May 2007


I am currently going through the process of upgrading WordPress to 2.2. So if anything strange happens around here kindly avert your eyes while I get changed. I will let you know when I am done! Thanks!

Later
The upgrade is done and everything seems to be fine … Thanks for your patience

Since the other day a student asked me in class about the use of images in PNG format a timely article on the Creative Use of PNG Transparency in Web Design has been published on by Digital Web.
PNG stands for Portable Network Graphics and has its advantages and disadvantages. PNG image files can have more colours (compared to GIF files which only have 256 colours) are usually smaller than GIF files and PNG allows for transparency. The downside is that Internet Explorer 6 and lower do not support all of PNG’s features.

Jeff Croft has pointed out some creative uses of this file format and explored the implications of using it. Check it out for a more comprehensive over view of the advantages and disadvantages of using this file format and the official W3C recommendation can be found here.

There are 50 good SEO tips and suggestions to optimise your site for search engines on the Web Analytics and SEO Blog

Found with thanks via CSS Drive News

For any one who is just coming to flickr or does not understand things like tags and tapping into the flickr community Josh Lowensohn’s Newbie’s Guide to Flickr is a useful introduction to this popular free photo hosting service.

I have been poking around looking at how Second Life might be used by educational institutions.

Second Life provides a unique and flexible environment for educators interested in distance learning, computer-supported cooperative work, simulation, new media studies, and corporate training.

Second Life provides an opportunity to use simulation in a safe environment to enhance experiential learning, allowing individuals to practice skills, try new ideas, and learn from their mistakes.

The Sim Teach Wiki houses a list of Institutions and Organizations in Second Life

My impressions so far? It would be a good vehicle for distance education but I think it would very much depend on the subject taught. Imparting some practical skills such as those imparted at an art school would still have to be done via video and some skills will always be difficult to convey. For instance any skill that requires attaining the right ‘feel’ such as turning pot in clay. I can see the environment being useful for computer arts and new media students, aspects of new media arts theory, and other areas such as photomedia could use it. Workshops such a wood, ceramics, and glass I do not know enough about the processes involved in developing skills so I have a huge question mark s to how useful the environment would be to them.

One activity I found that is of interest is that almost without realising it I started to draw avatars. I could have taken screenshots but since I was taking notes and my visual journal was at hand I found I was making quick sketches of what I saw, then unconsciously moved to sketch avatars rather than objects. This was more as a note taking device as I am interested in how people choose to represent themselves. In doing so, I realised there were skills to be acquired observing this world. This virtual world is full of stylised and idealised manikins that walk, sit, dance, jump and fly I bet I am the only person in second life that does mind the much complained of lag!

I am great believer in drawing from life and I am not suggesting that SL could provide a substitute but many skills such as body proportion and correct placement of eyes, ears etc could be taught. Avatars could be designed to be ‘normal’ body shapes and used in distance education. Not an ideal drawing class but possible. I can imagine most drawing lecturers turning pale at the idea, because drawing from life is important, so I am in two minds about the idea, as it could produce many lifeless dead drawings, yet not willing to toss it away totally.

flowerfountain3-400.jpg

“Live to be outstanding.” Geert Lovink exhorts in his piece Fragments on New Media Arts and Science . I was tired, I was trying to clean up my hard drive of bookmark files and I did not feel outstanding.

My eyes scanned the text quickly “The Situationist critique of the ‘spectacle’ has worn out.” Yes, I nod, still brain dead from reading too many theory articles.

“Audiences are no longer looking for empty entertainment; they need help. Art has to motivate, not question but assist.”

My brain clicked out neutral and into gear Geert Lovink’s piece was written in 2003 and the state of New media arts are neatly summarised
“What in positive terms could be described as the heroic fight for the establishment of a self-referential ‘new media arts system’ through a frantic differentiation of works, concepts and traditions, may as well be classified as a dead-end street.”

Lovink points out that in a networked society the situation has to change. Has it? I am not sure it has. I have encountered many projects that come out of arts institutions who like to portray themselves as being at the forefront of technological development, but many of these unfortunately can be described as thin on conceptual development and far from relevant in the lives of anyone who encounters them. These pieces still speak to a subculture and do not it seems to me have a roll in some ones lived life. Rarely do I think of them again – as works they do not touch me, I have a neutral response. I look for it but as objects they do not texture my life.

