Friday, June 11, 2010

A View of the Lab: The Future of Linden Lab and Second Life

Is the virtual sky falling? Is Second Life dying? Is Linden Lab failing?

As the CEO and founder of Literature Alive! in Second Life, I have invested countless hours developing, building, and shelling out serious personal clams to work in an environment rich with educational possibilities.

I have very mixed feelings about the direction LL is taking, but I am not sure these feelings can be articulated in any meaningful way.

Long ago, I decided that I could not have a personal gaming life and a professional educational presence in Second Life. The work of Literature Alive! was more important to me than my personal (read not funded) research on gender communication in virtual worlds. I cut off most personal relationships on the grid that did not deal with education (Adrian, Aerolite). My little band of personal friends (Eloise, Lilly, and Daliah) were invested in Literature Alive! Fellow members of the FIC ("fettered Inner Core" - a term devised by Prokovy Neva to categorize folks invited to San Fran through the SL Views program) are still among the people I love to chat with in the odd chance I am inworld. All of the Lindens I knew and loved (Philip, Chadrick, Blue, Iridium, Everett, Jeska, Claudia, Glenn) have walked or been given walking papers.

The LL that exists today is not the one I loved 3 years ago. I blame this on M. I don't know if it is a good thing or bad thing for LL and SL, but it feels a whole lot more like an insurance company than a progressive and stunning environment.

But, I knew this was coming. When LL took away the land they donated for Dante's Inferno with some kind of lame excuse (we only promised it for 2 weeks...really? Where was I when you mentioned that??), I knew the cards were stacked. The work of the truly creative was less important, and the work of the money makers was more important.

Ok, they are a business and not a charity. I get it.

So, I am sitting here and thinking about what bugs me about all these changes. Aside from some terribly creative souls getting the heave ho, something is eating away at me. And then, while scooping sugar by the truck load into my coffee cup, it dawned on me. The glory days are over.

I have always been that girl that missed the glory days by 1 year. Either they happened before I got there or after I left. The "hey day" or "hay day" has always passed me. I realized, a the coffee pot, that I have been part of the "hey-hay day" of LL and SL. Finally! But, sadly, it is called that because it ends. "Back in the day" means that it survives...but isn't the same.

I can do exactly what I did 3 years ago in SL. Nothing has changed for me. I still use SL to build immersive literary builds for my literature students. Since I never made money, I am not losing any money. Since I can build my own stuff with the dear help of Elo, I don't pay out as much. I stopped asking for land donations a long time ago.

So, for Literature Alive!, Second Life is what it has been for the past three is an excellent tool for imagining literature. My social life happens on the SLED list or on Facebook where my virtual farm and garden need tending.

I suspect that LL will keep kicking, and if they are smart, they will try to focus on what has made SL great. Prok got his wish; the FIC is dead. They hey-hay day is over. It is all business from here.

Image by Mickey

Sunday, May 23, 2010

The Old School Way of Creating a Website!

Designing a web page with Photoshop isn't as hard as I thought it was going to be; it surely isn't brain surgery :-)

With the help of my dear friend, Eloise Pasteur, I was able to design an attractive webpage on my Mac from scratch using just Photoshop 7. To make it into a webpage, I used Smultron to write the CSS/HTML and CyberDuck to load files onto my server.

Windows users can use Photoshop, Notepad and WinFTP to complete this project.

This How-To article only focuses on the design of the site in Photoshop 7. As you will see, there are lots of benefits to using Photoshop instead of pre-created CSS templates. If you would like to learn the next step of this process, how to create CSS style sheets, click here.

While it may seem pointless to design a website with a photo program, there are lots of good reasons to do so. Many free CSS resources give you templates that all look pretty much the same (blog format, one, two or three columns, etc.). Designing in Photoshop allows you to articulate a stunning visual website that is unique.


As always, it helps to plan your ideas out ahead of time and to think clearly about what you want the end site to look like. Web design requires that we think about the user and any of the possible browsers he or she might use on any of the platforms.

In working with Eloise, I was able to identify the parts that my website MUST have and was able to think about what I wanted the website to "feel" like to the end user. I sketched out my ideas on paper.

