Monday, July 30, 2007

Canon Powershot S5 vs. Panasonic DMC-FZ8

I've been in a bit of a quandary ever since I went ahead and ordered the Panasonic DMC-FZ8 in time for my first New York trip even though I heard that Canon was coming out with a new Powershot High-Zoom camera soon after I would return. Today, I finally got around to reading Digital Photography's review of the new Canon Powershot S5 paying particular attention to the comparisons of ISO-Sensitivity and noise levels since my most demanding work is produced in museums without the benefit of flash or tripod. DPReview didn't provide a side-by-side comparison of Canon vs. Panasonic so I had to improvise:

My eyes are getting older these days but it looks to me like the Panasonic suffers from less noise than the S5 although there is a slight loss of detail. Actually, to be honest, the Sony DSC-H9 & Sony DSC-H5 seemed to have roughly the equivalent level of noise of the Panasonic with a little more detail than the Panasonic. All three appear to me to outperform the Canon S5 in this category.

As a former financial officer I also can't help but think about bang for the buck. The Panasonic cost me $269 compared to the Sony's $369 and the Canon's $469. The Panasonic is the only one of the three that can output in Raw format, has about twice as many scene modes, and weighs a mere 310 g compared to the Sony's 407 g and the Canon's 450 g. For someone like me with a problem with familial tremor, 100 -150 g can make a big difference especially if you couple that with one of the industry's leading image stabilization systems.

So, I guess I made the right choice for me based on my needs. I just wish Panasonic would be able to approach the High ISO quality output of the Fuji F-30. I have governed the Panasonic down to ISO-800 in my settings because the noise level is just totally unacceptable at the Panasonic's ISO settings higher than that. So, I keep my Fuji F30 with me too for those really dark exhibits.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Cable Without a Cable Box, and TV Shows Without a TV - New York Times

This article caught my attention because it discusses the potential for Cable Card integration in internet convergent devices. My DishNetwork DVR comes equipped with a Cable Card. I would love to have it become a way for me to use Amazon UnBox video on demand. Up until now, however, the Dish DVR has been extremely limited to proprietary interconnection. I cannot even use the USB port on it to download a movie I have recorded to my iPod. Dish definitely needs to get with the program!

Cable Without a Cable Box, and TV Shows Without a TV - New York Times: "Cable companies in the United States now have to separate the security functions that prevent you from watching channels you haven’t paid for from the TV tuner box most of us rent.

The practical result of the rule is that cable companies now have to supply set-top boxes that come with a removable CableCard. The cards, which look like the PC Cards used in notebook computers, contain the information necessary to unscramble digital cable channels like HBO.

But they could allow other equipment to become much more versatile. The cards are designed to be inserted into a host of other devices, including TVs, digital video recorders (DVRs) and computers. Companies like Toshiba, Panasonic, Microsoft and Hewlett-Packard have sought this breakthrough for years because it opens an array of features for CableCard-equipped devices. Cable companies have resisted the idea, which should surprise no one.

TiVo has just come out with a more affordable HD DVR with two CableCard slots and up to 20 hours of HD recording, for $300.

The TiVo-Amazon service offers cineastes thousands of movies to rent, compared with the scant mainstream-only offerings of cable’s pay-per-view services. TiVo boasts other features that keep it ahead of cable, including the ability to schedule a recording at home over the Internet from, say, your computer at work, or to record videos automatically from Web-based channels. Services like this are encouraging others to begin selling CableCard-ready set-top boxes.

Digeo, which already supplies set-top boxes to cable companies that in turn lease them to subscribers, says it plans to sell a new model in stores this fall. Digeo’s machine, the Moxi Multi-Room HD DMR, not only will include a TiVo-like DVR but also will let owners add more hard disk storage to expand the number of shows owners can record and store. Moxi owners will also be able to use the box to store music and pictures and watch recordings on TVs in other rooms. Prices for the CableCard-ready box have not yet been announced."

