“A nearly impenetrable thicket of geekitude…”

Virtual iay

Excursions into virtual worlds other than game-related worlds.

One Day in Europa

one frame from the film

One of the client projects I’m working on in the virtual world of Second Life involves generating different effects at different times of the (virtual) day. Second Life’s virtual day runs six times faster than the real world’s, and there are other interesting differences (the Sun and Moon move in unison, for example) so I thought it would be useful to make a reference movie to show what things look like over a complete cycle.

Let me therefore present One Day in Europa (57MB QuickTime movie), a time-lapse film of a static view from a parcel of land I own in the Europa sim. This reduces the virtual 24-hour day (4-hour elapsed time) to three minutes plus credits. If 57MB seems a bit much, there is a smaller version (23MB) available.

If you click on the thumbnail, you can see the information panel in more detail. The first line includes the number of seconds past local midnight, followed by that same number expressed in hours, minutes, and seconds; finally, the rightmost value gives you the equivalent time on a 24-hour scale.

My thanks to Nick Rothwell of CASSIEL for permission to use a track from their album Listen/Move.


Second Life Goo and Dancing Pigs

The virtual world of Second Life has recently been suffering from a series of attacks from what has been referred to as “grey goo”, a term which is a direct reference to the scenario of uncontrolled exponential growth in nanotech replicators. The result of a grey goo attack is that the world fills up with junk that prevents anyone getting anything else done.

I haven’t covered this before because it is well known to the point of infuriation to most people connected with Second Life. What’s been more interesting recently is that people outside that community have started picking up issues like this from Second Life, particularly people more commonly associated with security in general. For example, Ed Felten wrote a couple of articles recently about the “copybot”, which allows you to make a copy of anything you can see in-world without paying for it (with some limitations, which aren’t relevant to this discussion). Professor Felten is perhaps most well known for his work on the SDMI challenge, US v. Microsoft and more recently the (in-)security of electronic voting machines.

Directly on point to the grey goo attacks is Eric Rescorla’s Beta-testing the nanotech revolution; again, this is a bit off what most people would think of as Eric’s normal beat.

But that’s my point: if you’re involved however peripherally in security systems, you walk into something like Second Life and see a lot of problems waiting to happen; as Ed Felten puts it, these are really issues “from the It-Was-Only-a-Matter-of-Time file”. New systems should be learning from the mistakes of the past, not blundering through a series of unworkable solutions every time until they get to something that works until the next bad guy comes along. Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem to be how the world operates. Ed Felten has another appropriate quote for this: “Given a choice between dancing pigs and security, users will pick dancing pigs every time.”

If you’re interested in a bit more comment about the grey goo problem per se, I attach the comment I added to Eric Rescorla’s article below.

Jonathan Coulton to appear in Second Life

Jonathan Coulton, my favourite writer of songs about robot overlords and uppity zombie co-workers, will be featuring at a Second Life Concert:

OK, this is one that everybody can attend. On September 14th I’ll be playing a show in Second Life (the show starts at 5PM SL time, aka West Coast time). Yes: a virtual show in a virtual world with my virtual self, Yonatan Coalcliff.

Alas, the show starts way past my bedtime over here in PT+8 land, so I’ll just have to hope for some good recordings by people who can be there “in person”. Just as well, really, my Code Monkey avatar is at the cleaners.

(Via Jonathan Coulton.)

Strong Angel Island

My friends and colleagues The Magicians built a beautiful and immersive Second Life shared space for the Strong Angel III event this year. I say “they” because my own contribution was very minor this time round. I did get a chance to tour the completed island the other day, and I made a video which may give you some idea of the place. The cheesy intro is courtesy of iMovie but the lack of sound is entirely my mistake.

You can see from the video that the build has a kind of calming idealised ancient Greek feeling, and includes several meeting areas with the ability to display video or still images. The centrepiece includes a model of the area of San Diego that Strong Angel are using for the real-world event. There are many imaginative touches; you’ll see an oracle and a sheep-eating Cyclops in the video, and unfortunately only a passing glimpse of a nest of tiny dragons (I should go back and re-shoot that part). In my opinion, it’s details like these that turn a potentially sterile virtual meeting room into somewhere with a real sense of being a place.

Strong Angel itself is a recurring “integrated disaster response demonstration”. It allows disaster responders to get together with technologists to explore techniques and technologies that could be used in future disaster and humanitarian relief efforts. Although it will be a while before tools like Second Life can be fully integrated into that kind of response (bandwidth is pretty thin on the ground in most of these situations) the response from the other Strong Angel participants was very positive. Rather than go into that in any more detail, I’ll refer you to Sanjana Hattotuwa’s excellent article on the subject and to his podcast interview with Kimberly Rufer-Bach, the Magicians’ Head Honcho.

[Updated 20060830: more videos of the island: one, two [2018-03-05: link removed].]


Global Kids Island

As previously mentioned, I spent some time earlier this year working on the software side of a virtual construction project in Second Life. Because the project involved building something that people had to figure out on their own, I have been a bit reticent about describing it in any detail… but now the story can be told.


It’s not exactly the cover of Time magazine, but I get a peripheral mention in the image gallery associated with a Wired article on Making a Living in Second Life. I’m the one on the left.

So far, no-one has accosted me in the street and asked for my autograph. I’m sure it is only a matter of time.

Slipped while climbing

I’ve been working on the software side of a virtual construction contract in Second Life for the last couple of weeks. I might post a bit more about that later, but for now I just want to say that the whole place is an industrial accident waiting to happen…

This post is also in the nature of a quick test of blog posting from Flickr.


Barnett in Second Life

crowd overviewBarnett answering questionsclose-up with heckling

On Wednesday I attended Thomas P.M. Barnett’s appearance in the virtual world Second Life.

Images: an overview of the gathering crowd; Dr. Barnett answering my question about the ICC; close-up with mild heckling. Click on the images for larger versions.

Summary: a significant event; a brave experiment; a qualified success; lessons can be learned.

Virtual Barnett

Thomas P.M. Barnett is a man with a vision of a better world, and clear ideas about how to get there from here. I don’t necessarily agree with (or even understand) everything in his brief (e.g., audio at IT Conversations) or his book The Pentagon’s New Map, but if he gave a lecture in my home town I’d pay good money to go and see him.

I’m therefore delighted to see that he is planning to give a lecture later this month in my other, virtual home town of Second Life.

I’ll be interested to see how well Dr. Barnett’s hurricane presentation style translates into the virtual environment; it looks from Hamlet Linden’s coverage as if there will be some streaming video for at least the visuals. I’m also curious to see how he handles being heckled by space aliens and tiny purple warthogs, but perhaps everyone will be on their best behaviour.

There, There

A few weeks back I posted about my initial visit to the virtual world called There.

Short version of the followup: I subscribed.

Longer version of the followup: see my other blog.



In which our hero visits There, a virtual world where it’s still sunny at 3am but you never seem to get a tan.

[Original 20031111; updated 20031113 after feedback. Thanks, AkAUk!]