Working with Images

Select or create images for your site (background, buttons, etc.). If you are creating original work, you can just skip this part and go to the next section. If you are using images created by others, read on!

The trick in using images found on the web is that you need to make sure you have permission to use them. Images licensed under Creative Commons can be used if their license allows for modification and/or commercial use. Flickr offers a pretty easy process for finding out which images allow for various kinds of uses.

To find an image, go to flickr and type in your search term. Once you get the results, click on ADVANCED SEARCH (next to the search box).

Scroll all the way to the bottom of the page and check off the box next to Creative Commons and modify. If your site is going to be commercial, you will need to check off that box, too.

If you prefer, you can also create buttons with programs like Buttonator. I created my own buttons using this image.

If you decide to use a background picture for your web page, you will need to find one that is not too distracting and works with your theme. You can use an existing picture or use the guidelines above to find one that is licensed under an appropriate Creative Commons license.

Building the Dream

Once you have all the ingredients picked out, you are ready to start building your dream. Start with the background layer first. You will want to think about the users and how their browsers will display your website. Since there are so many different sized screens and so many browser choices, it is good to use the industry standard.

In this example, I am using a background image of a book and flowers as bullet points.

Normally, a background image should be between 670px-1000px wide. There isn't really an industry standard, but Blogger uses 740px wide. Buttons and icons can range from 1px on up depending on the look you are trying to achieve. I used 25px by 25px because I wanted to sustain some of the flower's detail. You will want to check your site in different browsers to check the overall look.

The Layout Process

Once you have a rough idea about how big you want your images, you are ready to start laying out your work in Photoshop. This part is really fun because it is like table where you can just spread everything out and see what fits together nicely. Don't worry too much about the size of your images because you can always adjust them as you go along.

Step 1: Save your Background as Layer 0

Open up the Layer Palette (F7) (if it is hidden), and double click on "background." It will ask you if you want to rename it Layer 0; click OK.

Step 2: Create a Title

Using the text tool (the T on the toolbar), create a title for your web page. Play around with the color and font and where you want it located on your site. Just remember that not everyone has crazy fonts, so it is best to stick to standard fonts.

Once you have written what you want, click on the "move" tool (the little arrow at the top of the toolbar) and move the text where you want it.

Step 3: Adding Buttons, Bullets, and Icons

Each button, bullet, or icon will need its very own layer. You should definitely label each one as you create it to avoid confusion later. For example, the first flower in my project was named "flower" and when I copied it, it defaulted the name to "flower copy 1" and then "flower copy 2" and so on. Be sure to name each copy as you create it, so you are sure to match each image with the correct content.

Getting Ready for Publication

Once you have your image and text where you want it, you might want to add in some "space savers" as I did with the black boxes. These black boxes will be replaced with video screens that will be coded into the HTML. The black boxes help me visualize what the final website will look like.
The PSD file you generate is the design document that you (or another person) will use to guide them in creating the HTML and CSS files that go to make up the webpage. In addition, some of the layers may be used to create image files in a web-friendly format such as jpg or png. In my design, the flowers and the book background wereused in this way.

There are no free tools that directly convert the PSD design template into CSS and HTML, but there are some that aren't free. I used Smultron (a text editor) to create both, but you can use tools such as CSS Creator ( if you prefer, to try and generate the CSS automatically if you are unsure.

Finally you will want to FTP your files (HTML, CSS and jpg/png files, not the PSD) onto your server space so it is available on the web.

Your work in Photoshop is complete! You now have a unique webpage that looks nothing like the same-old stuff out of the web! Do you have any tips to add?

Image by Paukrus

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Personal Learning Networks? The Latest Buzz Phrase?

I am always skeptical of new buzz words in education. Every so often, there is a new "flavor" of the week, and all the teachers run toward the light - until a newer, cooler, light appears.

I had that feeling about the phrase "Personal Learning Network." Ugh. Everyone was talking about their PLN this and their PLN that. Ugh.

So, I ignored it. I didn't listen to any podcasts about it; I didn't read any blog posts about it; I didn't tweet about it; I didn't read tweets about it...I ignored it.

But, then I went to the annual #CAISCT retreat and listened a bit more attentively because these folks are my friends, and I like and respect them a whole lot. And, by hook and by crook, I came away appreciating the concept and understanding the buzz.