I sat back for moment, thought about the ‘new media arts’ that I had looked at recently and I realized that much of what I had been thinking about were objects discovered as I explore in Second Life.

I am very much a newbie in this virtual world but littered throughout the sims on Second Life are ‘sculptures’ many of these virtual objects simply reside in the landscape.

At first I set about exploring 3D sculptures or installations that allow interaction and employ animation or audio. In other words I was looking for ‘new media’ but as I explored the world I found myself quickly puzzling over these objects that did not light up, morph, twinkle, move, were textured in strange ways, display movies, make my avatar dance, play music, spin me around or disorientate me in some manner.

The objects that I was thinking about, the objects that I constantly encountered were performing a role that was decorative. I had dismissed them as they were not ‘playful’ or experimental in the sense that they explored the technology to the limit. They were simply decorative objects in the landscape.

To say an object is pure decoration is an insult of the highest order but it is these ‘decorations’ contribute to a visitors experience by adding atmosphere to sims. They, along with the objects in the landscape such as trees, flowers, birds, lakes, waterfalls, etc texture the experience in this virtual land. Since they enhance the experience of Second Life they hold a meaning which is more than pure decoration.

In other words I realised that the role these 3D sculptures performed, rather than those objects that could be classified as ‘new media’, were not to be dismissed so easily. So mouse ready to right click at an instant I started looking a little closer. In Second life you can click on an object and get more information and read a profile of the creator. To my dismay many of the creators of these objects had not taken writing a description of who they were and what did very seriously at all! As someone who is trained and teaches in an arts institution that sure put my nose out of joint – after having a little huffy I reconsidered…

These sculpted objects were made for fun and to develop skills, and put in a public place for all to enjoy and that was it. It quickly became obvious, that in their making there was no thought about theory or positioning themselves as artists within contemporary arts practice. In world, these people simply made stuff. They were not funded by arts councils or producing these objects as part of a design brief established by a corporation. These objects were made for the joy of making and that was that. That’s a bit revolutionary I mused with a wry smile …

But seriously I think many of these objects are a form of folk digital craft and should not be dismissed so easily (as I did while searching out ‘new media’) as their role within the sims add texture to the experience of a ‘second life’ which could be pretty shallow otherwise. There are constant surprises as you turn a corner and discover another. Whether the artist writes up a ‘proper’ bio or not, takes what they do seriously or not, these objects do perform a role in this virtual world and as such could be seen as a digital folk craft. What do you think?

flowerfountain1-400.jpg

Screen shots taken on Butterfly Island (135, 162, 25)
Title: Flower Fountain
Creator: Damanious Thetan

The Australian Council for the Arts is offering an artistic residency and grant of up to $20,000 to collaborative artists to create a project in Second Life . It is open to Australian artists who are interested in developing their ideas in this virtual world. Details are on the Australian Council for the Arts in the Inter-Arts: Grants: Second Life Artist Residency section of the site.

The Second Life artist residency is an initiative of the Literature Board, Music Board and Inter-Arts Office of the Australia Council.
The residency is ‘in-world’ and requires artists and writers to explore the possibilities of inter-disciplinary literary, music/sound art and digital visual media practices.
The successful team will develop new artistic in-world practices and comment on the social and cultural layers that have evolved in Second Life.
Key requirements of the project are a clear strategy for harnessing both in-world and ‘real life’ audiences and developing public exhibition opportunities for the artwork in Australia.

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The Australian has run a story that points to the tricky issue of recreating iconic buildings and sacred sites one commercial websites. In this case concerns have been raised that virtual representation of Uluru and the opera house in Second Life could be a breach of copyright. Designers of the BigPond site The Pond have a barrier to stop people walking or flying over Uluru as it is a sacred site for the traditional owners but tribal elders are considering implications of the site being used in games and virtual world.

Source:Telstra hit over virtual Uluru by Simon Canning of The Australian

Another story is that the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s private island was bombed by an as yet unidentified attacker. Features that were vandalised include the Amphitheatre, the Ecohouse, media pods, Dreamtime Cove and the Sandbox.

Source: ABC’s Second Life presence vandalised

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