Science Conference to be Held in World of Warcraft

In May of this year the World of Warcraft (WoW) will host its first Scientific Conference. Although I am a frequent visitor to the virtual world of Second Life and have even ventured into a few other virtual worlds, I have yet to visit WoW. However, after hearing about this conference, my curiosity was stirred enough to prompt me to find out more about WoW. So I consulted the only WoW expert I know: my 14-year-old son, known in WoW as Poisen Arrow.
World of Warcraft Screenshot from Conference Web site
After he advised me about which race and which character to choose, he instructed me on how to install the software and sign up for an account. I also found out that I can become an engineer in WoW through an apprenticeship. So if it all works out, I hope to soon become a Blood Elf Paladin with engineering aspirations and begin my journey into WoW so I can try to attend the Scientific Conference from May 9-11.

In case you are interested in taking part in this, you can get more information by visiting the related Web site at:


Virtual SCADA – A Real and Virtual World Mashup

Physicist Alfred Hubler, a professor at the University of Illinois, has created the first mixed reality state in a physical system. Hubler and Vadas Gintautas, a graduate student at the school, set up a system that passed data between a virtual pendulum and a real pendulum about the physical state of each. While the real pendulum sent information directly to the virtual pendulum, the virtual pendulum sent information to a motor that controlled the real pendulum. When conditions were right, the two pendulums “suddenly noticed each other, synchronized their motions, and danced together indefinitely,” said Hubler. “Computers are now fast enough that we can detect the position of the real pendulum, compute the dynamics of the virtual pendulum, and compute appropriate feedback to the real pendulum, all in real time.” (Here is a link to the story: Real and virtual pendulums swing as one in mixed reality state.)

I don’t know if Professor Hubler is a member of virtual worlds like Second Life, but this story reminded me of the work that is being done on the Eolus One sim in Second Life (you can read about this work in the current issue of Grid Works magazine). The work that each group is producing is leading towards what I like to think of as virtual SCADA. The data is already there. The software to set up the virtual representation is there. Someone just has to write the programming to link it all. I would think that it would be very easy for some programmer or a company like the former Consolidated Electric, now owned by Siemens, to put it all together for implementation in facilities like water or wastewater plants or to be used in manufacturing facilities.

I am looking forward to the day that I can sit in my office and pull up my virtual SCADA to walk through the water plant and see what pumps are running, to walk inside our clearwell and see the water level in the tank, to virtually walk through the operation room of our municipal pool and watch the entire system of pumps, valves, and tanks as they cycle through their operations.

Some may ask why I would want a virtual SCADA when I can just walk into the real facility now to see what is going on. Well, I know from watching these systems for years, that a virtual representation will feed me more operational information in a quicker and more easily understood manner. Right now, yes, I can see the pump running and I can look at the pressure gage to see the pressure, but what about the flow. Many times, there is not a flow meter with a chart recorder right there. But in a virtual world, I can see all the physical components along with all the information about each displayed in some manner in front of me all at once. Data such as flow, pressure, chemical concentrations, and colors on equipment to indicate on/off/alarm states. I could see the water levels fluctuate in tanks I can’t normally see into. All of this would give me a much better sense of how all the equipment works together.

Also, what this would do is allow me to copy over the virtual system to one that is not tied to the real components. I can then change the design to see what effect adding valves, pumps, filter, chemical feeds, or other components would have on the system. All of this would eliminate problems with implementation of poor designs (such as the problem our city is having now that I talked about in a previous blog).

And perhaps I will still physically visit the plant every now and then. They do have coffee and doughnuts, and I can’t get that by going on a virtual visit.


Using Second Life to Teach Building Codes

Because I initially joined Second Life as a means of promoting the awesome community that I live and work in, my primary focus was always to find displays or builds that would help our city reach out to the community. One of the ideas I had thought about implementing was a “Code House” – a building in which the the International Residential Building Code could be shown in 3-D.

As the city’s building inspector I discovered that many builders and homeowners do not have the time, the patience, or the motivation to sit down and read the code book. I do think that the code council has done the best job possible in setting up the book and presenting the information, but let’s face it, few people want to sit down and read a book of regulations. So I have often wondered how to best convey the information in the code book in an easy and simple way that will engage everyone’s interest.