We all have personal learning networks. For me, Eloise Pasteur and Jean-Claude Bradley are at the top of my list. Jean-Claude got me into this whole mess of loving educational technology with his work on UsefulChem and EduFrag gaming. Eloise has been my right hand woman in Literature Alive! in Second Life. She is also the first person I turn to when I need help with anything (ANYTHING!) computer related.

But, I sat down and just brainstormed on paper other people that I always read or look to...people, blogs, organizations...and, wow, I really do have a PLN.

Here are some other peeps and groups that I consider my teachers:

But, this list is small and my RSS is now up to 143 subscriptions, and my TweetDeck blips every 12 seconds because I search for #edutech, #edtech, #English, #teachers, #teaching, #professors, etc.

Yeah, so, ok, I get it. I have a great PLN and it is growing exponentially. I am not a fan of the buzz phrase, but I think the concept is right on. We have people from whom we learn, and these people make us the great successes we are at work, at home, and in life.

So, to my PLN - I love you; keep making magic and inspiring me to be a better teacher, professor, and creator.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Celebrating 10 Years

A lot can happen in ten years. One decade. Yesterday, I was getting in the car with my Mom and Dad wearing an ivory and rum pink wedding gown...and ten years later, my life looks so different, but is very much the same.

My Mom, if she were here, would have said, I wasn't sure you'd make it this long. She knew that I marched to my own little drum and parading around on the streets with no names. She was pretty sure I wouldn't be able to stay in step with one other person for all of eternity. But, she was wrong.

Certainly, over the years, my band has included lots of people, but over in the corner, playing his own little drum kit, is Dave. Sometimes our cymbals crash and clash, but, overall, the music is good; it has a strong beat, a nice rhythm, and it is as diverse as it simple.

There is no guesswork involved; Dave and I are polar opposites on most things. He like acid metal and hot dogs; I like classical piano and tofu. He likes leather biker jackets and old cars; I like Indian dresses and Range Rovers. He reads books about rock stars; I read books about Laura Ingalls. We are very different.

But, there are some things that we have in common, and these have been the most important things in life.

We both believe in God, and our friendship and love is rooted in Him. We both celebrate individuality over conformity. We both love children and believe that they deserve the best we can give them. We both believe in the power of prayer. We both believe in the sanctity of music. We both believe that charity is more than giving money. We both believe that loyalty is the best give we can give our friends and family. We both believe in the power of forgiveness, and we always find a way to work out an argument.

Things are never perfect, and I am not perfect, and he isn't either. But, for ten years, we have learned to do what we said we would do when we said our vows 10 years ago:

Sonnet 116 by William Shakespeare

Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O no! it is an ever-fixed mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark,
Whose worth's unknown, although his height be taken.
Love's not Time's fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle's compass come:
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
If this be error and upon me proved,
I never writ, nor no man ever loved.

Happy Anniversary, Dave!

Monday, April 19, 2010

Creating Ringers for the iPhone :-)

I love music, and it is so awesome to be able to attach a sound to a person on the iPhone. It also serves as a great warning if you aren't in the mood to talk to your Great Aunt Essie.

There are two ways to go about getting yourself a ringtone for your iPhone. You can either do it yourself in iTunes (which can be easy if you have recently purchased a tune), or you can create and/or download some awesome ringtones online using free programs. This post will help you to do both.


iRinger is an awesome site, and you get 25 ringtones but then have to pay up (10 clams per month). It is also only for PC users. The 25 freebies ought to do the trick for most people, but, still and all, we at MUO like FREE FREE FREE stuff!

Going Free Style

In the quest for finding FREE 3G Ringer sites, I came by some super sweet places to create and download free ringtones. The best out there is Audiko. It is both PC and Mac friendly, and it is FREE!

You can upload any song from your computer, use a link, or provide a YouTube URL. It will then allow you to clip the section you want to use as a ringtone. Finally, you can download the clip for free! They have options for PC users, iPhone users, AND for people with older phones!

Now, don't be scared...there IS a HUGE HUGE button that says "Send to your phone" but you DO NOT NEED TO DO THAT...that is for a paid service (and is probably how they are able to do the rest for free). You can create your ringtone for free without sending anything to your phone.