Friday, July 20, 2007

Lulu offers image marketing tools without Corbis hassles

I was excited to discover this week that now offers user storefronts for selling images - both for download and art prints (with Lulu providing the matting, framing, and shipping). Their interface is pretty intuitive and offers the ability to set individualized copyright selection (Since I offer noncommercial use for free up on Flickr, I select Creative Commons Attribution rights on Lulu to provide commercial use for a fee). It also lets me specify the attribution text, automatically informs me what print size the resolution I have uploaded will support, lets me enter a detailed description, and provides extra art print options for purchasers if I have selected that distribution option.

They also have calendar templates available and I have several ideas for calendar themes I want to design. I also took advantage of their Live Help Chat interface to help me with my first product offering. The only thing that confused me a little is that when I clicked on the Set License button on the Licensing screen after I had already input my desired price, the interface took me to another layout for me to choose from additional rights options and deleted my pricing. I have now learned to click on the Set License button first, then select my license (in my case I must go to still another screen to choose Creative Commons Attribution), then enter my pricing information and click Save and Publish.

One other thing to be sure to do is to set your remission options in your account settings. If you don't set any remission options, Lulu will donate your revenue to a charity. I think they should automatically take you to the remission set up screen the first time you publish a product but they do not. It's up to you to remember to do it. However, it's still a great service and I won't even bother with SnapVillage anymore.

Today, I noticed that Lulu has signed an agreement with Getty Images to allow LuLu creators to use licensed images from the Getty Stockbyte, Digital Vision and Photodisc collections and Lulu will automatically add the license fee to the cost of the project much like they do with the matting and framing costs.

It's a way of integrating original content with licensed content that's long been needed:

"Creators of all sorts, from companies to authors, to hobbyists, to non-profits have been looking for higher quality images to incorporate into their creations whether these are technical manuals, novels, photo books or calendars. Our partnership with Getty Images will empower creators to not only have access to this content, but to use it to make their creations more marketable." - Bob Young, CEO

I also noticed that you can get product specific "Buy Now from" buttons similar to the Amazon associate product-linked icons like this:

Support independent publishing: buy this artwork on Lulu.

Terrific job,!!!!

Casio creates camera for YouTube video enthusiasts and Ebay sellers

I think these product offerings are particularly interesting because they address a particular market usage of the output rather than just output in standard formats. However, I am a little skeptical of the higher-end output that a semi-pro would demaind. I couldn't find any reviews yet for this particular model camera that included actual image evaluation but other Casio cameras released this year have customer comments that complain of noise and distortion using the zoom. Not a good trade-off. But, maybe Casio made improvements with these models. I'll have to keep an eye out for a comprehensive review up at - sort of my gold standard for camera reviews.

"Posting a note on an Internet forum is simple. Uploading a video to YouTube isn’t. Matching a video you have shot to YouTube’s requirements for file size, running time, resolution and file format often takes some fiddling with video editing software. And loading most camcorder videos into that computer takes as long as playing them.

Two still cameras from Casio may help change that. The Exilim EX-S880 and EX-Z77 shoot YouTube-compatible videos that can be uploaded quickly, without even pausing to load them onto your computer’s hard drive. This is accomplished by using the included YouTube Uploader software, which also lets you add tags and other information to each video.

Both cameras also have an eBay mode that shoots 2-megapixel stills, just the right size for eBay sellers. Maximum resolution is 8.1 megapixels for the EX-S880 ($299.95) and 7.2 megapixels for the EX-Z77 ($229.95).

Both models have 3X zoom lenses, face detection and electronic antishake systems that work even in video mode."

