NOAA’s island was unveiled at the AAAS meeting in San Francisco this weekend, and the Denver Post wrote a short article on it and other US government stuff happening in SL. It’s a little inaccurate (we dont hold meetings in an ‘auditorium’ and the planetarium is on Spaceport Alpha not CoLab) but nothing harmful, and in general its great to have press that are excited about what we’re up to.

Text of the article below….

Denver & the west
Science web pulls curious into virtual world
By Katy Human
Denver Post Staff Writer
Denver Post
 
A giant tsunami crashes over three figures on a beach – a ponytailed girl in jeans, a sexy woman in a split skirt and a black-clad man with six-pack abs.Two homes are destroyed, but no one dies. That’s because it all happens in an online world called “Second Life.””Good job. I can swim,” said Pandora Zeevi, with her online self still half submerged a few minutes later, her skirt swirling in the water.Zeevi (actually Sue Galway, a human-relations manager in England) used her computer Thursday to visit Second Life’s new virtual island Meteroa, walking slowly through the ruins of homes smashed by the wave that broke over her head.

The sophisticated animation is the brainchild of researchers with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the latest of three government agencies to create a presence on Second Life for education and outreach.

Second Life is a Web-based virtual world – not a game, say some of its regular “residents,” who number 3 million. There is no endpoint or objective. People build their own three-dimensional selves, walk or fly around, interact with one another and attend events.

It’s free to join Second Life, but by collecting virtual Linden dollars – which have a changeable exchange rate with U.S. dollars – a user can buy sophisticated digital clothing, land and even body parts.

“It’s a very interactive and fun way to learn about earth science,” said Eric Hackathorn, with the NOAA’s Earth Systems Research Laboratory in Boulder.

“We’re just beginning to understand the capability of what we can do in this environment,” Hackathorn said. “It’s a technology that’s coming of age.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention pioneered the federal government’s entry into Second Life last summer, and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration created an educational island, with a virtual planetarium, a few months ago.

“There is an entertainment aspect to this, but … I believe all Web development will move in this direction, 3-D experiential learning,” said John Anderton, a health behavior and communications expert with the CDC.

“The value of learning while doing is just incredible,” Anderton said.

On Second Life, he’s Hygeia Philo (health lover), a professionally dressed woman who ran the virtual world’s first health fair last year.

Attendees asked Philo for information about a mother’s cancer, herpes, tattoos and dozens of other topics, Anderton said.

The NOAA’s island was officially unveiled Sunday at the American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting in San Francisco.

But the island has existed online for about a month, and about 2,000 people – rather, their virtual selves, called avatars – have visited, Hackathorn said.

Besides tsunami-watching, they took airplane rides through a hurricane, watched a glacier crumble into the ocean and flew across a U.S. map animated by snow and rain predicted by federal forecasters.

Some people make unexpected use of Meteroa.

The tsunami beach has become a popular place for nude sunbathing, Hackathorn said. And people are doing “R-rated things” in the hurricane plane.

That’s normal with any new media, said the CDC’s Anderton.

“This is part of the growth curve of emerging technology,” Anderton said.

The NOAA’s educational island is capturing the attention of Second Life users tired of the world’s more typical offerings.

“Rather than visit casinos and sex joints, I thought this would be educational,” Zeevi wrote.

The NOAA spent about $15,000 on its Second Life project, Hackathorn said, not including his own time.

The CDC spent less than $75 for its less-sophisticated display, Anderton calculated.

“We spend millions on billboards, television and radio,” he said. “This has great promise, low cost and high reward.”

His organization is putting together a team to figure out where to take its Second Life presence, after initial success.

For its site, NASA spent about $1,600 for virtual real estate, said Jessy Cowan-Sharp, with the Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif.

NASA holds a lot of virtual meetings in a Second Life auditorium, Cowan-Sharp said, to engage a community of people interested in space exploration and discovery.

Cowan-Sharp, also known as “dragonfire kelly,” hopes that group will eventually help NASA do research and development, building open-source software for analyzing mission data, for example.

“Or flight software,” she said. “The idea is for NASA to be more participatory. If you look at the space community and the computer-geek community, there’s a lot of overlap.”

Staff writer Katy Human can be reached at 303-954-1910 or khuman@denverpost.com.


How to visitTo experience the 3-D virtual world of Second Life requires a fairly sophisticated computer and a fast Internet connection – cable or DSL, according to Second Life’s website:Computer specifications: A PC user needs a processor with 800 MHz minimum, memory of at least 256 MB and a good video/graphics card; a Macintosh user needs 1 GHz or better and memory of 512 MB or more.Site: Go to secondlife.com for an explanation of the virtual world in detail, including system requirements.

What you’ll find: To locate science educational islands and areas, join and use the “search places” function, typing in NASA, Meteroa or Centers for Disease Control.

KATY HUMAN

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