Once you create your 30 seconds of bliss, you will have the option to download it in a variety of formats like on this Lady Gaga clip.

In a Pinch?

If you don't have time to create a ring tone, there are lots and lots of choices for ones that have already been created. Simply select from the list, and you will be able to download it for free (just remember, it is NOT NECESSARY to send it to your phone!).

Once you have the ringtone saved on your desktop, simply drag and drop it into your ringtone folder in iTunes. Go into your iPhone and assign the tone to one of your lucky callers!

Do it Yourself in iTunes!

If you want to go old school, make the ringtone yourself in iTunes. Just remember that you can ONLY create ringtones from music you purchased in the iTunes Store. If you downloaded a song from somewhere else, you are out of luck.

To create the ring tone, simply right click on the song, and choose "Create Ringtone." You will be able to select a portion of it to use, and iTunes will do all the rest for you. It will put it right into the ringtone folder, and it will create a little bell icon for in your library.

Be prepared, though, because not ALL the songs you purchased can be made into ringtones. There is some sort of secret formula about when you purchased the song and whether or not you have the most current version of iTunes.

Have you ever created your own ring tone? Do you have a favorite site to create and download them for free?

Friday, April 16, 2010

Ning gives Educators the Heave Ho!

Okay, not quite...but I am really sad about Ning's decision to pull the carpet out under all of the teachers that relied on its free services. Jane Hart has a nice article about it, and Tech Crunch was the first to break the bad news.

Sadly, Ning's "only" solution is to save pocket change by nixing their free services. Sadly, the ones that used that service most was the educational community. We turned to them, championed them, and spread the gospel of Ning at conferences, workshops, and in classrooms. And now we - literally - have to split or pay up the pot.

What Ning fails to realize is that we used their service BECAUSE it was free and because our schools couldn't or wouldn't afford to pay for services like it. That same negative cash flow still stands, and so we have no more money now (less money, actually) than before, so if they think they are going to intimidate us into buying the farm, well, sadly, their crops will remain untouched.

This is a total crash and burn for Ning, and the new(ish) CEO should be super proud that he is driving one of the best services straight into the ground.

There are other services, and a smart start up will take over and improve what Ning started. They will do it with less staff and cut the overhead; they will wisely use advertising and Social Networking to their advantage. They will provide FREE service and be rewarded by innovation instead of damnation.

Good Bye, Ning. Don't let the virtual door hit ya...

Sunday, April 04, 2010

Back? GeWar2

So I haven't really been here for a while, but that is all about to change! I am writing more these days (mostly over at MakeUseOf), and I think it is high time to head back over to this side of the blog :-)

Since I am not teaching in SL, I have not been inworld much, but I am going to be using it this May to teach American Romantic literature and Introduction to Fiction. I have also been looking at other games like GeWar2.

Here is a review of it:

If you have a bit of free time and would like to try your hand at world domination, Google Earth War v2 (GeWar) might be the game for you! While it isn't a fast paced shoot em up kinda game, it is a lot like RISK and requires planning, strategy, and wit.

I have to admit that I never heard of version 1, but was totally excited when version 2 was born. I like games that make you think, and, as a Google Earth addict, I was keen on using GE for more than directions to the hair salon. Sadly, the awesome game concept is slaughtered by poor directions, difficult processes, and low turn around.

I was totally thrilled to take part in this review because I love games, and I love world domination (heh). This game promised to be hoards of fun for my character, Commander Young. In this version of GeWar2, players gather with others around the world to hunt for jewels and develop armies. There are over 1300 cities to search and there are alliances to build and enemies to destroy! My armies of deviant goddesses were ready; our money was overflowing; opportunities over floweth...but, splat, nothing.

For starters, the game is hard to figure out. The directions make absolutely no sense, and it took me forever to figure out that all I really needed to do to start was load up the first KMZ map.

Grrr. So, after I had that part sorted out, it took another hour to figure out how to select a home base. You have to zoom in slowly to see the cross hair, but you can't be too near an existing city or by a nosy neighbor. You have to keep checking the side bar in Google Earth to see what you are not doing right, but once you figure all that out, simply double click on the map to set your pin.