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Filemaker 9 introduces more useful features and better SQL integration

I just finished reading the specs for the new Filemaker 9 and the great news is that it is compatible with 7, 8, and 8.5 so there will not need to be a further migration to use the version 9 client. One of the major new features is the ability to exchange data with external SQL and Oracle databases. It also lets you produce a PhP-powered database-driven website directly from within Filemaker. Other new features include:

*New Conditional Formatting that can be applied to fields, FileMaker Web Viewer objects, text objects, or text based buttons. Choose from a list of pre-defined conditions or create your own with a calculation for enhanced reporting. For example, you can now set future due dates to green and past due dates to red and bold. ( I won’t have to create special calculated fields to do this anymore)

*Just click on Send Link and FileMaker Pro will create an email with a simple hyperlink that when clicked on, will open your database. You can edit the email in your email client to add any additional instructions or information about your database for your users making it easier than ever for your users to connect to your database.

*With the new Append to PDF feature, you can combine multiple reports into one PDF and email the PDF to the recipients you specify, connecting them to the latest information. (I think the Send as Excel and Send as PDF feaure was one of the best of the last version)(Again a great timesaver for solutions with dozens of scripts)

*Add a status bar or display HTML content stored in your database with the new FileMaker Web Viewer options. (Does this mean no more coffeecup?)

*Field Level Spell Checking so you can turn on or off visual spell-checking for individual fields.

*Multiple Undos and Redos so you can undo and redo more than once when editing text within a field.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

More on Property Releases

This morning I found a reference to the PROPER use of property releases:

"In some cases, you'll need to obtain a release for using pictures of places. You may find this odd -- after all if a building can be viewed publicly why is permission required to use an image of it? Over the last few decades some buildings have earned protection under both trademark or copyright laws or both. Trademark law will protect a building's appearance under very limited circumstances. If a distinctive-looking building is used to signify a business's services, then you cannot use an image of that building in a manner that will confuse consumers. For example, the Sears Tower in Chicago functions as a trademark, and if you intend to use it in the foreground of an advertisement, permission should be obtained from the Sears Company. Use of the building's image for informational purposes, such as in magazine article, does not require permission.

Is permission needed to use the image of a trademarked building on a postcard or poster? That issue arose when a photographer sold images of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. A federal court of appeals permitted the use of the trademarked building on posters and did not consider it to be trademark infringement. (Rock and Roll Hall of Fame v. Gentile, 134 F.3d 749 (6th Cir. 1998).)

Copyright protection also extends to architectural works, specifically for architectural works created after March 1, 1989. However copyright protection also has limitations. A release is not needed to photograph a building or property visible from a public place. However, permission is needed to photograph and reproduce images of a building protected by copyright and not visible from a public place. Entering private property to photograph a building or related private property may also trigger a claim of trespass. To avoid such claims, photographers, publishers and filmmakers use a property release, sometimes known as a location release." - Stanford University Copyright and Fair Use Overview

Take that Corbis!

Then I found an ultra-conservative usual legal eagle approach described in an article on the ASMP website:


The whole subject of property releases is filled with urban legend, assumption and myth, along with a bit of actual law. As you know, using a person’s likeness for trade or advertising purposes requires a model release. That is because a person has a reputation to protect, a right of privacy and (in some states) a right of publicity. Property has none of these rights. So why should you go to the trouble to get a release?

It’s a good question, but one that requires a complicated answer. ASMP has never seen a statute or a legal case that requires a release for property. The recommendation that you get one is based upon two legal theories.

Below, we use a house as the property in question. Remember that the theories can apply to property other than real estate, such as pets, cars, works of art and other personal property.

Association. The first theory is that a person’s identity might be connected to the property. Take a picture of a house and use it in an article about drug users, and the owner might get angry enough to sue. Why? because everyone on the block knows whose house it is, and, since the house is not actually connected with drugs, the image was used out of context and paints the owner in a bad light. If the owner sees the use of the image as defamation of character, a lawsuit might be the response.

Conversion. The second theory is that there is an offense called conversion, which means that you used another’s property to your own personal gain without the owner’s permission. It is a bit like copyright infringement, which covers intangible property, except it covers tangible property. If I rent out your house while you are away without your permission, I have converted it to my personal gain. That is conversion. The question is this: Is it conversion if I rent out a picture of your house for an advertisement without your permission? The picture of your house is not your tangible property. Is the photo of the house the equivalent of the house (at least for these purposes)?

