Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Sculptures in the Garden

In my Second Life Garden that is.


The sculpties on the left and right were made with Rokuro which can only do sculpties based on solids of revolution and the middle one is my first Blender made sculptie. What are these shapes? Who knows. The Rokuro ones are maybe fungi or stone Japanese lanterns. The Blender one, perhaps a vertebra.

I recommend Rokuro to get a feel for sculpties since it takes only a couple minutes to learn, before you tackle making sculpties with more sophisticated programs. Nothing like that first success.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Online Gambling protest in Second Life.

This is for Doug Patterson (AKA the Gambling Geek). Second Life has come down on gambling in world and this has been a source of controversy in SL as elsewhere. See this link from the official Linden Blog. Here is a screen shot taken by SL resident Arsenic Soyinka showing an SL protest of the new policy. Of course Linden labs being a private company they can do what ever they want. I do wonder how this will affect the economics of SL and what is next on the chopping block.

Who does Second Life appeal to?

One of the problems with Second Life (SL) is explaining the appeal. My wife for instance, tried SL and just does not get it at all. She likes action and mystery sorts of games-"Heroes of Might and Magic", "The Bards Tale" and "CSI" as well as point gathering games such as "Luxor". I am not much of gamer-Myst is about my speed and back when I had a Mac Quadra 650 I was also a "Sim City" addict. But I have to confess I have not played the newer variants on sims.

Part of my build in SL. If you have SL installed this link will open SL and take you to my land.

So what do I get out of Second Life? It's not the sex. After all, there is no feeling in Second Life and since I have never been turned on by porn, that has no appeal. Lots of people seem attracted to SL because of the money aspect there are people who claim to make a good hunk of their real income from Second Life. There are shoot em up sims in SL and role playing of all sorts. A lot of that doesn't appeal to me, though I am usually Simone in world. So that certainly is a role, one reflective of some of my real life issues though.

The things about SL that appeal to me are two things. First, I like to create and build-this is not too surprising since in real life I have a strong artistic bent. Next, Second, Life allows me to pull all those things together in a very immersive way. Even more so now that I can play SL on a machine that can handle the graphics. And the immersiveness is not just the 3D aspect of the SL world.

A view from an Australian Site. Wonderful texturing. SLURL= Follow this link if Second Life is Installed.

For instance I constantly bring in textures and images that I have taken and worked with digitally. I can bring in links to my poetry-even have it in world. I get to script and program. So right now I am working on my own holodeck program for teaching. What I can't build I can buy from the loads of talented designers in SL. The immersiveness of SL then is that it allows you to pull in yourself, much like blogging does.

The hitch of course is that the SL learning curve is MUCH steeper than for blogging. For instance, SL has just introduced a new type of object or "prim" called a "sculptie". Without getting into the details, most SL objects are based on simple geometric shapes. Now you can take a 3D object (say a vase or a face) made with a program such as Blender, convert into a mapping that SL can read into a special kind of object. Sounds great but it took the better part of a week to even be able to create the special textures. And it may be another week before I have this thing mastered. But since most biological shapes are not easily reduced to simple geometric forms (e.g blocks, cylinders), sculpties have a lot of potential use for me in teaching!

I don't know what the future of these sorts of 3D worlds is going to be. Right now I feel that I am back in 1993-94 hearing about this thing called the world wide web or working with one of the early browsers and coding my first HTML by hand. For me that's pretty cool.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Cardinal Flowers

Found these wonderful cardinal flowers (Lobelia cardinalis) at the Baker wetlands in Lawrence. If you have never seen these flowers live, they really are this intense red!

cardinal flower close

This photo links to my Flickr photostream. Enjoy.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

A Quiet Night in Second Life

I haven't been in world a whole lot since I haven't had a good home machine for running Second Life. My iMac at work is great but I am only there two days a week in the summer.

I have been experimenting with more organic sorts of forms for building and here is design prototype based on a sort of bacterial building module. This shows three of them put together to make a large private space.

I have textured the floor and ceiling in a wood pattern. The outside of one is visable left of center. The outside texture of my modules actually is a photo from my real life back yard which makes a great covering to blend in. The inside texture is a transparent texture. Hence I can see out but no one can see in.

The second view is the roof from underneath and you can see the roof is open and the roof lines of the three intersecting modules form a pleasing geometric pattern.

By the way, transport is via a Terra Teleporter - Mark IV Teleport system complete with Star Trek teleport effects. No doors or stairs...why bother?

It's Here!

My new computer from Velocity Micro came yesterday. I won't bore you with a geeky review but suffice to say every thing arrived in one piece and works. The specs are pretty much as shown here though I did have to go with an Asus mother board due to a hardware compatibility issue which the Velocity people caught. Everything was well packed and organized including all the little left over pieces that I might or might not need at some point.

Here is a look at the case...Doug Patterson will be pleased to note that it does have a blue LED. Doug once got on my case with my first system when I complained about the blue LED (AKA eye of Sauron) that was on the sub woofer for the speaker system.

No Doug since you will ask, I did not get the clear side panel so as to gaze upon the machine's innards bathed in blue light. However, the keyboard and mouse scroll bar are lit in glorious blue LED's. Also when you close the lower door the intake grid has the Velocity Micro logo.

The only things I don't like are the keyboard which has a slightly stiffer feel then I am used to. The hand rest is clear plastic back lit with a blue LED(of course). Also, the machine is a bit noisier than I was hoping it would be but quieter than my old system.

