I finally met up with KJ Hax (the Second Life name of Kevin Jarrett) for an office assignment and lesson about Second Life. Kevin is on a research sabatical to study Second Life, and has been working hard to form a group called CAVE (I blogged about that a few days ago). Kevin and I met at the appointed time and he showed me an office space I’ll share with Andy Carvin. Since I was there first I got to pick the nice corner with windows for my space and leave Andy with the windowless corner (sorry!)
Kevin gave me a desk, chair and a plant.
Then the lesson began. Moving objects consists of selecting them, clicking a “move” radio button, and then dragging them using arrows that form an x, y, z axis. To rotate objects, you select a “rotate” radio button and then a sphere appears and you can drag an object around. You can turn objects upside down and suspend them in mid-air, or move them up through the ceiling or push them through the floor. That’s not polite, I imagine.
Kevin showed me how to sit on my chair. Seriously, this sounds crazy, but that took a long time. You can sit on every object in Second Life, but depending on how complex the object is, you can sit on different parts of it. If you click on the back of the chair and select “Sit”, your avatar obligingly perches on the top of the back. If you are standing to one side, the avatar will sit across the arms. If the chair is too close to a wall or desk, you will get a warning that there is no room.
Couple of intial thoughts about this as a learning experience:
1. The system was training me. As I learned more about what the interface could and couldn’t do, I was internalizing the constraints of the system. The accuracy limitations, time lag, and clumsy way that the mouse and menu controls work are obviously a problem that people can learn to work around, but still are limitations. It’s like asking a student to do chemistry experiments with mittens on. Doable, and perhaps a noble challenge, but is it optimal? Of course not. Will this weed out people who can’t tolerate this learning curve, very likely. Will some people love the challenge — that’s obvious.
2. It’s a lot like programming in some ways (and I’m not even talking about scripting). The clumsiness of the interface makes you figure out what you can and can’t do. For a willing learner, being forced to work out the best way to do things is a great learning experience. However, I don’t believe that a clumsy interface is necessarily a valuable thing. A class would have to include time for students to play and share experiences to get past that interface. It had better be a REALLY exceptional learning activity to make it worth the time and effort.
Back to building. I built a cone, turned it green and selected “glow”. Magical stars shoot out of your hand when you create things. Nice. There is a default script for every object, and I noticed that it said something when you touched it. So I changed the default to say, “Hello!” Pretty easy. I like my objects to be friendly.
Later, I ran into Doug Johnson again (Blue Skunk Blog) who commented on my hair (blue). He had a monitor in his office and David Warlick had given him a script that opens a web page when anyone clicks it. So I pasted that line of code in my default script and after two fixes to dumb typos, it worked!
I did notice that it was changing the colors of the script text as I made mistakes to alert me to errors, so that was nice.
After that I played around a bit with the realistic physics options, but couldn’t figure it out. Everything I did just made the cone deflate into a puddle on the floor. I may have to read some instructions!
I wanted my cone to go on my desk, so I shrunk it a bit and moved it up there. After getting it positioned, it now sits there and links to this blog. So, a small mission accomplished.
At this point, I’m still not quite sure what to do with a desk, or why I would sit at it! But I’d like to figure out what would be fun to make. I wonder if you could make a fortune teller machine. Something good for a party.
Final thought for the night — learning about Second Life is different than learning in Second Life.