So, now I am two hours into this game and have yet to even dominate my cursor, let alone the world. I must passion for conquering Rome was waning. But, the desire to rule all of Christendom was still slightly I marched onward.

The compass must have been broken or my GPS out of commission. I had no clue what to do next. Once you establish your home base, you are sent to your GeWar page, and you'd "think" there would be clear directions about what happens

Because the directions were not clear, I had no idea that I "shoulda" housed my base somewhere more central to things like fishing, oil fields, or cotton plantations. Evidently, the great New England states aren't known for their prowess.

But, since you don't actually load that map until AFTER you select your home base, I was stuck with Puritan Goddesses. We were no where NEAR close to either the fishing waters of Australia OR the oil fields of the Middle East. We were at least on the same continent as the cotton, but, sheesh...cotton???

(Side note...the graphics aren't the best, but they are OK given the difficulty of adding graphics to GE on a larger scale).

But, I didn't let geography get me down (even though this IS a game about geography and topography, right?). I paid hard earned Geos (the currency of the game) to place my ship, and oil rig, and cotton plantation, and diamond mine workers so I could train my army.

When I was at the screen I had enough Geos to train lots of my armies to be Goddesses with Gusto...but, because I was so new, or because I am a dolt and couldn't figure it out, I wasn't able to train my armies. As I will mention later, the boo-koo GEOS I had stashed and earned vanished over night, literally, so I have not been able to afford to train the warrior girls.

In the midst of this annoying and chaotic game, I kept thinking that the concept of the game is stellar. I really like the premise of it, and think it would be awesome for teachers to use if they modified the (really) bad and non-existent directions.

One sweet feature, for example, is that you can go on a treasure hunt to find jewels. The jewels are hidden in major cities or near real historical places, and you can learn about the places whilst hunting for the gems. I love that idea, and I think the developers could really go crazy if they clean up the documentation for the game.

To find the jewel, you were able to learn about the Pyramids of Giza.

I was actually refreshed after finding the jewel and thought maybe the game wasn't so bad after all. I still had high hopes because I love a game that teaches something, and I love rubies. Oh, and I wanted to rule the world.

So, I started looking for how on (Google) Earth was I supposed to start dominating...and, for not a lack of trying, I could not figure out HOW to attack another army.

Granted, I was tired. I had been playing this game for 5 hours and had one little ruby and some new factoids about Giza in hand. I had a nice sized army for a newbie. I had things growing and getting caught all over the planet. But, hmmm, how to attack thy neighbor???

My strategy was to find other clueless souls and attack them. But, I couldn't find them. Well, I couldn't find them for a while. So, I figured I would start with a land locked country like Chad because, well, I dated a guy named Chad when I was much younger and he was a jerk. So, it seemed as good a place as any.

Crap. Evidently, New England isn't close enough to Chad to wing zing an attack. I didn't have enough oil. I had to wait for my oil fields to mature or mate or whatever they were doing over there in the Middle East before moving my army.


I understand that not everything gets spelled out in the directions, and I should have picked a better place than the Berkshires to host home base, but, c'mon. If I had known that there were going to be oil fields and fishing waters and whatever, I might have considered thinking about where the game designers would put them.

I had no idea what I was getting into with this game. And, now that I know better, there isn't a thing I can do about it. As the site makes perfectly clear a trillion times, you can only have one character or you get the virtual heave-ho.

So, at the end of day one, I had a fairly serene inventory but no clue what to do next besides wait.

The problem with a game this complicated is that I can't do it while balancing a crazy life. I couldn't get back to it the next day because I didn't have another 5 hours to devote to decoding the instructions. So, when I went back 3 days later, I had lost all my money, been attacked by a bunch of armies, and, ugh, I just gave up.

But, I wanted to be fair about the game, so I recruited some gamer students to play it. I also enlisted the help of a friend who is totally into world domination. These three gamers could not figure out the first KMZ file. None of us understood the instructions. We looked for FAQs.


In concept, I love the idea of this game. As an educator, I love the idea of learning about war using games like GeWar2. BUT, and this, my friends, is a HUGE BUT, the documentation and descriptions have to make sense and be USEFUL to a new player.

Image by John LeGear