JavaOne 2010 Presentation

October 28, 2010

Our guest blog post today comes to us from the Nina-verse. Long-time Open Wonderland community member Nina Nussbaum-Jones from Lockheed Martin presented a talk at the JavaOne 2010 conference in San Francisco last month. All reports were that the talk was fabulous. She has kindly agreed to share her talk slides with us.

100% Java Virtual Worlds:
How to Deploy Innovation in the Virtual Enterprise

By Nina Nussbaum-Jones

It was my first speaking engagement at JavaOne – a lifelong dream in itself – and I got to talk about Open Wonderland, virtual worlds, avatars, and all the things the Wonderlanders have been doing to make our world a better place.   I had three familiar faces in the front row: Kevin Roebuck, Karl Haberl and Mike Gialis (co-speaker). All were cheering me on, using eye contact along with head nods.  I opened by showing my audience of 35 people the animated version of Adventures in Wonderland, but after that it was down to business.  What’s a virtual world?  Why Open Wonderland?  How do I get started?  How’d you do that??  What kind of questions should I be prepared for at work?  Is there a boss key? (You’re probably old if you understood that one.)

Other than the obvious excitement I expressed about having the opportunity to speak at my favorite (geekiest!) conference, I had hoped to inspire people to investigate Open Wonderland, and to get involved in the community.  The community will always feel small no matter how large it gets.  And with more people contributing, the richer the platform will become.

Here are the slides from the talk: On-line version, PowerPoint version, PDF version.


Discussion Session with 56 Avatars

October 23, 2010

Nathan LabhartToday’s guest blog post is from Nathan Labhart, a PhD student at the AI Lab, Dept. of Informatics, University of Zurich. He is currently coordinating the “ShanghAI Lectures” project, a global lecture series held via video conference and complemented by a website and an Open Wonderland virtual environment.

First ShanghAI Lecture Discussion Session

By Nathan Labhart

In the context of the “ShanghAI Lectures,” a lecture series on natural and artificial intelligence that is held via video conference among universities around the globe, we are using Wonderland for group exercises and the so-called Discussion Sessions.

ShanghAI Lectures Discussion in Wonderland

The idea is that we alternate between video conference lectures, where entire classrooms are connected, and meetings in UNIworld (our “brand name” for the virtual environment), where individual students can talk directly to the lecturer. They can also send e-mail with questions and topics for in-depth discussion beforehand, so that the lecturer can prepare slides with additional explanations.

In order to find out how many avatars our server could handle, we did two load tests in June and July. It turned out to be difficult to find volunteers — we couldn’t find more than 27 people to log in. However, while some clients were experiencing issues, mostly due to their hardware and bandwidth limitations, the server (a KVM virtual machine with 4GB of RAM, 4 CPUs, 32-bit Debian Lenny running on some Dell box with 64-bit Intel processors, iSCSI storage, Debian Lenny as the host OS) ran without a glitch. So we knew that at least 27 avatars should work.

Back then we didn’t know how many students would join the lecture series, as the semester only starts in September/October at most of the participating universities. Based on our experiences with the first run of the ShanghAI Lectures last year, we expected around 200 students. Therefore, we decided to again group them in teams of 3-5 persons who would then together work on the group exercises, and select one student per group to represent his or her peers in the Discussion Sessions.

However, this grouping of students could not be done in time for the first Discussion Session on Thursday 14 October — so we just allowed anyone to participate.  No risk, no fun!

The session officially started at 9:00 CET, and we suggested that students should log in well before that. Most students should already be familiar with Wonderland, as we provided a tutorial on our website.

I logged in at 8:00 to set up the environment (i.e. place some sticky notes with guidelines such as how to mute the mic and added a Placemark to the Discussion Session’s “stage.” Then I started to record everything (using two Macs: one with Snapz Pro X, one with Screenium) and waited for the lecturer, who was at the Technical University in Munich at that time, to log in for some last-minute tests. However, due to some “unexpected technical issues” (aka “not sufficient testing”) at TU Munich we couldn’t get completely through the university’s firewall settings, so the lecturer didn’t have audio (for next time, we will follow Nicole’s advice and enable telephony support…) At around 9:10 we started with the discussion session anyway, as over 40 students had logged in already by then.

The lecturer showed his PDFs and typed comments in the text chat, asking students for feedback from time to time. In the end, there wasn’t much interactivity, but for a first real-world test it was very encouraging to see so many avatars following the “discussion.” I don’t even know where the students were located (participating universities range from the UK across Europe/Northern Africa/Russia/Asia over to Australia) and which client hardware was used, but I didn’t notice any major complaints, and towards the end we had 56 avatars logged in!

56 avatars logged in to discussion

56 avatars logged in to discussion

There will be four more Discussion Sessions this semester, taking place every other Thursday. We’re working hard to improve the overall experience and are looking forward to truly interactive discussions with dozens of students all around the globe!

About the ShangAI Lectures

The ShanghAI Lectures project is designed to contribute to the fundamental goal of making education and knowledge on cutting-edge scientific topics accessible to everyone on the planet. On the basis of state-of-the-art technology and novel methods of knowledge transfer and community building, it attempts to overcome the complexity of a multi-cultural and interdisciplinary learning context and bring global teaching to a new level.

