Sunday, 29 May 2005

Multiple default homepage in FireFox

The link is in Chinese. If you can read it, go ahead.

Otherwise, read on.

To have Firefox opens multiple default home pages in different tabs, put multiple URLs into the Tools|Option|General|Home Page. Separate each URL using a pipe character "|".

Alternately, open your homepages in different tags. Go to Tools|Option|General|Home Page, just click [Use Current Page].

Netscape 8 bugs

Once the biggest name in web browser, Netscape released version 8, but according to TechWorld, over 40 bugs were discovered within hours of its release.

One of the most important bug which may affect my work is the rendering of xml. While it nice to be able to choose between Gecko or IE rendering engine using a little icon at the left of the status bar, it also makes IE's XML rendering returns a blank screen, not only within Netscape 8's own IE mode, but the IE itself. The current work around suggested is to uninstall Netscape 8 AND remove an entry in the registry. (see MSDN blog entry)

As noted earlier, Fablusi is heavily dependent on client-side processing. I have chosen to use a JSON-like protocol between the server and client. I would have chosen to use xml. If it were the case, Fablusi would have been broken under Netscape 8 and would have caused it to break when using IE after its installation.

I was composing this post using IE 6 (after verifying the bug reported above). However, just before I post, I right-clicked to do a spelling check. To my greatest horror, no spell checking was available.

I now realise how useful all the extensions in Firefox have been. This post is now copy and pasted into a firefox browser ... (I am happy ever after).

By the way, I have installed a GreaseMonkey "Technorati Tags for Bloggers" which allows me easily add the tags to this post.


Tuesday, 24 May 2005

Personal learning

Have come to appreciate the role, value and importance of social learning, situated learning, learning in community and culture. That more is learned on the playing fields and in discourse with peers than from the sage on the stage. Even in very structured training situations, it is the break time conversation, the second-hand explanation from a colleague that situates the new concept, validates its importance and sanctions its legitimacy.

The post itself is a good read. I won't be able to express any better than Denham Grey.

I just want to pick up one point of this wonderful post. I don't understand what Denham means by second-hand explanation and I failed to find further explanation.

I have written about different types of experiences. Briefly, first person experience is experience that one has lived through. I also include simulated experience as first person experience. Second person experience is the experience you gain as a vicarious observer of an event. Third person experience are the stories that we hear from a story teller telling another person's experience. (Here I use the word experience and story almost interchangeably). When we were young, we generally learn via first or second person experience. However, formal education mainly concentrates on providing third person experience. Even the so-called experiments in science classes were more like verification of the theory we have learnt in class than real discovery of the theory itself.

In structured training session, during break time, I seldom see people explaining what has been told again to another participant. (I.e. I don't see second-hand explanation happening). However, there were many ocassion that we exchange our previous first/second person experience to validate or question the material put before us during the training. Such validations ARE not second-hand explanation. This also happens a lot in face to face conferences.

I suppose "blogging" is a good way of taking that face to face validating story telling into an online situation. While I am writing this post, reflecting on the ideas, I AM LEARNING.

You, as my reader, may or may not learn anything. It depends on whether these words will cause you to link this concept to your previous experience, or cause discomfort. Both cognitive resonance and cognitive dissonance may trigger learning. However, whether you learn anything depends on whether you are willing to reflect on this, and "file" this concept somewhere you can access later when you need it.

p.s. see my other new posts: Alternate Business Plan needed for Higher Education and Corporate e-learning trend written today.

Monday, 23 May 2005

Digital Divide, an update

My first post about digital divide pointed out that I did not believe there would ever be a satisfactory solution to equality in terms of digital access to information and resources.

Although theoretically, digital information can be reproduced at marginally zero cost, the access to these bits and bytes still depends on physical equipment which must be produced at a cost with a finite production capacity. Hence my argument was that there will always be differences in different stages of availability at different communities.

Chasing the Dragon's Tale has a post asking what "If computers become inexpensive, really inexpensive..." and raises the issue of power even if computers are in the price range (about AUD400) of current mobile phones.

I did a bit of search on the average power consumption of PC and would happy to settle at 220W (150W for the desktop computer + 70W for the monitor). The cost of providing such power to remote area using alternate energy source (say solar panel) would be around AUD2000 (using 4 1000 x 4000 mm panel with an output of 60W each would cost around AUD500 in Australia). This is still far from within the range of most under-developed countries. Although solar panel have a service life of 20 years, it is still a significant investment. If such money were available, there would be other competing needs for the scarce electrical power resource in the remote areas.

