Friday, March 30, 2007

I Know Nothing

I created this after someone sent me a powerpoint presentation that has been making the rounds. You can watch it here. While some of the information was interesting, I found that the underlying simplification and powerpointing (see, a new word)quite disturbing. It inadvertently and quite unwittingly made a more important point -- that constructs like this do nothing more than entertain -- they do not really offer any information or insight of value. That we confuse these things with real knowledge is quite worrisome to me.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Second to None Life

I am Unh Second Life.

Unh Oh is a chap that just got a pair of pants. I have been told that there are plenty of people walking around with no clothes. Bully for them.

It seems that while it first appears that Second Life is free, they press you to give them financial information with the incentive of Linden Dollars. It is an artificial currency inside of Second Life, but it could be argued that the American Dollar is an artificial currency (particularly after going from the gold standard).

In fact, pretty much everything ends up costing money at some point. The assumption underneath is that there really is only one form of legitimate economy -- captitalism. You can pick up some spare change here and there -- but no evidence of barter economy (I would guess it's out there), certainly no trace of socialism, marxism or arnarchy. I want to figure out a way to raise $1000 Linden dollars -- the cost of an island -- so that I can create Anarchy Island. We will see what happens there.

It is really fake feeling. Movement is clunky. I will be pairing it with my WiiMote on my Mac pretty soon to make it easier (another posting, another day).

Educators are giddy about it. Something they can figure out, and perhaps invest in this "cyberspace thing". It is a box. A commercial box. It is not what I had in mind, nor was it what the homebrew computer club that Steve Wozniak was in had in mind. This Second Life is a company selling stuff under the guise of "empowering users" -- but only after signing a bunch of forms. The end user agreement is quite interesting, including the "Big Six" -- I will spare you, but it's the typical stuff -- harassment, intolerance, assault, disclosure (privacy), indecency and disturbing the peace.

I think this list is quite funny. It seems almost like a kiddie version of the 10 commandments. Privacy -- really? Indecency -- I can show you pornography that contains no naked people. So what is indecency?

It seems to me that these rules are not just in place to make "Second Life" a fun place for everyone, for if it actually had the danger, randomness and texture of real life, then the the company would make much less money. People want to go somewhere happy, where everyone is tanned and trim.


I can fly. I can walk around in the water. I can take my clothes off. But since I can't drown, can't break open my head when I land, don't have things that need to be covered up -- it's just not that compelling to me.

But......let me tell you about Animal Crossing for the Nintendo DS. Another time. Very Soon.


Monday, March 19, 2007

Even Gumby Gets It

A continuation of my Viacom rant. Watch Gumby episodes legally and for free.


Sunday, March 18, 2007

Learning is not a Game, but it can be fun

Educators look at the time students spend in video games, and of course wish that these students would have the same level of engagement in traditional learning as a game.

There are several problems with this.

1. Video games often do not successfully mirror real-life decisions. I *know* I am playing a video game. I might be upset that things don't go well, but it is nothing like getting a bad grade on a project I have spent some time on.

2. Most educational video games suck. They lag behind cutting edge stuff. The most engaging games often are the most controversial.

3. Educators don't play video games. They have not immersed themselves in that environment. They read books, talk to game designers, but they often don't really take time (and I mean a lot of time) to play, observe and engage.

4. Educational experiences often do not successfully lend themselves to game technology as it exists today. Using a 3d engine to hammer out some sort of social construct is a good first stab, but students see it for what it is -- candy coated spinach.

The real problems are:

1. Teachers shouldn't be making the games. Students should be. Let them build rule sets, simulations that other students play, let them work through the difficulty of making something that is engaging and tells a story. The bad news is that this takes time.

2. It is tacked on. We are stuck with the same old educational system that hasn't budged since the last big innovation - in my opinion, 100 years ago when progressive education (Dewey) was in vogue. No child left behind is rooted in thinking from the late 1800's, cursed with the desire to teach things that are easy to quantify, easy to test. Our testing tools and learning expectations shape how we teach.

3. There is a denial of multiple forms of literacy. Visual literacy -- it is quite dead in a time when more than ever before it is needed. This is a much longer posting, but go read some Barbara Stafford if you haven't already. Games hook right into visual literacy, but they don't go far enough. It is a passive form of literacy. Students need to make to learn, and that takes time, and time is expensive.

I wince everytime I hear about 2nd life as an educational environment. 2nd life is very fake, a myopic contraption that reinforces specific assumptions - such as the only viable economic system in the world is capitalism. Students don't get a chance to see all the possibilities. Unfortunately most educators are blind to this. I will be writing more about 2nd life soon.

James Paul Gee is a good place to start -- but I think people are being too literal. We should look at games, and learn from them what helps people learn. It doesn't mean that we need to make video games to teach kids -- but that we need to look at successful ones (including Vice City) and figure out what works, and how that can be applied to learning.

My guess is the attraction of using video games to teach is the same as any other technology that is thrown at the task of teaching kids -- it is always about scaling. If we sit students in front of "learning simulations" then we may need fewer teachers, or we can have bigger class sizes. I am not denying that the use of something such as the eternal classic SimCity can't be valuable. If I had a kid, darned right I would have them playing Sim City, but we would play it together, and talk about it. I don't think this can happen in a class of 30 students.


Saturday, March 17, 2007


ViaCom last week chose to sue YouToogle for 1 gazillion jillion dollars due to illegal posting of content, notably content such as small chunks from the Daily show.

Wow. I could have predicted that!

So -- I have been saying this again and again -- it is almost like the Dinosaurs saying --"Hey, do you guys feel a slight dip in the temperature?".

They chose to go after the biggest target for the obvious reason. Precedence. It gives Viacom all it needs to get everyone else to knuckle under. After all, the law is clearly on their sides, and it is not, I am sure that the laws can be changed to ensure that!

IS there lost revenue from a 3 minute clip from a half hour show? I would guess not. In fact, it is easy to make the argument that it actually helps Viacom. It seems to me like they have to draw the line in the sand right now, even if that line is 3 feet out of the shoreline, and into the water.

Is it a couldashouldawoulda? You bet. Viacom has to clear the decks of potential competitors. They have the partnership with Apple/iTunes -- and sure -- they are looking down the road at their own initiative to distribute content online. This is likely the only window of opportunity they will have to take on their nearest competitor, which right now is much much bigger than Viacom's own eventual scheme could ever be, for it is tied to old business models which are quickly being eroded by new models. We are back into the era of advertising supported entertainment, a familiar ground -- but without the opportunity to sell people things they might already be able to get for free.

The twist of course is that the revisiting of the advertising supported model is that it is the audience that decides what will survive and which will not. This happens indirectly through arcane ratings systems -- but the directness of popularity ratings in YouTube is merciless. If something sucks then it doesn't live for long. At least a mid-season replacement series has 3 months to prove itself (or maybe not).

The smart thing, of course, for Viacom is to ride the wave. They have stuff that people like so much that they will take time out of their busy day to re-edit, excerpt and post. This is the participatory culture that everyone talked about happening right now. It makes everyone a potential media conglomerate. This is a very very very bad thing for horizontal structures like Viacom -- it means that the content producers -- which Viacom either pays or contracts to create content -- are free to cut the middleman out -- Viacom being the middleman here. That day is rapidly approaching. This is bad bad bad.

The funny part is that Viacom and Google will come up with some sort of agreement that will stave things off for a little while, a little dam made of mud that keeps the flood waters at bay for....perhaps an hour or so? Google probably understands this much better than Viacom.