Friday, March 26, 2010

Amazing pictures of earth

Edited: to stop amazing being every other word, as well as the headline.

I thought I had better take advantage of free access to the Times online before it runs out in June and they start charging me. There were two articles which caught my eye - an interview with Martin Freeman about the release of Nightwatching, the Peter Greenaway film which has been finished for months (and showing at the festivals) and yet hasn't been released until now. I find his work rather challenging, but the wonderful lighting and composition of this film seems likely to reward the watching of it. The trailer features the exhilarating music of Giovanni Sollima too - which I can hear 100 times without tiring of it. Go here for another piece which I can listen to for weeks, plus an extremely clever film by young film maker Lasse Gjertsen.

The other article was about an amateur photographer who took such stunning pictures of the earth from the atmosphere above, that NASA called.

I used to work with an editor called Ted Crowley, who was also an amateur photographer, and used to take ariel photographs using remote controlled technology, before computers were a usable adjunct to the planes and helicopters used for it. As it happens, in addition to amateur photography, he was also a playright, with a huge German following, unknown in England.

It seems that where the scientists at NASA would have used rockets and a few hundred thousand dollars to take similar pictures, Robert Harrison used £500-worth of materials including loft insulation and duct tape. He even uses a GPS device to be able to retrieve his camera once it plummets back to earth.

It's a case of necessity being the mother of invention, and demonstrates that professionalism isn't necessarily better than amateurism.... I see that A.A. Gill, at the Intelligence Squared debate on the future of news/journalism recently asked if people would be happy to have citizen dentists in the same way that they appear happy to have citizen journalists. Well, possibly. Up to the advent dentistry as a profession, citizen dentists were all that was available. And many of the people who made amazing discoveries in science would be considered amateurs today.

Being a professional journalist isn't a guarantee of quality, as anyone who reads Jan Moir in the Daily Mail can attest. Sometimes you just get an outpouring of a person's internal homophobia and not anything resembling journalism. Even A.A. Gill is not immune to allowing his personal feelings as an anti-fat grouch from showing through. Sometimes a "citizen journalist" can write more passionately and informatively than the most professional of the professionals.

It seems to me it is only in the last century that people have become obsessed by the idea that one has to go through a series of professional examinations in order to become whatever it is. While I agree that you probably don't want someone who trained in their garage to be the one taking out your appendix or your wisdom teeth, I think it would be sensible to recognise that sometimes the application of the laws about medicine have mitigated against the public interest. Dr Kelley, a dentist who discovered a dietary approach to cancer, was prosecuted several times for having practised medicine without qualification, even though he was only sharing his successful treatment of his own cancer with his dentistry patients.

And sometimes, a passionate amateur can outperform the professionals.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Medical training build

Eelco and I have been working flat out on a demo for a healthy authority here in the UK. We've not had a lot of time to come up with the specific demo, but we have been working on a medical training project for some time, and so we already had some groundwork done. Nevertheless we're feeling quite excited. We'll be using a robot patient, and I have been training her to answer questions appropriately.

At the moment, if you ask after her legs, she may tell you that one has been bothering her rather a lot, or she may tell you she has no legs. We've progressed quite a long way though, and have a scenario going. I have been making poses and anims, building a flat for the patient, and props for the scenario we're using.

The major problem is always trying to make sure that you understand what the client is looking for. It seems to me that there is a great future in medical role play in Second Life, but the major use I can see for it, is the way that in Second Life, learning new information can be made to be part of a journey - a journey which will help you to recall information later.

I would love to have the chance to make games which teach people, and I hope that this may be my opportunity. And with html on a prim working, and robots, and working with some really great scripters, it could be absolutely stunning.

Eelco remarked that he's surprised that we haven't seen more about the use of AI and robots in SL, but then I pointed out to him thatwe haven't really publicised what we have been doing in that area - and where, apart from blogs - would we do that, really? I still think this is the major thing missing from Second Life, a proper place to exchange information and to find specialised objects, products and builds.

Many different schemes and systems have been set up, in world and out of it, but none of them seem to work the way I would like them to. Huds and nominations websites and al those things designed to find the best of SL still end up with terrible places in the top 10. And nearly every system can be gamed.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Goodbye 2

The Huffington Post reports that Cornell University are taking steps to try to prevent more student suicides, there having been several in the past week. It seems that Cornell is surrounded by gorges and students have to pass over the bridges to make it into college. Of course they present a temptation to anyone in despair.

The college is checking the bridges, but mre than that is checking up on the students in the residences, trying to ensure that anyone who feels equally desperate is helped.

I have long been astonished that youth suicide is not countered more actively, worldwide. It seems that the brighter students with the most potential are somehow at more risk of suicide. It isn't the teenagers who expect to be at the bottom of the class who take their own lives... often it is those with the most to look forward to who commit suicide.

