Archive - Feb 2008

February 29th

Tracking the Twisty Mazes

Everyone seems to be tweaking the way you can see what someone is up to online.

MyBlogLog has just changed its pages so that you can see all the updates from your contacts to any of the social network services out there. It seems to be in flux a little bit right now. When I checked a little while ago, it didn’t show any updates from my neighborhood. Now it is showing a lot.

One problem is that it is showing tweets from friends of friends that have added their Twitter page into MyBlogLog. As an example, at this moment, the most recent buzz in my neighborhood is a tweet from tombarrett to techiebreaker showing up in Alexdc’s twitter feed. Likewise, if you look at my feed, you’ll see the most recent update being a message from noneck to ahoppin. I’ve changed my Twitter feed to only show my own tweets instead of all the tweets from all my friends.

Even by doing that, I still get duplication. When I send a picture from Second Life via Bloghud to Flickr, it also shows up as a tweet on twitter. This is similar to problems I ran into Jaiku quite a while ago. Jaiku never really caught my attention, but since MyBlogLog incorporates into a bigger picture of who is reading whose blogs, it is much more compelling. Supposedly BlogCatalog is going to add some similar features soon.

Spock also aggregates news from different sources. I’ve gone out and tweaked the setting there and it looks like they are doing a nice job of it. Then, today, all my friends started showing up on friendfeed, yet another entry in the personal information aggregation space. Of course some of them provide RSS feeds so we can start feeding one into another.

The Virtual Self

The self exists at the intersection of our internal neural networks and our external social networks. Anyone who has read my blog post, R, will recognize that as coming from a keynote at the AGPA annual meeting and will know how I’ve been mulling it around.

Yesterday, I went to a talk on Augmentation and Immersion in Second Life. I left the talk feeling very unclear about what people were trying to say or why they thought it mattered, but it seemed something like this: The Immersionists view Second Life as some sort of ‘other world’, a fictional environment. Their avatars a creations like characters in a story. They are acted out, role played, perhaps even some sort of fan fiction.

The augumentists view Second Life as just another communications medium that helps, or augments, our ability to communicate. Their avatars are extensions of themselves. They represent some aspect of who the typist is.

It sounds an awful lot like discussions about MOOs fifteen years ago about how real or not the communications in MOOs were. I tend to lean towards an augmentist view of Second Life and to not take these discussions all that seriously. There is a real typist named Aldon Hynes. He writes blog posts and emails. He talks on the telephone and with people face to face and he moves the avatar Aldon Huffhines around Second Life. The shape of Aldon Huffhines may vary. Sometimes it might be in a wheelchair. Sometimes it might be a close approximation of the typist. Sometimes it might be a young boy, or even a cat. There remains a real typist behind the avatar and the different shapes that the avatar presents reflects different aspects of the typist.

So, does the avatar exist as some aspect of our internal neural network, an idea that we present a little of online? Is it more about our external network, and how we connect with one another? Perhaps the interesting part is about how our internal neural networks and the avatars that exist in our imaginations intersections with our external social networks.

This goes beyond just Second Life. On the mailing list of Group Psychotherapists one person wondered “whether the increasing ease of (internet) communication that we are enjoying could give rise to greater difficulty in maintaining our embodied relationships.” This too, seems to go to the augmentation versus immersion discussion. Does the concern about great difficulty in maintaining our embodied relationships grow out of an immersionist perspective, that somehow our experiences online are different in some significant way from how we connect with others using different media? Does it come from a belief that online personae are different in some important way from our offline personae? Does it come back to issue of ‘self’ as that intersection between our internal neural network and our external social network? Are we using media to make that membrane more or less permeable?

Today, I went to a discussion on credibility and reputation online. That too seems related to this whole idea, but we didn’t get to that point. Likewise, there are a lot of tools springing up to look at aggregated personal content. That is another area worth exploring in a separate blog post.

February 28th

Surrendering my temporal able bodiedness

Today, I attended a session on universal design in Second Life. At the beginning, Atsuko Watanabe asked why Second Life and places in Second Life are not more accessible. She noted that in Second Life, accessibly can be added without cost, yet it is rarely added. Why is that?

“It is perfectly acceptable t have flying rabbit but an avatar in a wheelchair is not acceptable.” She went on to say, “I've often been challenged quite publicly as to why I chose too represent my self as disabled in SL”.

Possible interpretation is that SL is a mirror of the real attitudes of the inhabitants bring with them from the real world. Another interpretation is the "medical model", “that people with disabilities are broken and that they need to be fixed and in SL no one should have a disability because it is ‘Wrong’ somehow”

Atsuko Watanabe responds to that line of thinking by saying, “I'm not broken, I am proud of who I am”. Well, as a temporarily able bodied person, and an Episcopalian, I acknowledge that I am broken. My brokenness has nothing to do with any physical abilities or disabilities. It has to do with when I have not loved my neighbor as myself. To take the joke from those in wheelchairs, it is when I have appear to people in wheelchairs as just another belt buckle in the crowd.