Another important point about digital divide is the assumption of ubiquity of the communication network. Yes, once an optical fibre is laid, the cost of communication is almost next to nothing. Yet, the initial infra-structure investment is huge and demanding. Again, if any fund is available, there would be competing needs for the fund for other more urgent infra-structure expenses, e.g. fresh water supply (although there is an exciting Australian invention which may help solve this problem in remote villages) or medical services.

While I like to see more equality in terms of providing digital access to communities, I don't see any chance of getting any better in a long time.

Thursday, 19 May 2005

Imagining the World: The Case for Non-Rendered Virtuality - the Role Play Simulation Model

This is a paper that I am going to present in AusWeb05 (co-authored with Roni Linser). Comment welcome.

Both role-play simulations and Virtual Worlds as pedagogy have now been around for some time and are both considered to be highly effective in creating effective and memorable experiences for learners. But whereas the rendered gaming model of virtual worlds seems to have captured the imagination of trainers, educators and researchers, the role-play model seems to have languished somewhat. This paper explores some of the pedagogic and psychological issues for learning associated with the rendering or non-rendering of virtual worlds. We argue that while rendered environments can contribute to learning, they are often too shallow for purposes such as fostering strategic thinking and problem solving. In such cases, non-rendered virtual worlds may be better in using and fostering the required imaginative capacities of learners.

Thursday, 12 May 2005

League of Worlds: The International Conference on Exploring Virtuality

League of Worlds: The International Conference on Exploring Virtuality

2nd Annual Conference on Online Simulations, Role-Playing, and Virtual Worlds
November 14 – 18, 2005
University of Melbourne
Melbourne, Australia
Call for Papers


The League of Worlds annual conference brings together people engaged in the creation of virtual worlds and real-time simulations for educational, artistic and creative purposes. Our mission is
(1) to stimulate and disseminate research and analysis regarding the theoretical, technical and curricular developments in; and
(2) to contribute towards the development of coherent frameworks for the advancement, application and assessment of creative, educational, and social uses of role-playing, simulations and virtual worlds.

Our primary areas of interest include:
a. theoretical analysis
b. the development of practical applications
c. the documentation of framework projects and case studies


The League of Worlds symposium is a paperless conference. Works and contributions will be distributed electronically and notices will be posted on a web-based conference discussion board. This year's theme is: "Playing and Learning in Virtual Environments." Presenters should challenge participants to take a fresh look at the questions that arise when people meet in virtual territories to play, to learn, and to share. Participation is purposely limited and there will be no concurrent sessions. Instead, participants are encouraged to attend each presentation and integrate their own perspectives and expertise into the conversation.

Presentation Categories
The League of Worlds conference is designed to support sharing and meaningful reflection. Presentations should allow participants the opportunity to share experiences, to demonstrate technologies, and to think critically. To facilitate these activities, the conference review committee is interested particularly in the following types of activities:
• Posters/Demonstrations
• Panels
• Roundtables
• Symposia
• Tutorials
• Workshops

All accepted papers and demonstration descriptions will be posted online by September 2005 so participants may read them before attending LoW2 (see below for deadlines). Presenters should plan for between 1-2 hours for their sessions.


Conference proceedings are peer-reviewed and will be published on the conference website. The proceedings will contain all accepted papers, a list of attendees, and the conference program. Papers should be between 2500-5000 words (4-8 pages). All others should be between 1250- 3500 words (2-5 pages).

Important Dates
Abstract June 1, 2005
Draft August 1, 2005
Final version September 1, 2005

Please submit the following by June 1, 2005:
1. A title and an 80-100 word abstract/description
2. A presentation format (e.g., panel, demonstration, symposium, etc.).

Notification of acceptance will be made by JUNE 30, 2005. Accepted presentations will be required to submit the following by August 1, 2005:
1. A draft of the paper or a detailed description of the demonstration.
2. Pertinent information about the presenter(s) including:
a. Names of lead presenter and co-presenters, if applicable
b. Contact information for each
c. Affiliated institution(s)
d. Job Title(s)
e. Experience with virtual worlds, simulations, and/or role playing technology

To be included in the final program and conference proceedings, please submit the following by September 1, 2005:
1. The complete paper or demonstration description
2. Registration and full payment.
3. An indication of any special requirements related to diets, equipment, or other pertinent needs
Submit all proposals in Word, RTF, or HTML format to:
Dr. Stephen Bronack, Ph.D. at bronacksc _at_ appstate dot edu
Mr. Roni Linser
Director, 2005 LoW Conference
E-mail: roni _at_ leagueofworlds dot com OR simplay dot net _at gmail dot com

Sunday, 8 May 2005

Reuse, Standardisation and Calcification

As we embark on the development of something, anything in fact, we no doubt will find ourselves in situations where we are reusing part of previous work we have done. Programmer uses the technical term "function" to encapsulate a block of code which is used in several occasions (reuse). Later, of course, we have methodologies such as object-oriented development etc. This post is not about such technical details.

