple of days but quite rarely a prolonged event unless it is a huge complex trial.

There have been many other eye openers in this whole experience as well – the necessity for about 30 people to bring all of the evidence together to lock another person up for years and years is very upsetting. Even when you are 100% positive that the evidence is true it is a very hard thing to do. How on earth people can do this for their whole lives is beyond me.

In my next life I want to be a court usher! That seems to be the most interesting job in the whole place :0)