To learn more, to: http://shanghailectures.org/.


WonderSchool

October 17, 2010

Today’s guest blog post is from Roland Sassen, a principal researcher at his company, THINSIA, which focuses on server-based computing technologies, cardio-biometrics, consciousness, and WonderSchool.   Roland is an avid Oracle/Sun Ray evangelist.  Together with Els van Tol, a teacher of Informatics, they promote the Carnegie Mellon University educational computing environment called “Alice” in the Netherlands and Germany.

WonderSchool:
Open Wonderland and Collaboration using Alice

By Roland Sassen
http://wonderschool.org

WonderSchool, a startup formed by Els van Tol and myself, is a portal for schools where they can build their own virtual world, or use an existing one, and give their users access to software programs.  Today, WonderSchool offers live Alice workshops for teachers in the Netherlands and Germany.

Alice is a program designed to make animations and games with just a few clicks of the mouse, while at the same time teach the basics of computer programming in a playful manner.

Girls and women around the globe have been using Alice to learn about technical professions like programming, animation and game-making and how it can be a creative, challenging and inspiring profession.  But girls and women are not the only ones taking advantage of the Alice teaching tool. Approximately 2,700 schools and universities use Alice today to teach the basics of programming.

You can make an animation or game, and load your project in NetBeans, proceed with your animation development by programming in Java, and save your project back in the Alice format, and play your animation or game.   (To install the NetBeans Plugin for Alice 3, see:  http://vimeo.com/5939727 )

Collaboration in a Virtual World

Collaboration is made possible by using the Alice application inside an Open Wonderland virtual world. Users can take control of the Alice application, make changes, release control, and the next user can take control and add or change the Alice content.  All users see what is happening in real-time.

Students can interact directly with their animations in the virtual world

Alice window running inside Open Wonderland plus Alice animation running in the world

In this way, it is possible for groups of users who are in the same school or who live thousands of miles apart, to make animations and games together.  Users can also communicate by talking to each other, or by typing in a chat box, by showing content in a pdf viewer, or by using any program they want.

Also, users can join contests worldwide and create animations about real-world problems. Through this type of rich collaboration and interaction, students learn that different users have different attitudes, skills, and views, and will learn to anticipate the wonderful diversity of our real world.

The Technical Details

To get the Alice application running inside Wonderland, we used the VNC Viewer module from the Wonderland module warehouse, which requires a TightVNC server.  Our VNC Viewer is connected (for the time being) to a Windows 2008 R2 server running TightVNC with the CMU  Alice version 3.0.0.2.3.

To get the Alice animations themselves running inside Wonderland, we used the cmu-module from the wonderland-modules source code repository with ant deploy. You could instead install the CMU Module from the Wonderland Module Warehouse. Since this module includes a server-side component, be sure to read the associated README file carefully, as it takes some system administration skills to install this feature.

Once in Wonderland, you can use the Content Browser to import your Alice animation into the world.  For licensing reasons, the Sim characters can’t be imported, so start, for example, with pets!

Our Business model

WonderSchool charges a yearly fee per user or per school for access to the WonderSchool servers. The fee is 75€ per student per year. Other education programs may be added to the WonderSchool portfolio. 

R&D

The task of WonderSchool is to develop a cloud platform so that the Alice in WonderSchool user can work with any simple end-device. This includes the off-loading of any rendering from app servers and clients to dedicated graphical servers. In this way, bandwidth-consumption and load-time will be minimized, improving the user-experience.

Looking for Wonderland Worlds

We’re always looking for great examples of Wonderland worlds with Alice animations so people can see what they can use these combined technologies for.  For example, if someone has a zoo made in Wonderland, I could import an Alice animation with moving animals and let people walk in this world. By the same token, if someone has made a beautiful Alice animation and would like to show her/his work to a group of people by walking within the animation, we can import it in a Wonderland world.

Have a Wonderland World?
email me at: info@wonderschool.org or sassen@thinsia.com

About WonderSchool

WonderSchool (http://www.wonderschool.org) is a startup formed by Els van Tol and myself, Roland Sassen.  The WonderSchool website is a portal for schools where they can build their own virtual world, or use an existing one, and give their users access to software programs.

As mentioned earlier, WonderSchool offers live Alice workshops for teachers in the Netherlands and Germany.  Schools can obtain an annual subscription for WonderSchool to allow their children /students access to Alice in WonderSchool.

WonderSchool, a THINSIA project, will investigate the integration possibilities of virtual desktop infrastructure software, such as Oracle/Sun Ray software, so that the end-user can work from a simple and cheap device.


Education/Training Brainstorming

October 11, 2010

If you are an educator or someone interested in applying Open Wonderland to either education or training, please join us in-world on the Community Server:

Wonderland Wednesday
Education/Training Brainstorming

Wednesday, October 13, 2010
1pm ET
find time in your time zone
Community Server

The purpose of this session is to create a prioritized list of enhancements and features most wanted by people focused on using Wonderland for education and training. We are investigating possible grant opportunities to fund an Open Wonderland Foundation project that would be of most benefit to the most number of people. We would value your input.

If you are not able to make the session this week, feel free to post a comment here or on the Wonderland forum.


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