Isolation and 10 year-olds?

Wow, little did I know that I was going give fuel to a flaming forest fire over the weekend with my recent posts on the new client (1, 2, and 3). Last Friday my post about the sudden lagging of my lab computers running Second Life solicited a blog post at New World Notes. This post was well written and actually asked the question “Is WindLight Hurting Second Life Educators?” You can jump to the article and read all the responses.

Now I have to admit, in my first quick look at the new client, I saw the slider on the graphics tab and did not pay much attention to the two buttons below. I was in one of our largest labs (56 computers at a high school), and there were some cranky students and a panicked teacher (the one who will be teaching summer school with the Japanese here this summer) milling about. I posted an update to that initial look that night when I got home stating that there were options under the ‘Custom’ button. I also posted some links that Claudia Linden so kindly (and quickly) sent to me for an earlier client that was still compatible, and might solve our problems.

My main points of these blog posts were:

  • Unexpected results of forced upgrades of the SL Client
  • SL Client is hostile to networks (specifically in updating in a locked down system)
  • Lack of Open Source options with clients
  • News of Nicholaz dropping support for his Open Source SL Client (and his frustration with LL support of Open Source)
  • Priority given to WindLight over stability issues and client network behavior

I don’t think I am making any unreasonable observations with these statements. And actually, there were two developments today that were encouraging on this front. First was a comment to the New World Notes blog post stating:

“regarding Nicholaz (although i don’t see how it’s relevant to this discussion) I’ve been in personal contact with him. a group of us at LL realize we’ve done a poor job here and are beginning a new initiative next quarter to provide much improved support for our open-source community.” – Pastrami Linden (at least that’s who it appears to be)

We’ll see if they follow through on fixing the support next quarter on the code that they promised support on back when the client was put into open source (back in January of 2007). Those developers that were interested in open source, and may have taken a run at a client since the release of the source code, may have already thrown in the towel due to the lack of support over the past year. We’ll see how this rolls out.

The second positive thing today was a blog post on Nicholaz’s page about a new release of his client! He does give a caveat in his post:

“Now, before anyone asks (and I am sure some will want to know), my stance towards continuing the work on the viewer hasn’t fundamentally changed. My priorities are still my own business and real life, but I also must say that the leak hunt was a nice distraction. So I guess it will be best to make no plans and to allow myself to surprise me with whatever I may do next and that is all I can say about that.”

So this morning I went out to the same lab and started running a bunch of tests on those computers, trying to figure out why these machines suddenly were so slow running the new client. These machines are 2.9g Pentium 4 computers with 4gb of RAM, 256m ATI x1300 graphics cards. By most measures these are not low end systems. After getting very frustrated I disconnected one and threw it in my trunk to take back to my Tech Center, and ran off to a lunch meeting.

While I was at the lab I checked my email and saw the thread about “Is WindLight Hurting Second Life Educators?” started by Jennifer Olmstead. I jumped over to her blog and read the first few paragraphs (I did not read the full post until late in the day). It quickly became apparent that she misunderstood one of my statements about the state of computers in K-12 districts.

“There has been little money over the past five years for replacing computers, many of which were purchased back in the digital high school days (now approaching ten years old!).”

These are definitely NOT the computers that I am trying to run Second Life on, but these are fairly prevalent on our campuses (and many other campuses). Her entire blog post rant was launched from this single misunderstanding, starting with her statement:

“TEN YEAR OLD COMPUTERS????? HOLY COW, this isn’t a problem with Second Life my friends.”

What follows is one heck of a rant about educators that have unreasonable expectations for old computers. To get the full impact I suggest going and reading her entire post here before reading on.

She states that development should not be throttled in any way. I was not asking for throttling development, and I even stated “I strongly support the increased fidelity of the new client with respect to atmospheric effects.” I also said in the same paragraph “And I ask again, where is the flood of alternative clients that was promised when the client was put out into open source?

There’s a reference back to a job at Microsoft where a very bad impression must have been made on her by education. Jennifer makes a statement followed by a question:

“They can’t have it both ways: you can’t sit there, pay half price, tell the world you are leading edge educators in technology and then say your machines can’t keep up please to stop development kthxbai and not be called on the bull$#!+. What have you done to add to the Second Life community?”