We know of no case that has ever settled those kinds of questions. ASMP advises that property releases be acquired whenever possible because we don’t want to see you be the test case. - ASMP Property and Model Release Tutorial

If the courts should ever uphold a claim of conversion about public domain artwork it will totally destroy the rights granted to the public by legislation defining public domain work. Corbis as the sponsor of SnapVillage may decide to require property releases where none is actually required by law but this action will defeat the stated purpose of their website as a site for amateurs and semi-professional photographers to sell their work. People should not be held liable for laws that don't exist yet (and hopefully never will!)

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Blog-for-pay websites create storm of controversy

"Does it exist to game Google search results and generate revenue through Google's AdWords advertising service by displaying contextual ads next to the copy? Or is it a new kind of media site, chock-full of original articles written mostly by average folk about everything from presidential pardons and karaoke to smoker's guilt and ventriloquism?

Add to the mix at Associated Content two prominent board members--Tim Armstrong, head of advertising for Google in North America, and venture capitalist Eric Hippeau, a managing partner at SoftBank Capital, who also happens to serve on Yahoo's board of directors--and you have a little company that's drawing outsized and quite possibly unwanted attention.

But while there are plenty of questions about this start-up, no one seems to be able to say it's actually doing anything wrong.

"This kind of service is not entirely clear-cut," said Danny Sullivan, editor of the Search Engine Land blog. "It's not a case that they are bad or should be banned, but they are embroiled in this kind of a debate."

Denver-based Associated Content was formed in 2004 and received $5.4 million in funding from SoftBank. It bills itself as a "user-driven information portal" and content provider, licensing content to other online publishers. The articles are "optimized for discovery and revenue generation," according to a news release on the company Web site. In other words, they're designed to be easy to find on Google through various search optimization techniques used by many publishers, not just people accused of gaming search results.

The company asks bloggers to write on the subjects of their choosing and accepts text, video and audio. Contributors can be paid based on the quality of the article and keyword optimization.

In most ways, Associated Content's methods seem fitting for any typical Web site--do your best to get play on Google search results and make money off its advertising. In fact, Associated Content is hardly the only company churning out content to match with Google ads. The success of Google's AdSense program, which matches ads with content on Web sites, and the growth of blogging applications have led to the emergence of pay-for-blogging companies that help match willing writers with sites that want content.

What separates legitimate content marketplaces from so-called "Made for AdSense" companies that generate content purely for marketing purposes is the intent of the company and the quality of the articles, said Rand Fishkin, co-founder and chief executive of search marketing firm SEOmoz.

That gets closer to the heart of the controversy. The dividing line between people who don't have a problem with Associated Content and those who do seems to come down to one of the most hard-to-define aspects of a Web site: quality. And quality, as most people know, is terribly difficult to define. As the 20th-century U.S. Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart once said in declining to venture too far into a definition of pornography: "I know it when I see it."

Well, since quality seems to be the bone of contention here, I decided to go up to Associated Content's website and have a look. I'm afraid I wasn't too impressed with either the topics or the writing quality.

Let's examine some of their "showcase" headlines:

Funniest Fortune Cookies Ever

The Awesomeness of Baseball

Should Parents Let Kids Sip Beer?

John's Relevance in American Culture
(an article about the significance of the name "John" in American Culture)

I'm afraid I don't find any of these topics worthy of my reading time or a valuable use of the so-called author's time either. I'm not even sure what Google Ad Sense ads would be triggered by these inane topics.