It is in that mindset, that I entered the discussion on Orange Island about community rules in Second Life. A friend gave me a wheelchair, and I am now presenting avatar as disabled in SL. As I commented to my friend, it is my first experience surrendering my temporarily able bodiedness, so I may end up being quiet, unsure how to join in, but that may be an important part of the experience as well.

As I sit in the room, a friend teleports in and I bump into her with my wheelchair. She is a multiple stroke survivor and understands the struggles of those with disabilities better than I do. She graciously says, “hehe.. didn’t even feel it”

So, I try to listen into the discussion. At the same time, I try to write about my experiences while they are still fresh. I fail to connect with the discussion. I feel uncertain, unseen. Perhaps that is an important part of the experience. Perhaps we all need to get more in touch with the temporary nature of our able bodiedness.

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Upcoming Events in Second Life

Over the coming few days, there are several interesting discussions. Today, at 9 AM SLT, there will be a discussion about universal design on Healthinfo Island sponsored by SL Accessibility Center, Healthinfo Island, and Virtual Ability, Inc. Jondan Lundquist and Atsuko Watanabe will lead the discussion. Mr. Lundquist has studied biomechanical engineering and has a doctorate in education. Ms. Watanabe is a degreed engineer who has worked on accessible transportation engineering projects for many years and works in Second Life on redesigning and rebuilding some of the structures on Simon Walsh's Second Ability sim.

Also, today starting at 9 AM SLT is “Orange Explores Second Life Culture”. Topics include how live music performances have changed over the years in Second Life, what the current trends are, where music is headed into the future of SL, the impact that rules and protocols have on the behavior of the community members and how many diverse communities have come together, bringing their unique ideas, for the common purpose of fighting back against cancer. The event will take place on Orange Island.

Tomorrow, also starting at 9 AM SLT, Simon Walsh will speak at the Nonprofit Commons Amphitheater about his work in Second Life. Mr. Walsh is best known as the chief executive of Enable Enterprises which manages the Wheelies nightclub for people with disabilities in Second Life and the Second Ability Second Life simulator. The talk will be followed by a day long discussion on TechSoup’s Accessible Technology and Public Computing forum.

Starting at 10 AM SLT, Kathy Im, Program Officer at the MacArthur Foundation, Tony Curzon Price, Editor of, and Jonathan Zittrain, Professor and Internet Scholar at Oxford University will explore issues of Credibility and Reputation in the New News as part of the MacArthur and Virtual Worlds series. The event will take place on the USC Annenberg Island.

At 3 PM SLT, SL Shakespeare Company will produce a “live scene from Hamlet, with a professional troupe, and photorealistic actors and historically accurate wardrobe and props.“ The event will take place at the SL Globe Theatre. The performance will be repeated several days through out the coming week.

To tie it all together, there will be a Leap Year celebration tomorrow at jokaydia “because a leap year is as good a time as any for a party!”

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The self exists and the intersection of our inner neural network and our external social network. That is a loose approximation of what Dr. Jeremy Holmes said in the opening plenary address to the 2008 American Group Psychotherapy Association's annual conference. The phrase has rattled around in my mind ever since, as I walk back and forth from my friends' house where I was staying, as I drifted off to sleep, and at other times when my mind wasn't otherwise activated. What does it mean?

I've always been interested in how artificial neural networks learn. In a simple model, input is fed in through the neural network. The inputs are multiplied by various factors until an end result is obtained. The predicted result is then compared with the actual result and changes are back propagated through the artificial neural network to adjust the factors in the network. I've often wondered if this process of back propagation could be applied to the online social networks we are in. Social networks often represent relationships as binary symmetrical values. Either two people trust each other, or they don't. Either two people are friends, or they are not. In reality, one person may trust the other more or less than they are trusted by the other. What if our online social networks gave us the ability to quantify such trusts? What if they used such information to predict friendships and ideas that would be interesting to us? What if they learned from our reaction to such predictions?

I've thought and written about this for years, but I just haven't been able to get anywhere with it. My mind wanders to Mr. Ramsey in Virginia Woolf's To The Lighthouse. Mr. Ramsey is a bright scholar, but he is stuck. He cannot get beyond R. These thoughts about the self existing at the intersection of our internal neural networks and our external social networks have brought back my thoughts about artificial neural networks and online social networks, but I feel stuck at R with them, along with Mr. Ramsey.