21 December 2010

Net Neutrality! ... Not ...

Today, the US's Federal Communications Commission, which (cough) "regulates" telephone, television and some other communications media, decided on a set of regulations that pretend to adhere to "net neutrality" (Internet service providers have to be neutral regarding the source, content and destination of Internet traffic) but in fact undermine it. Most dramatically, ISPs will be able to treat wired and wireless Internet differently; landline service providers are supposed to maintain neutrality, but wireless companies can impose restrictions on the rapidly growing wireless segment. Apps and services can be blocked on iPhones and similar devices. In addition, the ISPs aren't prevented from creating "fast lanes" for their own content or for content providers that can pay for them (which they've been eager to do). The landline ISPs can also introduce tiered pricing based on how much broadband you use, and block programs that they claim cause network congestion. Basically, they can separate the Internet into (so to speak) a zippy private corporate wholesale system, and a slower retail market for customers like you and me and the small startup companies that provide most of the innovations in Internet services. (Unfortunately I'm depending on media reports of the decision; I've been unable to download the ruling from the FCC itself....)

The US already has distinctly mediocre Internet service. According to Speedtest.net, Gizmodo, cnetTechKnowTimes and other sources, the US ranks only around 30th in Internet speeds, with speeds lagging at anywhere from 1/4th to 1/12th of the top-ranked countries, depending on which figures you use. Many parts of the country still make do with the dialup modem service; some still have nothing!  Now it looks like we'll be even less well served by the major ISPs than we already were.

None of this bodes well for the increasing use of the Internet for all forms of telecommunications -- the Web, music, TV, voice, etc. I'm not myself a huge eater of bandwidth, although my usage has certainly edged upward, particularly after I cancelled my cable TV service some months ago and now watch my 1-2 hours a week online. But I have plenty of friends who might as well live and die on broadband. And virtual worlds like Second Life don't do well on slow connections.

Botgirl Questi recently commented on the stagnation of virtual world growth, arguing for the importance of browser-based access, and suggesting that
OpenSim Hypergrid technology (or something like it) is the way ahead for those of us who want to continue to push forward the old-school Full Monty experience. An integrated system of grids owned by small businesses, non-profits and private individuals will not have the kind of financial pressures that necessitate the kind of growth that investors in venture-backed companies demand.
Botgirl ought to be right. Along with browser-based access, there should be access through mobile apps. But under this ruling, one has to wonder how well small businesses, non-profits and private individuals, or for that matter Linden Labs, will be able to provide access of any sort to the worlds they create, or whether they'll simply get pushed aside. As the behemoth telecommunications corporations make the world safer for themselves, I have to question whether the "small fish" really won't have the sort of financial pressures she speaks of. I suspect the opposite is coming true.

05 December 2010

Split Screen's opening

The opening of the Split Screen Installation Space went far better than I could have hoped. During the first three days there were around 100 visitors (some of whom came twice), and people have been enthusiastic about the works themselves. Already a couple of artists have asked me about working there.

In fact a lot has gone better than I could have hoped for. When I approached Bryn Oh, I knew she had her hands full with the opening of "Standby," so I simply asked for her to put in her Burn 2 build. When it turned out that wasn't feasible due to the parcel's prim limits, I suggested she put up something else she'd already completed, and she said she probably had something that would fit the bill. But instead, she created an entirely new work. And not just something in her typical mode: although still quite clearly a work by Bryn Oh, "Mayfly" is quite distinctive, perhaps unique, possibly even part of some new directions Bryn seems to be taking. It is a nature setting. It has no robots, no steampunk creatures. Her windlight setting is naturalistic. "Mayfly" does center on her signature insects, but even these are different: they aren't mechanoid, they are wholly organic in appearance.

Miso Susanowa's piece is similarly unusual. Music and sound are normally key parts of her work. But not "Chroma." One person even asked me to confirm that nothing had gone wrong: there is in fact no sound component. Miso put in some sounds but decided they distracted and detracted from the piece. This is a wholly visual work, involving various layers of moving textures that interact in unexpected ways, creating effects that sweep from the pellucid to the psychedelic to the impermeable, sometimes in seconds. Figures appear -- a woman dancing, a couple talking, others -- perhaps suddenly to be obscured by waves of light. Equally suddenly one fines a clear path; turn just a fraction and it vanishes.

In a way, both artists also took a page from the other's book.  Not intentionally or even unconsciously, of course. But in many respects Miso's "Chroma" is a cam build, requiring the viewer to move her camera to different places and try various angles, involving a level of viewer camera skills similar to those needed by Bryn's numerous cam builds. And for her part, in "Mayfly" Bryn has created perhaps her most meditative and peaceful work ever, elements often to be found in Miso's builds, such as her Temple of Sound and the "Solar Symphony" (to some extent even in "Chroma").

Several people have asked me if there was an opening event.  Unfortunately, for various reasons there wasn't. The main issue was that homestead sims allow only 20 avatars at a time, which would be fine if Split Screen occupied the entire sim, but it shares the region with residents whose access shouldn't be blocked. So I would have to either arrange a time when they don't plan to be home, or (better) temporarily restrict the number of people with access to Split Screen in order to schedule the event at a time good for both me and the artists, and I had my hands full enough already. Seeing how many people came to Split Screen during the first couple of days (and considering how many people turned up to the opening concert at Bryn's "Standby"), probably I was right to be wary of inviting lots of people to a party.