There were at least two other headlines that had some potential:

DIY iPod Skins in Photoshop

As a technology person, I was interested enough to open this article. I was a little disappointed that the author was really talking about designing stickers for your iPod, not a software "skin" that changes the look of the iPod interface. But, he did mention the use of an overlay using the blend mode "Color Burn" in Photoshop. I have spent thousands of hours in Photoshop but had never used the Color Burn blend mode. I am going to try it out because I want to create a line of tote bags that feature my photography for sale up at Cafe Press and they provide downloadable templates to fit the base stock that will be used for the final product. Like the template example in the iPod skins article, I need to see the lines of the template through the image as I am sizing it. I'll give Associated Content at least 2 stars for this piece.

Does Internet Chatting Affect R Grammar?

This article would have been interesting if it had included an interview of an English professor expounding on the observed effects of internet chat "shorthand" in other communication formats. As it was, it was only a couple of paragraphs of internet chat gooblety-gook that you had to struggle to read followed by a couple of dictionary paragraphs about the definition of jargon. Then a couple of paragraphs giving the author's opinion about what it all means.

I was a bit surprised by one of his assumptions:

"A large motivation for the evolution and creation of what is referred to as "Netspeak" was to defeat IRC parsers that go through large amounts of logged IRC text searching for keywords. Everyone from the FBI to other hackers were constantly trying to monitor them, steal their secrets, or whatever hidden agenda they had. Introducing symbols, random capitalizations, and numbers into words was viewed as a way to defeat these individuals."

Quite honestly, I thought keyboard shortcuts were derived to ease the burden of people who were less than stellar typers!

I checked the author's education and he claims only "educated guesses". At least he's honest. Of course he's falling into the trap I used to discuss with my Creative Writing students. He is writing an opinion piece about a topic in which he has no particular expertise. If he had produced a quick reference list of online acronymns and their meaning, it probably would have been fine. But, his headline promises more - an analysis of the effect of extensive use of these chat shortcuts on English grammar as a whole. This promise requires at least some expert quotes.

Many academicians refuse to allow students to cite Wikipedia because it is user-produced content. But, many articles in Wikipedia are heavily annotated with extensive bibliographies. Associated Content makes Wikipedia look like the Encylopedia Britannica!

SnapVillage use hampered by Corbis corporate view of reproduction rights

After reading about SnapVillage, a new stock photography site sponsored by Microsoft and Corbis, I uploaded five of my images over a week ago, three of 16th century sculptural artwork displayed on public property in Florence, Italy including the sculpture of Hercules battling the Centaur Nessus created by Giovanni Bologna in 1599 (at left), one of a fresco adorning an exterior surface of the Villa Giulia in Rome constructed between 1551 and 1553 and now the National Museum of Etruscan Art owned by the Italian government, and one modern bronze sculpture of Benjamin Franklin purchased by the city of Santa Barbara for public display along a pedestrian walkway.

After a long wait for review, I received notice from SnapVillage that they were requiring property releases for all but one of the images. Their viewpoint is apparently that simple ownership of a piece of public domain art somehow grants the present owner of the work the right to "sell" or "grant" the right to create a derivative work (photograph). This is in direct opposition to the current copyright provisions that place such work in the public domain. I guess I shouldn't be surprised. Corbis (aka Microsoft) uses this approach as a rationale to charge publishers hefty sums to use their images of such art. However, if their purpose, as stated in a recent New York Times article, is to capitalize on the vast number of images currently being produced by so-called amateurs or semi-professionals because they fear their core business will be cannibalized by them, they need to abide by current copyright laws and not try to enforce policies developed by corporate marketing interests that do not have the weight of international law.

Copyright was originally instituted to encourage the creativity of artists and creators, not provide a capital asset for business interests who acquire the work. Trying to transfer the copyright from creator to owner is a travesty of the original intent of the law.

Key legal points:
Under the Berne convention, the minimum duration for copyright protection is the life of the author plus 50 years (Art. 7(1)).   Signatory nations may provide longer durations if they so choose.  

