Tuesday, August 26, 2008

A visit to Dinosaur Park

What makes Second Life so neat is that you can really play and immerse yourself in a world if only to explore. So yesterday I took a trip, actually several trips to Dinosaur Park (http://slurl.com/secondlife/Dinosaurs%20Park/229/234/22), This a real ambitious sim owned by a group called the Dinosaur's council, started by Nargus Asturias (Nargus Lab website). Nargus runs Nargus Lab whose motto is "The Past is Our Future. The web site has photos and a little history of the park.

The park is a lot like Jurassic Park right down to the labs and electric fences but it is not a slavish imitation of Jurassic park. Here's a view just outside one of the building entrances. This gives a pretty good feel for the build present in the sim:


Right now there are not too many dinosaurs wandering around but the shops and laboratory facilities are fun to visit. You might even find several Park employees hanging around such as these two dinos:


One nice feature in the visitors center is an information Kiosk that gives information on different dinosaurs and rezzes a dinosaur that you can walk around and view from different angles. This is really slick!

Here's a little raptor rezzed with this system. Unfortunately the textures were not quite fully loaded when I snapped this shot:


Another shot of a park Employee talking with me.


Well lest you get jealous as I was of the cool dino AV, never fear you can buy dino AV's at the park. Normally I try to maintain a consistent appearance as Simone but decided to have some fun and buy an avatar, an official Nargus Lab raptor. The are a bit pricey, the one I settled on was around 1500$L, but I am a big believer in supporting good Second Life designers. Besides you get what's you pay for.

So here I am, Simone as velociraptor:


As you can see, the AV is feathered very nicely reflecting current thinking about how dinosaurs. This AV comes with a HUD (Heads up display) that you can use to modify the texture, and coloring of your AV. I did not get the full mod version since I am not really experienced with modifying AV parts.

The next shot shows me wandering around the park's lab and restaurant with another visitor. Here AV is from another designer and is not nearly was well articulated as my Nargus AV.


You buy scripts and other add ons for your AV, and what I really like is you get a little card that you can take to an upgrade station to get the latest version of the AV if one is available which there was for mine. Very painless and free.

Well back at my lab:


You can see the HUD in the left hand corner of the image.

I was getting hungry so decided to go to Torley Lindon's sim Here which had these adorable bunnies and I thought it might be fun to get a shot with the bunnies before I ate them:

An Easter Scene

Unfortunately the bunnies were either hiding or gone so here I am looking very forlorn going "where the bunnies I'm hungry!"

Where's the food?

Warning! If you gt one of these AV's, make sure you properly save your current AV. When I switched back to my usual appearance, I had a little bit of trouble putting myself back together again. For instance the AV's script gives me a male shape-really ugly and so I had to find my female shape again. But the whole experience was lots of fun and my difficulty was probably more related to my lack of experience in radical AV transformations than to the dinosaur AV.

Dinosaur park is really engaging, the scripts operate very smoothly and the AV's are lots of fun and well thought out. There need to be more dinosaurs, yummy dino food in the restaurant and right now the labs are pretty empty. Looks like that will change. I know I will keep going back and even if you are not a dinosaur person, there are lots of neat little ideas that could be incorporated into educational builds.

Friday, August 22, 2008

More about this Blog.

As noted in the header, this blog is narrowly focused on using Second Life to teach biology. So I probably ought to explain my thinking. One of the problems in teaching biology is getting the students to under stand how the big processes in biology work, such as cellular respiration, photosynthesis, protein synthesis and for that matter evolution.

What attracted me to Second Life was not only the ability to build and texture objects and place them in an immersive environment but also the ability to link objects together and script them and so was born my sabbatical project to develop some simulations tools in Second Life that students could then experiment with.

For example in photosynthesis how about if students could uncover the relationship between light absorption and oxygen production for themselves, much like they would do in a laboratory setting. Or how about if they use working mock ups of lab equipment before doing the real thing.

There are other biology places in Second Life, for instance Max Chatnoir's Genome Island (http://slurl.com/secondlife/Genome/145/84/30). Max has done some really nice genetics work in Second Life and I have even taken my students there and Max has graciously served as our host. See the post about this on my general blog, The Force That Through.

As an aside, you will notice that some links are slurls, literally second life urls. These will take you to the Second Life map and if Second Life is installed on your computer you can teleport you avatar to the place in Second Life I am discussion. I will always show the whole slurl so you don't get surprised by one if you don't have Second Life installed.

So what sorts of things will I cover here? Obviously other biology sites and efforts similar to mine. Also as I fumble through scripting and try to build cool things and explore various aspects of SL's scripting language. So this is my place to get geeky. I am a photographer-OK I take lots of pictures-in real life and really love that I can use these as the basis for realistic textures so you will some of my texturing efforts.

I will cover Second Life Science events and hopefully throw in some interviews with more seasoned users of Second Life for education, of and maybe students(now there is a thought, ya think?). I will continue to blog about SL on my general blog, The force that through and on occasion on my Science Blog, Dangerous Ideas...but geek attack moments and scripting stumblings (all to common!) will be here now.

As absorbing as Second Life is to me and as much as I think it is a useful tool, it does have limitations. These become quite clear to anyone who has tried to visit a large online event in Second Life. I am really interested in what makes a good Second Life experience for Students and how do we figure this out?

Sometimes I wonder if Second Life is still waiting for a "killer app" or some technological breakthrough that will really get people excited. I get excited by the creative possibilities in design and scripting, but students want something that they can use quickly, they want structure and something where they can learn without lots of technical issues getting in the way. I think these needs can be met in Second Life but it is going to take really careful design borrowing from game design. It's a bit like the early days of the web when we didn't know a whole lot about web page design and now we are trying to work in three dimensions? Gaack!

By the way you can always look for me and visit my office in Second Life. The SLurl is http://slurl.com/secondlife/Carmine/171/224/137.