I can remember a posting to one of the UK Home Education boards in which local education authority bod had tried to persuade a family that the threatened suicide of their daughter was not a reason to withdraw her from an unhappy situation at school. Fortunately the parents disagreed, feeling that the possibility that she was unhappy enough to contemplate suicide was reason enough to take her seriously and remove her from that situation, whatever the LA thought.

I joined the "to write LOVE on her arms" group on Facebook, and I support the work they do to help people. It was their group which directed people to watch the plea from Walter Koenig on the day that his son was found dead, having taken his own life. Andrew Koenig was an actor. His parents made an impassioned plea for people to notice if someone close to them was showing signs of depression. His father Walter talked about the emails he had received from people:

"Hundreds of emails from people who said they were depressed...or had somebody in their family who showed signs of this kind of behaviour ... or had in fact lost members of the family because of this...the only thing I want to say
if you're one of those people who feel that you can't handle it any more, if you can learn anything from this it's that there are people out there who really may ultimately not be enough... before you take that final decision, check it out again: talk to somebody... for those who have families who have members who they fear they may be susceptible to his kind of behaviour, don't ignore it and don't rationalise it...extend a hand."

Andrew's mother added: "For both the families and people who are suffering from depression...
they don't realise there is help and they need help... I would ask you all to familiarise yourself with signs that you may rationalise away - don't rationalise it away if there is something that's bothering you... there is love ...there was love available to him. That's the hardest part. He was much loved and he had much to contribute in this world."

I think perhaps Andrew Koenig's father was exactly right... depressed people don't know they need help, don't seek it out, they retract into themselves and don't make contact with other people. Maybe what's needed is not a last resort phone line ike the Samaritans, it needs something more active, more out there, which extends a hand to people in despair who won't seek it out otherwise.

I've been thinking that there are so many people in the world who would like to be needed, and so many others who need somebody. In these days of social media, there ought to be some way of matching up one with the other that would be a win-win. I'd like to hope that universities everywhere will be checking up on their students, making sure that there isn't someone in despair buried in their halls of residence, needing help. And we must all take responsibiity for anyone we know who might be feeling this way, and extend a hand to them, wherever they may be.

Goodbye Cruel world 1

I posted the following to SL universe this morning. I don't have much time for blogging at the moment, and so although it is probably cheating and will get me expelled from the Good Bloggers' group, I am going to repost here.

And it's goodbye cruel world - forever!
Except, it rarely is, in Second Life. I am sorry I came late to this thread, what can I say, I have been busy, I missed the blog from Ordinal although it is linked and displayed on my blog, and so I only discovered the news this week.

I can understand all of the pressures and frustrations that Ordinal talks about, and I recognise that last straw thing. Also, my avatar seems to be a lot more volatile than I am in real life, and has done a fair bit of flouncing out, deleting builds, and deleting friends from lists... in real life I am lazy and I procrastinate and if friendships fail there it tends to be from lack of picking up the phone rather than a dramatic storming out or throwing of plates.

But... I have become increasingly irritated by the public door slamming. What's it for? If you leave and *don't* delete everything we won't take you seriously? If you leave and do delete everything, we just assume that if you change your mind and want to come back, you'll come back in another body (cf Starax). The mass deletion of stuff doesn't affect LL, it just affects the people left behind... and what is it for, really? I think of it like an artist having a bonfire...such a waste. Why not simply set everything free and put it out in a box? I'm sure Caledon could have found somewhere for *that*.

Maybe people of an aspergery type of mind like to draw a line in the sand and kill it all and have done with it. But many of the "goodbye cruel world" notecards and messages I've had over the past six years have been from the Drama Queens and game players... the ones who might easily approach you in an alt and ask what you think of their main, on the offchance that you won't recognise the batshit insane from the run of the mill....

I'm not accusing Ordinal of Drama Queendom, but it's one of those things you learn not to do over the course of your Second Life: just as you should never actually send that drunken email to your boss telling him he's an idiot, or lickable, or defrauding the company, while drunk... you should always sleep on the decision to delete and leave. Even the geekiest of emotion-free geeks can be seized by the SL deletion madness when angry and frustrated. It has happened to me a couple of times, and now I try to sleep on anything irrevocable, SL or RL.

I understand the frustrations, the perms thing is a real killer, particularly if you have been working away to solve a problem with a complex object, but I do not feel so depressed about the prospects for SL. Since I arrived six years ago it seems to me that SL has been through a large number of incarnations, and it is the constant change and challenge that keeps me interested, keeps me logging on, keeps me learning. I started making animations this week, having tried on numerous occasions before and finding it too hard, I suddenly find I can do it, and understand what I am doing so much better than I did before. SL has opened my eyes to architecture and design in a way that makes me feel I slept through my first 45 years on the planet. I've learned so many skills, I've met so many people and have had fun doing that.