Three of my images were taken in Italy, a signator of the Berne convention, as is the United States. Italy since joined
the European Union. To commonize the application of copyright laws in its member nations
the EU enacted Directive 2006/116/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 12 December 2006 on the term of protection of
copyright and certain related rights (codified version)

"In order to establish a high level of protection which at the same time meets the requirements of the internal market
and the need to establish a legal environment conducive to the harmonious development of literary and artistic creation in the
Community, the term of protection for copyright should be harmonised at 70 years after the death of the author or 70 years after the work is
lawfully made available to the public, and for related rights at 50 years after the event which sets the term running."

It further states:

In the case of anonymous or pseudonymous works, the term of protection shall run for 70 years after the work is
lawfully made available to the public. However, when the pseudonym adopted by the author leaves no doubt as to his identity, or if the
author discloses his identity during the period referred to in the first sentence, the term of protection applicable shall be that laid
down in paragraph 1.

The images I took of the 16th century sculptures are far beyond the maximum time period of copyright protection for such works. Although ownership to the sculptures does not convey any copyright, the owner of the works (the Ufizzi Gallery) has further chosen to display the works outdoors in a public plaza. Therefore, they do not control access to the works with any implied rights by grant of access.

For Corbis to insist upon a property release is ridiculous. If Corbis continues in this interpretation, they deserve to suffer the cannibalism that they fear.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Travel providers turn up the heat in the digital kitchen

"One of the perks of travel used to be enjoying amenities you did not have at home: watching HBO in your hotel room, for instance, or catching an in-flight movie before there was such a thing as VCRs.

But sometime during the digital revolution, consumers’ home entertainment technology began making the travel industry look as if it were stuck in an analog era, with most airlines showing bland films on tough-to-view overhead screens and hotels’ television lineups disappointing guests accustomed to TiVo...

While cash-short American airlines are generally not investing as much in entertainment technology, a few carriers are introducing in-flight systems, partly to keep up with their foreign competitors.

For instance, Delta is introducing a new seatback system, Delta on Demand, that features 24 channels of live television, up to 28 films, 12 video games, more than 1,600 songs and 45 hours of HBO programming, including episodes of popular television shows. The system is now on 100 aircraft, including economy class on some planes. The live TV and games are free throughout the aircraft, although there are charges for some programs in coach."

I had the opportunity to try out the Delta seatback system recently on my flight from Eugene, Oregon to New York City. When I changed planes in Salt Lake City, I was seated on one of these updated aircraft. In coach class, most of the content required a payment of from $1.99 to $3.99 for television programs to feature films. If you didn't own a compatible headset, the stewardesses had them available for sale for $2.00. I noticed they collapsed nicely into a small profile for storing in your purse or briefcase. Actually, one of the most popular options was a free trivia game in which you played against other passengers on the aircraft. The system could handle something like 10 simultaneous players. As passengers tired of it and signed off new passengers would login. The man sitting next to me liked it so much he played for the entire flight. I needed a break after a while and signed off and dozed to rest my eyes. The proximity of the screen seems to cause a bit of eye fatigue. At least it keeps you distracted between snacks and beverage services although a video i-Pod does a pretty good job too!

Monday, July 09, 2007

OpenDNS offers faster, more accurate searches

This service sounds like a promising way to reduce phishing if nothing else:

"David Ulevitch is trying to turn two numbers into a multimillion-dollar business.

Mr. Ulevitch’s offer is quite simple. People who sign up for his service at are promised an easier way to locate Web pages and more protection from people who try to steal personal information from Web users.

It can also block Web sites that offer pornography or other undesired material.

He does this by using the Domain Name System, or DNS, which is the phonebook for the Internet. Every Web site is assigned unique machine-readable numbers which are used to direct Internet traffic. Mr. Ulevitch inserts his service between a user’s computer and the broader Internet. When an Internet-connected computer or router is configured by adding’s two numbers — and — OpenDNS makes it possible to access Web sites faster.

His service will also correct standard spelling mistakes. For example, if a user types instead of, OpenDNS will redirect the query to the correct Web page. OpenDNS also makes it possible for users to use the Web address query box of a Web browser in the same way users now use the search engine query box found in all modern Web browsers. Typing a search request into the regular Web address box on a computer that uses the OpenDNS service will return search results and related advertisements from Yahoo."

