Archive for March, 2009

Hand-in day

Today is hand-in day.

Anyone who still has not sent me the link to their blog – you can either:

  • Email me the link
  • Make sure it is clearly written/typed on a piece of paper handed in with your disk/memory stick
  • Typed in a text file included on your disk
  • Linked from the first page of your artefact.

Remember – your blogs constitute a large portion of your mark.

Good luck. Mez


March 17th

REMEMBER – there are no workshops and no lecture tomorrow (March 17th). Instead I am running tutorials in my office – ET104 – from 9am-12.30pm.

There is a sign-up sheet on the noticeboard outside my office. Hand-in date is Friday 20th March in Ellen Terry reception. I will offer turorials on a first come first serve basis. However you can email me with queries on my coventry email or my yahoo email (which is on all the documentation downloadable from the document store). Mez

The rise of ubiquitous computing

Virtual/immersive environments:
CAVE – Cave Automatic Virtual Environment

CaveUT (an extension of the CAVE tech) is an open source mutator for Unreal Tournament 2004. Developed by PublicVR, CaveUT leverages existing gaming technologies to create a CAVE environment. By using Unreal Tournament’s spectator function CaveUT can position virtual viewpoints around the player’s “head”. Each viewpoint is a separate client that, when projected on a wall, gives the illusion of a 3D environment.

The RETAIL environment is the place where reactive and immersive battles will be fought (and won) and we will be the pawns. IBM business partners recently predicted that next generation stores will be:

Sense and respond environemnts that morph themselves to meet the temporal demands of customers’ immediate shopping objectives.

Soon films like Minority Report might not be the stuff of science fiction.

This leads us quite nicely into the realms of ubiquitous computing.

Ubiquitous computing is a post-desktop model of human-computer interaction in which information processing has been thoroughly integrated into everyday objects and activities. As opposed to the desktop paradigm, in which a single user consciously engages a single device for a specialized purpose, someone “using” ubiquitous computing engages many computational devices and systems simultaneously, in the course of ordinary activities, and may not necessarily even be aware that they are doing so.

Mark Weiser – considered to be the father of ubiquitous computing, as he coined the phrase in 1988 – believed that technology should have a calming influence if it was to be of merit. It should basically make our lives easier, less stressful. What do you think? Does technology achieve this on the whole?

What about the semantic web?

Humans use the Internet to carry out basic tasks – book tickets, check the time of a gig etc. A computer can’t perform the same tasks without human direction because web pages are designed to be read by people, not machines.

The semantic web is about publishing pages designed to be understood by computers so that they can perform more of the tedious work involved in finding, sharing, and combining information on the web.

Languages specifically designed for data: Resource Description Framework (RDF), Web Ontology Language (OWL), and Extensible Markup Language (XML).

•    HTML describes documents and the links between them.
•    RDF, OWL, and XML, by contrast, can describe arbitrary things such as people, meetings, or airplane parts.

Tim Berners-Lee calls the resulting network of Linked Data the Giant Global Graph, in contrast to the HTML-based World Wide Web.

Tuesday 10th March Virtual Worlds & RL

Part A : Representation, Landscape and Fictional Worlds

Landscape: the environment visually perceived

Landscape is a way of seeing that has its own history, but a history that can be understood only as a part of a wider history of economy and society (Appleton, 1984: 11).

Intuitions towards landscapes are ‘transformed, overlain and mediated by social, cultural and economic as well as personal meanings’ (Appleton, 1984: 12).

A useful 19th century example of this relationship to landscapes can be seen through the cult of the wilderness, a profoundly social and nostalgic consideration for landscape that is not inhabited by humans. Also emerging out of times of huge technological change, namely Britain during the Industrial Revolution, wilderness can be seen as an idealization of particular landscapes in terms of leisure and tourism, retreat and refreshment, pure and ‘natural’ in comparison to impure urban environments that is maintained in our contemporary imagination. Not coincidentally this was also the era in which New Zealand was being settled, a far away wilderness for consumption. More generally countryside becomes constructed as an antithesis to the city and it is not surprising that this countryside metaphor was the initial visual metaphor employed by the designers of Second Life (Aitchison et al, 1995: 51).

Colonial precedent from

Second Life is positioned as a Terra Nullius and this applies layers of colonial meaning and association.

The term ‘terra nullius’ is from Latin origin, meaning ‘no man’s land’, or empty land, not possessed already by people. It has a close relationship to the term ‘res nullius’ which denotes objects that are not yet owned, such as wild animals, or abandoned property. The two terms form the legal the foundation and justification for colonial enterprise, whereby the act of ‘finding’ and ‘occupying’ land was justification for claiming ownership of that land, and its occupants: generally defined as fauna (res nullius). The relationship is primarily based upon the principles of economics. If land is not producing economic value then it is un- or under-utilized. Land and its use value become synonymous with ownership.