Now that things have quieted down, I can think about organizing an event. BUT: if I decide simply to restrict how many people can attend, one option is to invite only members of the Split Screen group. You can join from one of the signs in Split Screen or by searching for it in Groups. You heard it here first...

Later edit: I tried to pull together something for this month, but unluckily, with the holidays nothing worked out.  But I expect I'll manage one for the opening of the next pair of installations.

01 December 2010

Split Screen opens with Bryn Oh & Miso Susanowa

About a month and a half ago, I noticed that half of a homestead sim near my house was for sale, and with it, I saw an opportunity to do something I've long wished to do, in a form I can actually afford, and from a sim owner I trust.

I leapt at the chance.

I am pleased and excited to announce the opening of the Split Screen Installation Space, where 1-2 artists at a time will have two months to create and display a relatively large installation, preferably of the sort not possible in real life. I hope that from time to time I can provide space to artists who haven't had much opportunity to create large builds.  But I'm delighted that the artists who are helping me launch Split Screen are two of SL's most notable: Bryn Oh and Miso Susanowa.

At Split Screen North, Miso has built "Chroma," in which she returns to the pixel magic that drew her into computer art in the first place -- the interactions of red, blue, green, and luminance. Within the moving, glowing colors, she has placed various figures which become visible if you place your camera just right. Along with being a tribute to the foundations of computer graphics, it is a celebration of the Season of Lights.

At Split Screen South, Bryn created "Mayfly," a new work that consists entirely of a natural environment -- something I don't think I've seen her make before. Dare I say, it's lovely? It might be unique within Bryn's oeuvre. Be sure to pick up the notecard for the Windlight sky setting, and watch the machinima as well (either at the site or from here). The first time I saw "Mayfly," someone was already relaxing there!

Both works will be on view throughout December, after which I hope to have two other artists come in. So visit soon!

I am grateful to both artists for their willingness to help me kick off Split Screen. I have already begun looking for the next artist(s), and I welcome applications. Here is a fuller description of Split Screen and its goals from the notecard I'm using in-world.

The Split Screen Installation Space is part of a homestead sim, set aside for artists and builders to develop a large installation and exhibit it for a set time. In general, one or two artists will use the space for two months (give or take), and then another artist will take over.

Depending on circumstances and goals, a quarter or half of the sim will be available.  Homesteads allow fewer prims, scripts and avatars than regular sims. A quarter sim has a little over 900 prims to work with. However, aside from that restriction, creators can use scripts, have music/media streams, build in the sky, terraform, set a landing point, etc.

I am mostly interested in work that either is impossible in real life, or in some manner deeply involves or challenges its audience, or is a lot of fun, etc. The space is meant for large builds that utilize the possibilities of Second Life as an artistic or immersive medium.

I am also particularly interested in giving opportunities to creators who have had not yet created many or any larger works, and can use an opportunity to think big and experiment.

Machinimatographers are welcome to film in the space, provided they credit the artist(s) and the Split Screen Installation Space itself. (Please note: my permissions do not extend to the residential areas on the rest of the sim.)

Creators may sell their works from vendor boxes/panels, and I don't plan to charge a commission. Please do not use more than three vendors -- if you want more than that, I'll give you a multi-object vendor. In general, installation pieces should not be vendors themselves; besides, you may want "touch" scripts.

I will use a few prims for an information kiosk, tipjar, etc., to be located in a mutually agreeable spot.

People are welcome to ask me about working in the Split Screen space, and I'll be happy to hear about artists who might benefit the opportunity. Send me a notecard in-world or an email describing your ideas, along with a landmark or SLURL so I can see some of your work. If you'd like to know more about what sorts of things interest me, it may help to see my blog.

I'm sure I'll revise this statement of intent as I go along, but as you can see, Split Screen aims to be a micro-version of Caerleon, the New Media Consortium, etc. I'll have to think about how -- or whether -- I should blog about the artists I support, so stay tuned. But I'm looking forward to promoting SL art not just through commentary, but also through direct support.

I want to thank Syzygy Merlin, who owns the sim where the Split Screen Installation Space is located, and the sim where I live. She deserves credit for letting me use half of a residential homestead in order to undertake this venture. I'd also like to thank Miso for creating Split Screen's logo (final version to be unveiled soon).

Finally, on the financial front, in order to lessen the burden on any one person (i.e., me), strengthen Split Screen's existence, and create the possibility of its expansion, I am inviting people to become regular monthly donors. I'm happy to say, one person has already stepped up to the plate -- Kara Trapdoor -- and a couple of others are at least thinking about it. Even small amounts will go a long way. Donors get a special group tag and the pleasure of becoming an acknowledged source of continuous support for the arts (and maybe other perks in the future). Please contact me if you're interested!

[For those of you who are wondering if I know what I'm getting myself into: yep, I'm aware that relationships between artists and patrons can be tricky, as described for example in the editorial written by NMC's Larry Johnson, aka Larry Pixel, and the many responses to it. I already had a mild brush with an artist who visited the space. So hopefully I'm going into this with open eyes, and a sufficiently thick skin.]