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Re-emerging into First Life




There were a lot of concerns recently about where I have been, my 
visible participation in AMSAT, health etc. I should have probably 
notified the members sooner and I want to take this opportunity to 
apologize for that.  However email being what it is, during and after 
the Christmas holidays so much email piled up I was overwhelmed and 
the thought of reading through 100's if not 1000's of emails was a 
bit intimidating.  During January I was not in the best of health 
which exacerbated the situation and this continued into February.  As 
March is upon us, my health is improving and I should be back to 100% soon.

As many of you know, I have not been involved in AMSAT as long as 
many of you, though once I became involved I devoted much time to 
it.  During that time I've mostly focused on three things - 
education, training and information dissemination.  I have and still 
feel these are the cornerstones of what we need to keep the 
organization alive.  However one thing that happened shortly after 
the launch of the redesigned website troubled me, and I'd like to 
take a moment to share it with you.

The AMSAT website is a conventional website, that is, it is built 
with conventional tools that doesn't stress the average user of the 
website to upgrade computers,etc.  There is a minimal amount of 
"advanced" technology, and much was done to address browser 
compatibility issues as they arose.  However doing so drained time 
and effort from development that would otherwise move things forward 
- it complicates the testing cycle, diverts attention and inhibits 
our ability to provide new services.

Shortly after launch, someone I hold in good counsel took a 
middle-schooler to the website.  The feedback was not good - 
basically the reaction was along the line of "there's no animation - 
where are things that will catch the eye" (though some of the 
criticism I wouldn't even repeat here).  What I took away from that 
conversation was that we aren't reaching outward to a new generation, 
we are looking inward to an old.  No surprise, I'm not young 
myself.  However in the age where something like 85% of kids in the 
US own or have access to XBox360's and Playstations, it is no 
surprise to me that they will be looking for far more to stimulate 
their interest in most any subject than a conventional website can 
provide. This was certainly troubling and stuck with me for a long time.

After chairing the symposium I decided to finally have some long 
overdue down time to relax and do some research.  Beginning around 
the 15th of December I started to look at this problem - how can we 
build something that will reach out in the next level of technology 
to a younger demographic.  One answer I found was in something called 
Second Life.  Second Life (www.secondlife.com) is an online 3D 
virtual reality system. Depending on if you are reading Business 
Week, the New York Times or other publications, it is described as a 
chat room, an online social networking environment, a MMORPG (massive 
multiplayer online role playing game) and even the next generation of 
the worldwide web.  I first heard about it on CNN when one of the 
anchors talked about it, and I decided to investigate it.  Probably 
the best overall independent view of Second Life can be found in the 
October 2006 Wired Magazine article "Wired Travel Guide: Second Life" 
(http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/14.10/sloverview.html)

When I first entered Second Life I was not fully prepared for what I 
was about to experience.  Not having ever played video games before, 
this was an experience like no other I had.  Without going into the 
personal aspects of my experience, I can only say I was immediately 
overwhelmed at the pace of technology.  I immediately understood why 
the AMSAT website wouldn't appeal to a younger demographic - Second 
Life is a place that is virtual, 3D, interactive and has much to 
offer.  Universities are building online universities, museums are 
building online museums, and businesses are building online 
businesses.  This isn't to say it is not without it's drawbacks - it 
can be disconcerting the first time you go into a store, for example, 
and the clerk behind the counter is a giant panda.  It can be 
initially shocking when you see some person who is - well, naked and 
grey - until you realize that the finer points of constitutes their 
avatar (a person if you will) in SL such as hair, clothing, jewelry 
etc. hasn't downloaded into your computer yet.  Eventually you get 
used to it and learn how to optimize your video and network settings 
to minimize this.

What is appealing about Second Life is that it has tools for building 
3D objects, scripting them for simulation, documenting them and 
presenting them.  One of the first things I decided to try was to 
build a simple model of OSCAR III - rectangular box, a few solar 
panels and four antennas.  Easy enough, however not so easy.  There 
are obstacles to overcome, new tools to learn, and a scripting engine 
unique to the environment.  However I was successful, and proceeded 
to successfully build models of OSCAR I, 7 and even though the tools 
in the environment have some limitations on small objects, a CubeSat.

Inside Second Life there is an actual online museum for things like 
this called "The International Spaceflight Museum" or ISM for 
short.  I have joined the staff of the ISM, where I give tours and 
answer questions for people from all over the world.  I did this 
because staff members are allowed to also create exhibits, and my 
goal goal is for AMSAT to have a permanent exhibition there.  The 
hope is to have space for representative models of each type of 
satellite including audio and motion, and to have a story board that 
will explain the history of AMSAT and ongoing projects and if 
possible provide a 3D satellite tracking system.  I have begun to 
build these, and the ISM has agreed in part to provide space to me to 
build the exhibit, though at some point AMSAT will have to pay a 
small amount (about $50 US) if they want to make it an official 
exhibit and partner with the museum.  Other participants in the ISM 
include NASA, NOAA and Scaled Composites.  The staff is all volunteer 
and is as diverse as people like myself, people who work for 
sponsoring firms as well as staff and students from universities 
around the world.

To give you some perspective of the potential impact of Second Life 
for AMSAT, Second Life has a population of 3.1 million users, up from 
125 thousand a year ago.  Of those 3.1 million users, over 2 million 
have paid memberships. While there are no hard statistics, the 
demographics of SL is something like 55% in the 18-32 age range, 25% 
in the 32-45 age range.  The ISM receives almost 350 new and unique 
(first time) visitors per day from everywhere around the globe.

I thought it might be helpful to show a bit of what SL looks like 
from my perspective - I've posted some graphics at 
http://www.planetemily.com/sl for those of you who might like to 
see.  I wish they could give you the full 3D experience - it is 
really wonderful to fly around in a world where pass between actual 
size rockets and other exhibits.

Second Life is not for everyone - quite the contrary.  It will 
require a broadband connection, and it will require you to have a 
good CPU and up to date video card.  If you decide you want to 
investigate Second Life yourself there is no charge.  You just signup 
at http://www.secondlife.com, pick an alias for your avatar (my 
avatar's name is Emileigh Starbrook) and download the software, which 
supports PC, Mac and Linux.  Once you are logged on (which is called 
being "in-world") there is an initial training cycle to teach you how 
to walk, fly, pick up objects and will teach you a little about the 
SL culture.  If you decide to become a builder, there are online 
classes, tutorials and lectures that will help you learn these skills.

Although a Second Life presence will never replace the AMSAT website, 
I believe it will set the future pace of things we will need to do in 
the future and the way effective outreach will take place.  It has 
been exciting for me to explore Second Life and I hope that AMSAT 
will benefit from this soon.

73,

Emileigh Starbrook, AKA N1DID




---------------------------------
N1DID formerly W0EEC - CM87tm

Support Project OSCAR - http://www.projectoscar.net

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