Yes, educators get a discount on our islands (we also average about a 30% on most hardware). This is a direct result of our budgets (or lack thereof) and a desire of many companies to get their products into schools so that students build brand awareness and loyalty. As far as what educators have done to add to the Second Life community . . . . . the two listservs (SLED and SLEDT) where she posted links to this rant for public comment are evidence of what we’ve done. As a matter of fact, I would say that equating investment to project success educators have the best ROI of any demographic of user currently using Second Life. We often have budgets of only a few thousand dollars, and have to get really creative if we hope to keep our projects online. I personally know of several very dedicated educators who pay out of pocket to support their projects. And we are also the best bunch for sharing best practices, documenting our projects, and promoting our projects for other educators (conferences and journals).

A lot of the rest of the post I will not quote. She obviously did not take the time to even read the ‘About’ page at our blog. If she had, she would have known that the ‘IT Guy’ she preaches about getting to know is actually me, and the teachers in my district (and in Japan) that participate in this project not only learn Second Life, they soak it up like sponges, and the enthusiasm of their students reflects this.

Her closing comment confirms her misunderstanding of the 10 year-old statement:

“Before we stand up and spoon feed these educators trying to run leading-edge technology on TEN YEAR OLD computers, let’s ask ourselves if doing so is helping the problem. Like I said in the beginning of this I don’t think SL developing beyond the reach of their computers is their problem, go back to the chalk board and find another goat to blame or fix your ship then you can sail into Second Life.”

I am one of the biggest advocates out there promoting virtual worlds in education. I’ve been able to do things in my district that most K-12 people stumble on, and that’s getting the IT shop to open the firewall, allow access to Second Life, and find some work arounds to updating the SL client in a networked environment. And that’s exactly because I am the IT Director, and I control all of those aspects of our network. And I know others have referenced our project in pitching their own projects to their administrators. I can’t tell you how many ‘IT guys’ from other districts (including Japan) have called me to make sure before they opened their doors to this platform. At the request of Claudia (who has been a supportive Linden from day one) I’ve blogged everything about our project from day one. I’ve done this because I found websites like Intellagirl’s, Global Kids, and others invaluable when I was starting out. I want to give back so that others can learn from our experiences.

I appreciate all those who posted in defense of educators on the various blogs and in the listservs today. We are a tight knit community, one that will ultimately bring this technology squarely into classrooms where it has the potential to engage students and benefit the curriculum (and not deploy it where it does not belong).

And getting back to the story of the wonky lab computers post update, I had one of my technicians wipe the computer I brought back and install a fresh Windows XP with SP2. After an hour we fired up Second Life and it ran very well with WindLight. So, it’s obvious that there’s some software on those lab computers that in the past was likely interfering with Second Life, but are now in a fight to the death since the latest upgrade. Tomorrow we’re going to set up a virgin image with Quicktime, Second Life, and Symantec Anti-virus and then write some scripts to support dual booting these lab computers so Second Life will be isolated on its own partition and not conflicting with any other software on those computers. I’m tired of trying to negotiate conflicts with other software. This new configuration will make maintaining and updating the SL client on these computers a lot more difficult, but it should fix the problem and save a ton of time if we tried to get it to play nice on these computers.

As always, I will post the results of this experiment to the blog. All of us are out there blazing trials and being pioneers with this relatively new technology (5 years for SL). I guess it’s only a matter of time before you’re bound to run across some hostile natives.

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One response to “Isolation and 10 year-olds?

  1. As a single person IT department for a charter school district in PA, I have to say I wish I had your PC’s… and resources… oh and your ‘lab’…

    My office is a former storage closet that’s 15×8 feet in size… Administration hasn’t bothered to buy systems with good memory in ages, so none of the machines we have (of which we have 500 PC’s, from 10 different spending initiatives) include more than 512 MB of ram… & onboard video with some HP AMD Athlon XP 2800+ systems is the best video capable systems we have…

    Having said that… I’d love to get SL into our school, I think it could be a good fit… But since year after year (even when we have a $500k budget surplus this year), the board and administration choices to shrink my budget for next year… again… & that raise they promised me for acting as a 1 person IT department looks awfully non-existant from where I’m standing… Yet everything they do seems to critically require PC’s & internet access… God forbid something breaks and I end up deeming it unfixable… I’ve been directly ordered by the CAO to create laptops out of thin air, because he ordered me to have 30 laptops available when we don’t own 30 working laptops.

    Frankly as much as I like facilitating education & helping kids learn… I think another year at most & I’ll go work in the business again…

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