When we write our lesson plans (is there anyone still doing this?, ok, assume we do), we found ourselves repeating several patterns which we are comfortable with. May be it looks like "revision of previous lesson, introduction of new idea, details, examples, more details, more examples....". Again this is a re-use, a reuse of the pattern.

The conversation style I am using in Conversation With My Evil Twin has a template behind it. I always have a "background" section and a boilerplate passage "Once upon a time, on a sunny evening ...."

When a team starts to work collaboratively on a project, we begin to introduce guidelines, rules etc in order to make the reuse more efficient, ie minimise the re-invention of wheels. (Ok, the guidelines and rules are also introduced for other reasons too, but here we focus on those guidelines and rules which are related to re-use). When the team is small and close, these guidelines and rules are negotiated and formed informally. As the collaboration team grows, with more members from more diverse background joining the team, this process of articulating the guidelines and rules starts to have a life of its own. This is called the standardisation process. As long as this process is driven by the active users (members of the collaboration teams who actually use the guidelines and rules in their daily work), these guidelines and rules are fluid, changing as needs arise and continuously re-negotiated. However, when the process is taken over by "managers", this is then driven by a completely different set of motives and agenda. "Political" considerations become more and more important. These start to surface and enforced: "stability of standards", conformance and examples where organizations attempt to 'refocus' anyone who is perceived as doing any innovative work 'out of the box' because this is perceived as either 'non corporate', 'off message' or just plain inefficient (Derek Morrison, World's largest deployment of Moodle? (part 2)) James Gosling call this calcification in an 1990 online article ( which is no longer available online.

Once certain "standards" are recognised as important and strategic by the upper management, the power of negotiating, modifying, extending etc of these standards are taken away from the actual users. Actual users are typically disconnected from the standard process (may be the users of standards are not interested in the political battles of setting standards, or they are deem as not representative enough from the organisation's point of view that their representation are replaced by more "senior" members who have no hand-on experience of the "product" they are trying to standardise.)

I will stop here and let you imagine what will happen next ...

Does this sound familiar to you? I hope not.

Thursday, 5 May 2005

Postscript to "The Psychology of Games"

By Thomas Nocera, registration needed to read the article.

In an earlier post, I reported on the "gameness" and concluded that these "gameness" elements are equally applicable in the design of learning activities. Thomas further points to a number of theories that

astute game developers can benefit from mastering

What Thomas is referring is "interpersonal communication". As he puts it,
The theoretical knowledge of what keeps humans engaged in relationships is important. Relationships are fundamentally dyads - where 2 people are engaged in 2 way communications in an ongoing, satisfactory, even if not completely pleasurable way. Understanding the motivating reasons why we remain in communication with each other is an essential component of game developer knowledge.

Two theories are highlighted:
"the exchange theory". As it applies to interpersonal communications: people will stay in relationships (or, communicating with each other, or playing a game)as long as their individual perception is that they are getting more out of it (the relationship, or the game) than they are putting into it.

The other is his own called Nocera's Law: Everything communicates!

When I was theoretising the underlying design of Fablusi, the role play simulation platform, I stated that human interactions are communicative events. The whole Fablusi platform is about modelling different types of human communications and relationships. I called Fablusi as a glorified conferencing system. Instead of providing choices for players to choose (and response), Fablusi enables *real* human players to exchange free form text behind of masks of persona as designed by the simulation designers, hence enabling the players to step in the shoes of another stakeholder.

After reading the response to Postscript to "The Psychology of Games", I am now more convinced that a good learning activity should encourage learners to express freely and receive authentic response to the expressions. Isn't Laurillard's conversation theory based on the same premise? However, what about extending the conversation partner beyond a student-teacher dialogue to include peer conversation?

Monday, 2 May 2005

Chain Letters from the Boss

I have written a post about a typical corporate scenario in my Corporate e-learning blog.

I am at a loss as to how to handle the onslaught of junk email that is routinely sent internally throughout my company by fellow employees including the executive staff and mostly the CFO, my boss.

This morning I received yet another "John 3:16, Jesus Loves You, forward this to ten people" chain letter email with the animated graphics and all that crap.

I think I have a better solution:
From a corporate learning point of view, is there a lesson that we can learn? If there is any HR people reading my post, you should think about the consequence this may have.

Any better solution? I think there is at least one. I will reveal that tomorrow.

Visit Corporate e-learning blog tomorrow to find out. Meanwhile, what do you think?