My teenage schooldays impressed me with the horridness and selfishness of other people. I carried on thinking girls were bitchy to all and was a loner until I discovered the marvellous companionship and support of women, once I had children and met a lot of them. SL rehabilitated strangers for me, impressing me with the kindness and generosity of random people helping each other out. I bump into some of those same people here from time to time - Khamon was one.

Despite the sky falling in drama that happens every time there is a change or a bug or an exploit or a dramatic departure, I don't see the sky falling - I see a lot of creative, inspiring people, helping each other still. I passed on the care I'd received to the people I met, and they have passed it on again. People are still more open and honest and generous in SL than I ever expected, and it taught me that, despite a lot of time and attention having been lavished upon the IP theft and scamming side of things, in general people aren't dishonest and horrible... there's just a few of those and we let them make the news all the time. I liked Jeremy Clarkson's recent column for the Times, where he suggested we should simply accept that 5% of all known people are bonkers, and stop making rules for everyone based on what they do... he said it much more elegantly and amusingly than that, here:
What a daft way to stop your spaniel eating the milkman | Jeremy Clarkson - Times Online

I'm really very sorry to see Ordinal go, and I hope she will calm down, throw out any tasks that were on her to do list that don't inspire or amuse her, and stick to the fun and engaging projects which produced so many unique and memorable products.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Best in SL: Prim avatars and Statuary

I haven't had much time for blogging in these last few weeks, but today in a search for prim avatars I found a sim and an artist so exceptional, so amazing, that I feel I must blog it and let more people know about this work right NOW.

The one thing which atmospheric builds in SL often lack is people... either because the sim limit doesn't allow you to have a crowd, or because the best and least laggy time to visit a geat sim is when there aren't so many people about.

Many people have turned to prim avatars to fill that gap, but of course one of the things about prim avatars is that most of them are completely unconvincing and make everything around them look tackier too. However, today I found a place today which sells the most marvellous prim avatars which are so well sculpted, textured and put together that I had to do a double take a couple of times to convince myself that he hadn't cheated and put a camping bot in instead. They are quite simply the best prim avatars I have ever come across.

The maker of these wondrous creatures is Ub Yifu, and the sim is Ub Yifu Sculptures. The slurl is

You need to go there and check it out - the pictures don't do them justice... you're at the mercy of my connection, etc. They are well worth seeing, even if you aren't in the market for a crowd of Elven Archers and a Bear Warrior statue!

If you are in need of prim avatars to fill out a build, then tp there immediately because I have scoured SL and I haven't found anything better.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Judge not, that ye be not judged

I was thinking this morning of the things I have learned as have grown older. I have learned that, as long as you don't go around with your trousers undone, or your breasts hanging out, people will not notice much about you. All that angst I wasted worrying about what people would think of my hair/clothes/make up when I was (much) younger, was completely wasted.

I have learned that, no matter how hideous people may appear on the outside, they want to be thought attractive, and to be loved.

I have learned that, no matter how beautiful and attractive a person may apear on the outside, this may bear no relation to how attractive they feel. Thus some of the people I think are beautiful, have a hard time believing this about themselves.

Home is home, no matter how abject or poorly kept. Places which you would have to be paid handsomely to stay in for one night, are home to other people. You can't know how a person feels about their home by looking at it with your eyes. Those elderly people who fill their homes with junk and old newspapers, feel just as much affection for their homes as the most well-kept show home.

What is right for one person is not for another. The old saying that one man's meat is another man's poison, is true for any aspect of life. You can't know how someone else will feel about folk dancing, country music or jellied eels, based upon how you feel about them.

Every person has their own path to God. This is very important to know, even if you disbelieve in God. People are often so busy trying to prove the other guy wrong, that they don't allow for the possible fact that what is right for you, with your experience of life and core beliefs, may not be right for another. Nearly all problems with religion relate to the idea that it is possible to know what it is right for another to believe.

Be the change you want to see in the world. It's no good complaining that the world is rude and uncaring if you reply to that with rudeness and lack of care. If you believe that it is right to be polite, be polite, no matter how rude others are. It's the Do-as-you-would-be-done-by philosophy.

Remember that you always have choices, chances to make things better for others, however small. That word or deed or kindness may make a much bigger difference than you realize.

Finally, my grandmother's favourite: to thine own self be true.

Be immortalized... if you can get to Cancun

He has just sent round an announcement of his current project - making an artificial reef to attract wildlife and visitors to an uninhabited area. He is still looking for people to cast - but the catch is that the models have to be free to go to Cancun, Mexico. Ah well. The details are here:

I love the melding of art installation and environmental project, and hope you do too. I think the second of his two films is particularly moving. Especially since geting sea life to colonize underwater frames has been particularly successful.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

There there

(With apologies to E.J. Thribb)

So Farewell then, There
Another virtual world vanishes.
"Your friends are here"
No, they're here...

I went There once,
I had to pay to change my cartoony hair
and was asked if my skin was white in RL.


I'd rather be in SL, frankly.
Fee Berry (51 1/2)