And while the designers of Second Life created a land conveniently without indigenous people, its first owner (the Linden Corporation who establishes initial trading rights for each ‘new’ island) and the Linden inhouse building tools frame the world. I suggest that the way that we construct the formation of culture in this empty land draws upon a colonial model and precedents. The research question that follows from these initial considerations is: is it possible to have new empty land that allows for a different model of colonization, or will older models prevail?

Link to conditions of Land use and cost in Second Life

BBC Radio 4 America Land of Liberty outlined interesting historical precedents in relation to land, colonization and ownership.

Program clips : The Wild West


In 1889, Oklahoma was opened up for settlement and tens of thousands of people flooded out across 2 million acres declared ‘free land’ by the government. In the 1830s, the area had in fact been set aside as reservations for Indian tribes evicted from their lands east of the Mississippi; now they were moved on again.

Further north on the Great Plains, the Sioux and Apaches resisted the settlers, most famously in 1876 when they annihilated Custer’s 7th US Cavalry on Montana’s Little Bighorn River. Outrage at ‘Custer’s Last Stand’ intensified the corralling of the remaining Indians on reservations. By 1890 Indian resistance had been crushed and, as far as most Americans were concerned, the Indian ‘problem’ was ‘solved’.

Once the West was conquered it was commercialised. No-one was more responsible for this than William F Cody – his ‘Buffalo Bill’s Wild West’ toured America and Europe for three decades, helping to create the myth of a heroic western past that never existed.

A different, though equally wild, image of the West was also emerging as President Roosevelt put ‘conservation’ on the national agenda. Until then, government doled out western lands for development with no thought for the ecological consequences. Against business opposition, Roosevelt created millions of acres of national forest and saved prehistoric Indian remains and sites of natural beauty like the Grand Canyon.

Second Life Differences

There are of course fundamental differences between the colonization of material geography and the relationship we have to the metaphoric landscapes of Second Life. The first major difference begins with our relationships to our avatars as body-metaphors, which online have no material needs other than a broadband connection to our keyboards, requiring neither food nor shelter. The laws of sustainable land usage, and the effects we may have within an environmental ecological system based upon material relationships therefore may be abandoned. New systems evolving in Second Life are based upon social relationships and economic models, with a limited range of tools (‘native’ proprietory software) accessible to all.

What we experience within this emerging and participatory culture is the realisation, or potential realisation, not of needs but of desires. And we witness increasing numbers of inhabitants in Second Life realizing their desires in traditional off-line ways. According to DC Spensley, the first economies to develop in Second Life were real estate, shopping, and followed closely by pornography.

The internal Market

Criticism of the internal market as faked, small and fixed and is compared to a Ponzi scheme.

The idea of SecondLife’s economy is simple. It’s just like a real world economy, except it takes place entirely within the company operated game servers.
Customers take on avatars which represent their presence in the virtual world.

As these avatars interact, commerce is conducted. One starts SecondLife with some fairly mundane clothing, for example. Upon entered the world, a new customer is immediately assaulted with a variety of clothes, jewelry, shoes, hair styles; and that’s only the tip of the iceberg. But nothing is free, not even in virtual reality. New customers are allocated a few “Lindens” or L$ (SLL being the standard trade abbreviation). Most new customers quickly blow through these starter L$ as they dress up their avatars.

New L$ are distributed to customers as they pump real money into the virtual world. Nearly all customers utilize the game’s built-in “buy money” feature, which allows them to charge their credit card or PayPal account “micropayments”. Micropayments are a popular, proven business model first established in the mobile-phone market. All SecondLife does is extend this concept to a virtual reality game world.

Another important source of SecondLife commerce is people “playing dress up” with their avatars. Buying clothes, earrings, new faces, or other more private body parts represents a great deal of the readily visible commerce outside of virtual real estate brokers.

Of course, anyone lingering in the world of SecondLife for more than a passing glance quickly discovers the real engine to the SecondLife economy: sex and gambling. A healthy share of micropayments are pumped into the system as customers engage in pulling the virtual slot lever or patronize one of the myriad virtual sex workers.

As opportunists and capitalists, we’re not particularly bothered by indications that SecondLife generates most of its economic “wealth” through a rampant virtual real estate bubble which makes San Francisco, Marina District condo look like a bargain. Nor are we particularly bothered that the virtual playground provides a safe harbor for what is effectively the phone-sex industry reinvented. And internet gambling, despite the US Federal Government’s recent protestations to the contrary, is inevitable. So why not profit off of it? And how better, than in a utopian Ayn Rand open market capitalistic metaverse?

The Test

In order to participate in a legitimate economy, there are a few basic prerequisites.
The first problem we encountered was one of counterparty risk.
Put simply, you can seldom trust those with whom you’re doing business in SecondLife. Even supposedly well established, well regarded business citizens are prone to defaulting on any obligations which prove inconvenient. Whole banks will disappear over night, along with your L$ balance.