Friday, July 06, 2007

Online architects offer customization to stock plans

Another example of taking a basic idea and giving it an internet twist:

"IN mid-May, Don DeFeo was overseeing the finishing touches on his Shoreham, Vt. summer home, a three-bedroom modernist design with cedar tongue-and-groove siding and a wall of windows to capture the view of 33 acres of rolling hills. In an area where most residences tended to be either “100 years old or a new house that looks like a 100-year-old house,” Mr. DeFeo said his home stood out for its contemporary design. But it wasn’t one of a kind. Mr. DeFeo bought the plan from an architect who sells ready-made designs online...

The business isn’t new; books and magazines have long featured home designs for purchase. What has changed is the accessibility of such plans on the Internet and the growth of stock plans, which some architects have turned to as a side activity to their custom designs.

The second-home market is helping to fuel the trend. While design firms don’t have hard numbers on the number of online plans bought for second homes, architects who sell their designs on the Web say that the second-home shopper is a sought-after customer.

The way architects present their online plans says it all. Donald A Gardner Architects, based in Greenville, S.C., divides up its plans into categories like country homes, vacation homes, resort homes and beach homes., based in Novato, Calif., classifies its home designs as beach, coastal and cottage styles, among others.

THREE of the most popular plan categories at Architectural House Plans, based in Sausalito, Calif., are cabins, small houses and country homes. And Ross Chapin Architects sells ready-made plans through its GoodFit division that are suited to a second-home client looking for a small, easy-to-maintain residence. “They naturally capture the essence of cozy retreats,” said Debbie Loudon, the public relations director for the company.

While so-called online architects vary in the size and variety of their designs, as well as how much service they provide for modifications, they do have one thing in common: their plans cost just a fraction of what one would pay an architect for a custom design.

And for some buyers, the savings is motivation enough."

Virtual Campus Obliterated After Residents Violate SecondLife's Big Six

"Woodbury University has been obliterated. The real-world campus of 1,500 students still stands, in Burbank, Calif. But in the freewheeling virtual world Second Life, Woodbury has been deleted.

Linden Lab, the company that runs Second Life, simply blanked Woodbury out of existence sometime during the last week of June.

The company took the drastic step, officials said, after administrators for the university's area ignored warnings to stop avatars -- digital characters -- affiliated with its region from engaging in disruptive and hostile behavior...

Woodbury is not the only college that has run into real-world problems after allowing visitors free access to a virtual site.

Troublemakers like to cause scenes at places where people are gathered, often displaying nude images or offensive language. Or they may stalk other users online.

The bad practices, referred to as "griefing," pose a challenge for any organization that creates a place in Second Life. How can officials stop such activities without having to constantly police their island?

In one disturbing incident, a user entered a virtual building on Ohio University's island with a virtual gun and began shooting other visitors.

Ohio University shut down its island until officials were able to get rid of the virtual gunman, says Muriel Ballou, director of Ohio University Without Boundaries, the institution's Second Life presence.

The university routinely works with Linden Lab, which runs Second Life, to root out such troublemakers, she says. Incidents like the virtual shooting helped spur Ohio to be on guard for any further offensive content.

At the same time, says Ms. Ballou, the university wants to keep the island open to all visitors to come and go as they please. Finding the right policies to achieve that balance is something that many users of Second Life will have to work through, she says. "You do have to think about it, because this is an open environment."

As a newbie in Second Life I was wondering about the notecard I read about "combat zones". Can avatars really get killed in SecondLife? Does it mean you can't use that username anymore if you do? Does this article mean that organizations with a presence in SecondLife are going to have to assign real world administrators to their islands to keep out the rifffraff? Do university legal counsels have to worry about avatar misconduct in SecondLife?

