I SING THE TECH VIRTUAL

Peter Friess, the director who brought the Tech Museum of San Jose back from the brink has just wrapped the four month Body World’s exhibition which brought nearly 300,000 visitors to the museum. This was a great opportunity for the people to see the old museum because it is changing and evolving into…well, we shall see. The Tech has launched an innovative new program called thetechvirtual headed up by the amazing Nina Simon. Nina and her staff using the environment developed by SL founder Phillip Rosedale (and now a member of the Tech Board of Directors) have created a virtual Tech Museum. Maybe you were busy watching Desperate Housewives when you should have been trolling the Internet so you might not know that Second Life is a virtual community with real people represented by on screen avatars. These are essentially 3 D models of one’s fantasy self. There you interact with others in an environment that is part Sim City, part video game environment and a large slice of Burning Man. It is not just a playground. IBM has one of the largest populations of peoploids there. Many folks meet in SL to have business meetings and some of these are taking place at the virtual Buck’s just like they do here in the real restaurant. What, you have still not been there? Give it a whirl. Second Life now has voice and embedded videos so you can make your virtual space look just like home… sort of.

Hundreds of thinkers and designers are creating exhibitions for the virtual museum and the best ones are going to be built in the real museum. Imagine an open source competition for the design of a museum dedicated to technological innovation. From the website, “Rather than relying on in-house designers to conceptualize and create exhibits, The Tech has launched a collaborative online platform to support a diverse community of designers, artists, scientists, and interested folk conceptualizing and prototyping exhibits. Projects are proposed and teams formed on the web at thetechvirtual .org and then proto-typed in Second Life. The Tech is offering exhibit design tutorials, design reviews by museum professionals, and the chance to see your virtual ideas become real exhibits. The Tech intends to design all future exhibitions in this way, working with outside individuals to bring their unique creative vision and expertise to the museum to create unusual, extraordinary exhibitions. The Tech launched this project in Dec 2007, and is piloting with an exhibition (to be mounted in RL in June 2008) on technology in art, film, and music. Ten virtual exhibit prototypes will be selected for development in the RL exhibition, and their creators will be invited to San Jose for an awards ceremony and exhibition opening in June 2008.” Exhibit designers are working all over the world on this project.”

One university in Australia is even using the competition as a curriculum for their design students. Another team includes a well established physicist and an 18 year old computer wiz. The physicist had been working out design parameters respecting certain of the ‘laws” like gravity and magnetism. But these are not laws in Second Life but rather dial settings it takes a kid to teach the new rules. Human emotions stay the same but all the rest of reality is pretty much customizable.

Peter believes that this will be the way the museum of the future will be designed and as we see, everything (except maybe Apple products) is heading this way. Many millions have been raised from foundation grants for this project.

One thing about SL is that every avatar has a real person running in real time. But as shops and exhibitions develop there will be robotic virtual you’s possible. If it sounds like you have fallen through the looking glass, it’s true.

WORLD’S LAST LARGE
SHARK CAUGHT

finned_shark copy

If nothing changes in the next 10 years this is a likely headline.

Around 100 million sharks are caught annually worldwide. Nearly all have their fins chopped off after which their bodies are tossed overboard. The fins sell for an average price in China of over $100 a pound and are used for shark fin soup. This soup is served at fancy functions as a status symbol.

Most Chinese have no idea that sharks are being wiped out across the planet in order to provide them with the ingredient for what they know as “fish wing soup” and the people behind this awful trade have no incentive to tell them. We all love tigers, polar bears, rhinos and many other endangered species but unlike sharks these animals have vigorous support and there is a great international pressure to preserve them.

Most shark fisheries are unregulated. Only three shark species are protected but in the open ocean when fishermen are faced with a single fin from a whale shark having a street value of perhaps $6,000 it is no wonder that these fins can be seen in shops in China. Because the Chinese are becoming much wealthier, there is an ever great demand. If we can alert the Chinese to the fact that sharks are actually the apex of the fragile ocean food chain then they will be better equipped to change this practice before it’s too late. Leveraging millions of dollars of pro bono media support, San Francisco based WildAid has mounted the largest ever awareness program of its kind routinely reaching hundreds of millions of Chinese through hard hitting messages featuring prominent Chinese including Yao Ming as well international Olympians.