Enter the second problem, the L$ exchange markets are effectively rigged. Sllrates20070122 At any given time over the past year or so, the SLL/USD exchange rate has hovered between about 250 and 300. That is, for every L$300 you earned, you could expect to get $1 USD.

The catch is, however, these headline rates only apply to small amounts. For small time buyers and sellers of L$ — be they virtual Johns paying up for sexy avatar escorts, or small time digital jewelry makers cashing out a couple hundred real dollars – this works well.
The private exchanges, however, are owned by the businesses which sit at the top of the SecondLife economic pyramid.

The Ponzi Scheme Epiphany

(def: a fraudulent investment operation that pays returns to investors from their own money or money paid by subsequent investors rather than from profit. The term “Ponzi scheme” is used primarily in the United States, while other English-speaking countries do not distinguish colloquially between this scheme and other pyramid schemes.

The Ponzi scheme usually offers abnormally high short-term returns in order to entice new investors. The perpetuation of the high returns that a Ponzi scheme advertises and pays requires an ever-increasing flow of money from investors in order to keep the scheme going.)

As we scratched our heads trying to figure out if there weren’t a more clever way of disguising our trades, or perhaps creating our own in-game banks and exchanges in order to arbitrage the other direction, it suddenly dawned upon me.

This game was just a pyramid scheme.

SecondLife is not a dramatic taste of our future, in which markets are virtual, currency is free from government control, taxes are non-existent, and normal people can become real millionaires simply by clicking their mouse a few times.

SecondLife isn’t even a simple virtual economy, with legitimate buying and selling, and opportunity for those who would compete.

No, SecondLife is a classic pyramid scheme. Or, more of an Amway-like pyramid: partially legitimate, partially ponzi. Sure, there are plenty of legitimate SecondLife customers who just like to go there to get their kicks, spend a couple dollars, and be on their way.

Politics of Second Life

Working for the Man

But videogames seem more and more to resemble work in a different sense: working for the Man. They hire us for imaginary, meaningless jobs that replicate the structures of real-world employment. And this represents a surprisingly literal fulfilment of the criticism Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer advanced of industrial entertainment more than 60 years ago:

Amusement under late capitalism is the prolongation of work. It is sought after as an escape from the mechanized work process, and to recruit strength in order to be able to cope with it again. But at the same time mechanization has such power over a man’s leisure and happiness, and so profoundly determines the manufacture of amusement goods, that his experiences are inevitably after-images of the work process itself. The ostensible content is merely a faded foreground; what sinks in is the automatic succession of standardized operations. What happens at work, in the factory, or in the office can only be escaped from by approximation to it in one’s leisure time.

All amusement suffers from this incurable malady. Pleasure hardens into boredom because, if it is to remain pleasure, it must not demand any effort and therefore moves rigorously in the worn grooves of association. No independent thinking must be expected from the audience: the product prescribes every reaction: not by its natural structure (which collapses under reflection), but by signals.3

If games are supposed to be fun, Adorno and Horkheimer might have asked, why do they go so far to replicate the structure of a repetitive dead-end job? Increasingly, videogames seem to aspire to a mimesis of the mechanized work process. I mean by this something different than the external recruitment process observed in the phenomena of beta releases and the mod scene, where players become unpaid testers and then contributors to the profitable extension of the corporate product.4 Rather, I want to point to the way that the classic single-player game already represents an “after-image of the work process itself”.
Shop till you drop

Today, the most common paradigm for progress in games, for example, is the idea of “earning”. Follow the rules, achieve results, and you are rewarded with bits of symbolic currency — credits, stars, skill points, powerful glowing orbs — which you can then exchange later in the game for new gadgets, ways of moving, or access to previously denied areas. The only major difference between this paradigm and that of a real-world job is that, whereas the money earned from a job enables you to buy beer and go on holiday — that is, to do things that are extraneous to the mechanized work process — the closed videogame system rewards you with things that only makes it supposedly more fun or involving to continue doing your job, rather than letting you get outside it. It is, you might say, a malignly perfect style of capitalist brainwashing.

In a great many games, the overarching economic system boils down to a matter of shopping. New skills — whether they be new physical moves, spells, or the ability to transform into a demon — are acquired instantaneously and thoroughly through currency exchange. In this way, adding insult to injury, the player is cast as a wage-slave in her leisure activity as well as in her daily life.

Some Links:

Reuters Pulls out of Second Life

Virtual Activism

Marxism Alienation and Second Life

Tuesday 10th March

This will be the last week for the workshops where we will be going through the creation of a slideshow using Flash.