Thursday, July 05, 2007

SecondLife like a holodeck in miniature

With all the flurry of activities lately focused on SecondLife I decided I’d better finally give in and give it a try. Now, I think I’m doomed!!! I blew away five hours yesterday morning without hardly realizing it!

I also discovered it’s a little scary psychologically speaking. I’ve been “invisible” so long that I am now uncertain what to do now that I have a young body again in SecondLife and men suddenly take an interest in talking to me. I hope I can keep conversations on a totally intellectual level. I don’t want to give anyone the wrong impression. This environment could have real implications for psychologists wishing to study human interaction because you can edit your avatar anytime you wish or totally transform into a completely different ethnicity, gender, etc. with the click of the mouse. And, as I have already observed in my brief time there, other people’s reactions change accordingly. Throw in the tendency for some people to ignore social graces in the online environment and you have a potentially volatile combination.

There are six rules that apply to SecondLife meant to minimize social havoc but there are always those people who are looking for ways around the rules. I was in Help Island and a man walked in without anything on but body tattoos even though the rules clearly state nudity is prohibited in areas not marked as mature. He was probably an experienced resident who created a new account with a custom avatar and was prancing around just to see how long he could get away with it.

However, SecondLife is exciting – like a holodeck in miniature. There are interesting places to go and beautiful environments to enjoy. There is a list of educational sites and I saw that the Weather Service has built a simulation where you can experience what it is like to fly a plane through a hurricane. Now if I can just get my nerve up enough to teleport to the mainland!

Louis Pasteur would be bug-eyed over the Eyeclops!

Now here's something to help you pass the time! I laughed when I read the part about "you don't even want to look at the hair on your arm!"

"Now you can transform your TV screen into a microscope viewfinder with EyeClops, a scientific toy from Jakks Pacific, which is known for plug-and-play TV toys that cut the PC out of the equation.
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Looking like a baseball-size eyeball with a pistol grip, this $50 microscope plugs into the video port on a TV and is powered by five AA batteries. It will be available early next month at and major retailers.

When you aim the center of the eye at a target, like a scrap of fabric, your TV screen fills up with a view guaranteed to draw young gawkers. Salt crystals look like something from a glacier, fabric like spaghetti. You don’t even want to look at the hair on your arm.

The subjects are illuminated by three L.E.D.s, and the single 200x magnification setting is ideal for discovering the individual pixels on a cellphone screen, or the dots of ink on a dollar bill. Accessories include a holder for examining live bugs. Toys like this can help you persuade your spouse of the educational merits of that new big-screen TV."- Warren Buckleitner

Ringtones to give way to Avatars as Cell Carrier Search For Next Big Thing

It looks like I created my SecondLife avatar just in time. Hear what David Pogue, who recently attended a celluar services conference in Lake Como, Italy has to say about the future of cell (and it's not all iPhone either!):

"On the exhibit floor, companies were demonstrating very, very cool next-generation services for the onrushing era of unified communications. FastWeb, a company that started only in 2000 and is now a $365 million quad-play company in Italy, lets its customers watch any TV show that's aired in the past three days, on any channel, whenever they like. It's like retroactive TiVo.

Other demos included upcoming services that let you text messages to and from characters inside Second Life, the virtual-reality game; a software module that brings your phone's incoming text messages onto your computer screen, so you don't miss them and can reply with your keyboard; and various systems that unify your communications (voice, text messages and chat, for example), giving you a single address book and mailbox for all of them.

You know how young people are spending $10 billion a year on ringtones, just because it lets them express themselves? The next big thing, I'm convinced, will be avatars. This feature, too, was on display: You design your own little character, or avatar, choosing a hairstyle, clothes, facial features and so on. Then, whenever you call people, your character appears on their cellphone screens. I'll bet avatars will be the next huge teen fad in 2010 or so.

But don't look for any of these goodies here in the United States.

I get the distinct impression that American cellphone carriers are calcified, conservative and way behind their European and Asian counterparts."

Personally, I think its more than just cellphone carriers that are calcified here!