I have been hovering over so many good causes and have dabbled in some but I have always worried that my effort either would be insignificant or off topic from my interests. Now I can combine my love of the oceans with an awareness program that has a profound cost benefit ratio. I am convinced that we can help change a cultural viewpoint with WildAid’s campaign during the Olympics. WildAid.org

A BOOKSTORE CURIOUSLY DEVOID OF BOOKS

Honre-PellegrinAt this time Buck’s “the smallest bookstore in the world” has no book for sale which meets the criteria of being written by a local author and having three flattering pages about me. That is if you don’t count that tired old wad of paper actually written by me, (Breakfast at Buck’s, you can buy it here but you can get on it Amazon. [that’s where I buy them myself] for as low as $1.22 in like new and even brand new condition (ouch!). Right now I’m the 1,096,475th most popular but if you buy a book I can shave a few points. At least I beat 16 Great Fondue Parties – a real hit I’ll bet in 1957. By this time everyone has read this tired old saw so it’s time to pick up a snappy new book. The one I recommend is Two Years Before The Mast (Amazon used $2.37 ). Well, not so new but still one of the reel gud bux. Written in the 1830’s by Richard Henry Dana it tells the true tale of a lad who was a freshman at Harvard when he convinced his parents that his eyes were tired (typical kid move) and they needed a rest so he signed on as an able bodied (but green as the grass) seaman and shipped “before the mast” from Boston to California. The book is a tale of innocence and a story of one young man coming of age in the rough, cruel and lovely place that was early California.

Many of you will have read it in school (trust me Moby Dick is still great too) but it is high time that you split the spine of this one again. Before the Gold Rush, California was known as hard service and it stretches one’s mind to take in the incredibly difficult work the seamen of that era were expected to perform. Hauling cargo through the surf, going barefoot because shoes don’t heal like feet and subsisting on a dog’s diet. The ships that plied the coast traded the goods of the east and Far East primarily for cow hides which were shipped to New England to be made into saddles and boots which came back to be traded for more hides. Early California was built on blood and bone. Down the Peninsula at that time in Woodside there was a single saw mill and a few Spanish and Portuguese farmers. The Indians had skedaddled a generation earlier and it would be a long time until all the Aston Martins showed up.

The only real action was on the coast and the happening spot was the first capital, Monterey. Many of the buildings from the early 1800’s are still there. San Diego was just a small farming community. In San Francisco there was the Mission and one ranch and LA was miles from the coast where the downtown is today.

Dana writes in dramatic writerly prose about life at sea and the rhythm of the ship. He says that “a ship is like a ladies watch, in constant need of repair.” Imagine that just moving about required all that sail trimming and anchor setting. Each vessel was like a little country and the captain was the lawgiver. Flogging was common and in heavy weather there was no rest unless you were washed overboard or fell from the rigging. It seems amazing today that anyone could endure the life but they did because even though they were driven hard it was a large way to be, a vigorous and manly life. Until about the last hundred years young men have yearned for the sea since the first boats. Alas, since the close of the age of sail this is no longer the case.

Dana tells us the sailors were mighty homesick and mail was sent both ways. Because there was no postal system it could take months or years to get a letter and some letters chased about the seas until they became dust. Today we can Skype for free but back then one had to write a letter in long hand, then you went down to the wharf and gave it to a ship that was headed to the ocean that your sailor had shipped out for. Ships generally “spoke” to (hailed) all the ships they passed and by and by triangulated on the recipient. An amazing amount of mail found its mark. Not unlike the light from a distant star the words were frozen in time and they might finally reach the right ship to find the sailor has died. The seas hold a great many fish, and secrets.

Two Years Before the Mast puts the reader into the very rigging for a big blow of a tale. I’m not stocking it here but if you snag a copy make sure that you get the one with an afterward written by Dana when he came back in 1869. His was the only voice about what things were like in California before gold was discovered and he gets a good deal of credit for popularizing the West.

A Note on Wikipedia. In looking up a few details of the book on Wikipedia I clicked through to gutenburg.org. I had heard about it but never been there. Here are thousands of books available as text or audio read by real people or even machines. All in the public domain. So you can get Dana’s book for free with a few keystrokes.