Make sure that you have with you ready for tomorrow a set of images, numbered sequentially ie bridge1.jpg, bridge2.jpg etc, make them a size that is going to work within the confines of a web page. The default size for flash is 550px by 400px. So the images need to be smaller than this size to allow for the interactive buttons.

It is important that you are prepared with these images so that we can spend the majority of the workshop on focusing on the scripting and making the buttons respond to user input.

As has been said in the previous post the hand in date, preferably on usb stick, is Friday 17th April in the afternoon before 5pm to the main reception in Ellen Terry.

Missed your feedback?

I’ve had several emails from students regarding feedback.

The group feedback session was in week 7.  This was for your Photo sets on Flickr, your blogs and your websites. If you missed that session I don’t have time to reschedule individual feedback sessions. However you can hand in the FINAL artefact which is a convergent version of ALL the artefacts (Photo set, website and Flash slideshow) in the final week of term.

The hand in date for the module is March 17th. If you would like some quick feedback on your blog for your website please create a geocities account – upload your site and link to it from your blog then email me (or comment on this blog) to say it’s all there – (with the link and your name)  – and ready for me to view.


What’s the big deal about Web 2.0?


Web 2.0 World

These terms; Web 1.0, Web 2.0 are simply labels that marketing men have assigned to different types of web application since its inception – but there are some key things that differentiate the two.

Ostensibly Web 1.0 is a set of Internet applications that rely on the ‘Client Server Principle’. This is based on a simple idea where interactions between software systems are broken down into two roles:


The client server model

Clients request services : : Servers provide them.

It was the advent of browsers that enabled this scheme to become widespread. With the advent of Mosaic – the first graphical browser capable of displaying more than just ASCII (plain text) – a browser could access document and data using FTP for the first time. And it could display HTML (text, anchors, images etc). It even supported several video formats.

So why was HTML so successful?

  • It can be employed WITHOUT a deep understanding of programming
  • Numerous tools are available for writing HTML docs from simple text editors to sophisticated WYSIWYG environments

It was the release of Netscape along with various other non-Internet related events that caused an explosion in what we now refer to as Web 1.0

THE FLAT WORLD MODEL – Tom Friedman (2000)

  1. The fall of the iron curtain – opening up a whole new Eastern European market.
  2. Netscape and IE proving that MONEY could be made from the web (both browsers immediately picked up in Eastern Europe too).
  3. Software with compatible interfaces and file formats enabling people to connect all over the world (e.g Office suite).
  4. Open sourcing – the idea of self-organising collaborative communities capable of running large software projects
  5. Outsourcing – where companies concentrate on their core business and leave the peripherals to others who can do it better and cheaper
  6. Offshoring (look at how call centres have been relocated to the Indian sub-continent for example) China!
  7. Supply chaining – the idea of streamlining supply and production processes on a global basis.
  8. Insourcing – it sometimes makes sense to bring specific functions in (or back in) to a company for efficiency (look at UPS Toshiba repairs)
  9. Informing – thanks to SEARCH ENGINES. In the flat world model knowledge and entertainment can be had anytime anywhere. A 21st Century person no longer depends on print material, libraries or office space.
  10. Finally the STEROIDS (the technological developments that have made all this possible). These include: digital cabling, wireless computer access  – PDAs, cell phones, laptops, storage, computers with high-end capabilities etc etc.

Design elements of a typical Web 1.0 website

  • Static pages
  • Framesets
  • Proprietary HTML extensions such as the <blink> and <marquee> tags introduced during the first browser war
  • Online Guestbooks and contact forms
  • Top-down information
  • Meta tags

Design elements of a typical Web 2.0 website

  • Dynamically created pages
  • Categories, tags
  • Breadcrumbing
  • RSS/Atom feeds
  • User-generated conent – bottom up information


  1. Web 1.0 was about reading, Web 2.0 is about writing
  2. Web 1.0 was about companies, Web 2.0 is about communities
  3. Web 1.0 was about client-server, Web 2.0 is about peer to peer
  4. Web 1.0 was about HTML, Web 2.0 is about XML
  5. Web 1.0 was about home pages, Web 2.0 is about blogs
  6. Web 1.0 was about portals, Web 2.0 is about RSS
  7. Web 1.0 was about taxonomy, Web 2.0 is about tags
  8. Web 1.0 was about wires, Web 2.0 is about wireless
  9. Web 1.0 was about owning, Web 2.0 is about sharing
  10. Web 1.0 was about Netscape, Web 2.0 is about Google
  11. Web 1.0 was about web forms, Web 2.0 is about web applications
  12. Web 1.0 was about screen scraping, Web 2.0 is about APIs
  13. Web 1.0 was about dialup, Web 2.0 is about broadband
  14. Web 1.0 was about hardware costs, Web 2.0 is about bandwidth costs

From Darren Barefoot blog

Peer to peer network

Peer to peer network

The Way Back Machine