But it has all enough ports of various sorts to keep me happy and the media reader is great. I haven't had a chance to work with the DVD drives in any serious way but they seem to work fine as far as reading is concerned.

All the software was properly installed and Vista is better behaved and more stable than I feared it might be. I had heard about supposed hardware compatibility problems, for instance with Linksys wireless cards. But mine seems to work great. Also it is nice to have a machine at home that doesn't choke on Second Life even with the SL graphics settings pushed to the max.

So overall if you're looking for a computer, you might check out Velocity Micro over the big guys. For what I wanted, the prices were more than competitive and the service so far has been great.

Friday, July 06, 2007

A very funny nail

Supposedly J.B.S. Haldane said something to the effect that God has an "inordinate fondness for beetles." Now don't quote me on this because I wonder if this isn't one of those sayings that has gotten twisted around and taken out of context. But it is a great phrase whatever the origin. (See this link for further discussion of this quote's origin.)

Finding this wonderful fig eater, Cotinis nitida got me thinking about this quote and a few more cosmic issues. I don't know. Must be incipient heat stroke.


During the intelligent design controversy, ID proponents liked to say that all we can say about the designer is that design exists and that we cannot infer anything about the designer. So I half jokingly said that maybe we can infer that the God- excuse me, designer- was really fond of beetles. The response I got was quite clever, as ID responses often are. Namely: would a carpenter be fond of nails because he needs lots of them to build a house?

If I had been a bit quicker I might have commented on what this says about the ID view point. It really is all about purpose, human purpose, just as the old style creationism is. All the creatures around us are merely nails in some sort of grand scheme. The beetle is just a nail in a house. Whose house is it? God's house or our house. And why make such intricate nails? Why make anything at all?

The belief that the universe has a purpose is so ingrained in our minds that it often hinders our ability to think about the Universe. For instance we commonly believe in the balance of nature and that every species has its place- the niche. My students will tell me that plants carry out photosynthesis to produce oxygen. Never mind that oxygen is a waste product of photosynthesis. Many of them just don't get it.

And its not just students who's sight is blinded by purpose. Otherwise sophisticated people sometimes will say that being gay is a way of population control- sort of a group selectionist idea a la V.C. Wynne-Edwards. During the 70's and 80's scientists seriously proposed that the Earth is a great self regulating system. This is the "Gaia hypothesis" of James Lovelock and that of course blends into some slippery versions of the anthropic principle which are stated as saying that the Universe is the way that it is because we are here. And that blends Frank Tipler's notions about the fate of the universe. He claims that eventually life will fill and control the universe and through its quantum mechanical interactions with the universe reach some sort of Omega Point that he identifies with God.

Now this is an appealing notion for me because it seems to be a sort of self assembly of the sort we encounter all through out biology extended to a cosmic scale. Life bootstrapping itself up into greater and greater complexity without intervention of some sort of external intelligence. To quote Tipler:

"I also argue that the ultimate future state of the universe, the Omega Point, should be identified with God. ...If we regard God as something Ultimate, then He is telling us that He is the Ultimate Future. "

So God in the future is influencing the past, presumably through some sort of quantum mechanical entanglement. Very self referential sounding indeed. And at the same time a lot like manifest destiny-only it is life that has as its manifest destiny to become God with the power to resurrect the dead.

Of course if you are Christian, God does have that sort of ultimate power. But it seems that Tipler, like the Intelligent Design advocates, and perhaps even the group selectionists and Gaia advocates, are trying to hammer the universe into a shape that is a reflection of what we are are.

Now the impulse to do that is understandable. After all, in terms of our own evolution, the ability to bend and chip matter for our own uses and by extension modify our environment to suit our very human purposes has served us in good stead. I would not want us to retreat into some sort of technological passivity. Nor do I disavow all notions of purpose. But I believe we constantly have to 'guard or minds' against the very powerful and subtle illusion that our notions of purpose have any scientific meaning in terms of the universe. A beetle otherwise becomes merely a funny looking nail and plants produce oxygen so we can breathe.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Behe tries again...

Michael Behe has published a new book called the Edge of Evolution. The first chapter along with a review by Richard Dawkins can be found in today's New York Times books section. From the first chapter, Behe is up to the same tired old tricks intelligent design folks have foisted on the unsuspecting public since before the last century and Dawkins' response is worth noting:

"Single-handedly, Behe is taking on Ronald Fisher, Sewall Wright, J. B. S. Haldane, Theodosius Dobzhansky, Richard Lewontin, John Maynard Smith and hundreds of their talented co-workers and intellectual descendants. Notwithstanding the inconvenient existence of dogs, cabbages and pouter pigeons, the entire corpus of mathematical genetics, from 1930 to today, is flat wrong. Michael Behe, the disowned biochemist of Lehigh University, is the only one who has done his sums right. You think?"

Dawkins is right, and I know what the intelligent design people are going to do with his comment. They are going to argue that Dawkins is merely appealing to authority. They are going to try to take advantage of the public's love of the underdog fighting against the scientific establishment. But not all underdogs are right. Some of them are merely cranks and that is what Behe, Johnson, Dembski and the other persistent advocates of Intelligent Design have become- cranks who for one reason or another just don't get the paradigm of modern evolutionary biology.

Granted there are those who legitimately think that the paradigms of evolutionary biology needs a fix, or at least a fine tuning. That may well be true, but it doesn't seem likely that such a shift will be to the liking to the intelligent designists.