I believe that the Second Life environment provides the opportunity to create a presentation that will show the code requirements in a simple and intuitive manner. If I need to find out the height at which to install switches or receptacles, I simply walk into the house and the dimension is shown on the wall. If I need to show the width of a doorway, I put phantom text hanging in the doorway space. How much simpler can it be?
Code House on Public Works

Well, I started building the house but have to admit that it has been slow going – too much to accomplish in Second Life and that darn real life thing (such as my real job) keeps me from hanging out in SL as much as I would like. So I was happy to find a kindred spirit in the avatar of Brand Woodin. Brand, who is from England, had been considering the same type of idea but of course, wanted to build a home that would convey the English code. So we thought, how cool is that to have homes built to teach codes from different countries.

Last night we discussed the project some more and came up with some fun and interesting side projects like creating a kit to wire a light switch where someone in SL could get the kit and practice actually wiring it as they would in real life. The completed wiring job would work (turn the light on) only if wired correctly. Otherwise maybe it would blow up or something cool like that. Well, now we need a good scripter to help us implement that idea.

Eco-Build Soon to Come
Anyway, the home I am working on is located on the Public Works sim for now. Brand will be building his “across the street” from mine. English and American. Now if only we can find others from different countries who are interested in creating homes to reflect their codes. There is so much that can be illustrated and accomplished, so if anyone is interested in joining in with us to implement this project or create related projects, we would love to have you join in and become part of our team.


Can you communicate as well as a fourth-grader?

One thing that I have learned from my time in Second Life is how much all of us have in common even though we all work in different professions. Sometimes I think it is because all the work that we do, no matter the field, is based upon communication. Whenever anything goes wrong at work, what is it that EVERYONE says? “We need better communication next time.” But does that ever happen? Do we ever really make an effort to improve communications?

Up to the launch of the Internet, the only means of communication in the business world had been though conversations or letter writing. So as we tried to improve communication back then did we talk more? Maybe at first but then eventually we slipped back into old habits – it was never convenient to communicate. We didn’t see people, or they were not there when we telephoned, or we just didn’t have time to write another letter. Or perhaps conversations between co-workers were frowned upon as a waste of time.

And this is why I think the move to Web 3.0, or whatever it is called these days, is so important. The Web has given us, and continues to give us, so many means of communication and has made it so easy for us to communicate with anyone anywhere that there should be no excuse anymore for a lack of communication. If you are not adequately communicating today, it is your own fault for not learning the available tools.

With all the blogs, vlogs, wikis, virtual spaces, text messaging, internet-based phone and radio, social networks, and Web sites, there is no excuse for not communicating. The scary part of all this is that those of us who are out of college are already behind on the use of these tools. Today, as I was following my new philosophy of learning how to do my job better by researching what others are doing in their fields, I came across a wonderful blog by a school teacher: From reading her blog and the links off of it, I realized, school kids have already figured this out!! Fourth-graders are blogging and setting up wikis and using all these tools as if they have been around for years.

So for anyone who might still be thinking that this is all going away, you may want to start looking into what is happening on the Web these days. Not only are these tools growing in use each day by those in business, kids in our schools are being taught how to use them as part of their normal classwork. And even though experience in a particular industry still carries some weight, remember, it doesn’t mean anything if you can’t communicate at least as well as a fourth-grader.


Second Life Build as a Deliverable

Over the last year or so since my first introduction to Second Life, I have found myself trying to think of ways that this technology can improve or prevent problems or issues that I have at work. As I blogged about the other day, we had a terrible problem with the design/builder of our water plant reconstruction project – they completely failed to listen to our design requirements and ended up designing something that we do not want at all.

So as we work through the solution that I have come up with to resolve the design problem, I keep trying to think of how the use of Second Life may have prevented this. I don’t think it comes as any surprise that problems with the design usually arise during construction. This is really the first time that someone other than the designer takes a good look at what he or she has created. Also, design problems are hard to ignore as they are turned into “bricks and mortar.”

So how does SL help? Well, if customers/clients required a Second Life build of a design as a deliverable for each job, then the problems that would have arisen during construction may come up during the SL build process. I realize that this would probably only be true if the process followed more closely that of a RL build. (Wouldn’t it be cool if someone designed a tool in SL that actually knew if the build would fail in RL?)

Also, after the build is up, the designer should have to “walk” with the client through the build showing them what they are getting and how it will work (using scripting here). The build could stay up during the construction process so the client could continue to refer to it if questions arose.

Second Life has many possibilities and terrific usefulness in the design/construction industry. However, some people will only use tools if forced to do so. If we as the client push our designers to deliver a SL build as part of the project, perhaps the industry will finally catch on to what many of us have already discovered.