National Highway Institute Using Virtual Worlds for Bridge Training

Although this was posted over on Govloop, I thought I'd repost here because it is so relevant to the public works industry. For some time, we've been advocating for the use of virtual worlds for training, design, and networking in our industry. And now it seems there is finally a sign that the technology is not only being implemented, but also accepted. Although there have been some uses in the past that we've highlighted here in this blog, this time the class is being delivered by the National Highway Institute – a hallmark institution with a long history in the industry. And if the interview embedded below is any indication, it looks like the use of virtual worlds might quickly become a standard training method among engineers and other professionals in the industry. You can also check out and sign up for the NHI classes at this link: It sounds like the bridge class will be ready to go in the near future.



Here's a link to the full interview: Meredith Perkins talks Virtual Worlds with Chris Dorobek


Modeling Stormwater BMPs in Second Life

Jered Spitteler's Virtual Stormwater Basin


Recently I met another civil engineer who works for a county in the State of Washington. He contacted me through the virtual world of Second Life where he is known as Jered Spitteler. Jered has been building a model in Second Life of one of the rain gardens maintained by his agency. Fortunately I had a chance this weekend to meet him at the virtual site of the basin he built. When I first arrived, Jered explained that he has re-created the basin and immediate area, including two homes that lie on each side of the property. Immediately inside the gate of the fence surrounding the parcel, there is a sanitary sewer lift station which belongs to a private franchise utility. The basin, along with its slopes, lies beyond taking up most of the area inside the fence. For now, Jered has placed some information near the top of the slope so people can learn about the best management practices currently in use at the site. However, he said his agency is researching the possibility of implementing a permaculture approach to improve maintenance of the facility.

The ease of modeling something like a stormwater facility in Second life is beneficial for educational purposes – both engineers and citizens can visit these sites to learn how and why best management practices are implemented and how they should be maintained. But it's also useful as a tool for engineers like Jered and myself to use for visualizing a design or concept. And, as Jered pointed out during my visit, because it's more than just a CAD drawing on a computer, engineers like us can contact each other and schedule a virtual site visit like Jered and I did today to discuss ideas and share experiences and walk through the design.

Jered said he has shown his build to his co-workers who thought it was pretty cool and had potential to be used for other projects. I think we both believe at some point in the future walking through our designs in a 3D environment will be a common task in the engineering process. If you are an engineer who is already in Second Life and are interested in seeing Jered's build, I'd encourage you to contact him for a tour. And if you haven't yet ventured into a virtual setting, but are interested in checking out his site, I'd be happy to schedule some time to help you first get familiar with Second Life. Just send an email to or DM or ping me on Twitter: @pbroviak.


Free 3D Software – Limited Time Offer!

3D Environment Created in DAZ


Even though this offer has been Tweeted and posted all over the Internet, I thought I would add a quick post here to make sure our readers know about it. For the month of February Digital Art Zone (DAZ) is offering the following software free of charge – you can pick it up at

DAZ Studio 4 Pro 3D Software (Winner of 3D World's 2011 Software Innovation of the Year Award): Retail $429.95
Bryce 7 Pro 3D Landscape Software: Retail $249.95
Hexagon 2.5 3D Modeling Software: Retail $149.95
3D Photoshop Bridge: Retail $199.00

The company also said any downloads of these packages would be eligible for future updates at no charge. "We're excited to make this offer early in the year," said James Thornton, CEO for DAZ. "We wanted to give any digital artist the opportunity to experience DAZ free 3D software for the first time, and a full suite of 3D models and 3D animation software products is available on"

Even though 3D is still in its infancy in our industry with it only being used in large, high-profile projects, there will come a day when 3D renderings will be an expected deliverable on all projects. The challenge for those of us working now is similar to the one we faced in transitioning from the drafting table to CAD: how to train and ramp up on a new skill that is not immediately necessary so we are ready when it does become a necessity? One of the roadblocks we face is that few companies or agencies will invest the time or money to develop this skill until there is a paying customer or an expectation by citizens. Which is why this opportunity is so valuable. The software is free; all you have to do is invest your time to learn it. And even if DAZ is not the final product your company/agency ends up using, I've found the 3D skills learned using one product do transfer to the next as well as the familiarity with the general framework.

As for learning the software, there are numerous tutorials available. All you have to do is search through Google or YouTube to find them.


3D Environment Created in DAZ


Turning Virtual Achievements into Real Rewards

Ped Access Master Virtual Shirt

The idea of performing an online task and receiving a "real" reward is nothing new. People can take advantage of coupons and deals on Foursquare just by checking into a store. And some sites donate to charities based on a person's online activity. But I keep wondering if people would be interested in having this idea expanded to reward someone "offline" with the same exact reward they earned online – particularly in the workplace.

For example, let's take one of my favorite companies, East Jordan Iron Works, and imagine they have set up a 3D environment that visitors to their website can log into and explore with an avatar. Perhaps they have created a world full of manhole and inlet frames, tree grates, detectable warnings and other products they carry. In this 3D space, they have established "games" my avatar can play that illustrate the benefits and uses of their product. Perhaps some of the "games" can even help teach an engineer like myself how to best approach the entire process of selection, design, specification, bidding, and construction of their products. Throughout the experience, I am asked for input that helps them better understand my needs, expectations, and opinions of their product as a potential customer.  Then at the end, my avatar is rewarded with a t-shirt with an awesome design. If the t-shirt is really cool (particularly if it has something to do with a sewer!) and proclaims I conquered some challenge, then I am going to want that t-shirt offline so my achievement is displayed by both my avatar and my actual person.

Thinking along these lines, I decided to experiment with this concept. When I created the 3D ADA Toolkit for Local Government, I set up rewards in the virtual setting so a person can receive a t-shirt for their avatar when they complete certain sections. The symbol on the shirt proclaims them a master of that topic. Then I went out to a site like Zazzle and set up the same t-shirt on that site. Below is an example of the result. It's a very simple implementation of the concept and could be expanded to items other than t-shirts. And although I know this is something I would be interested in, I was curious to find out what others thought of this idea.


Ped Access Master shirt on ZazzlePed Access Master Virtual Shirt  




The ADA Toolkit for Local Government in 3D

Most of us working in local government are probably familiar with the ADA Best Practices Toolkit for State and Local Government published online by the U.S. Department of Justice at The document is well-written and helpful in providing guidance in understanding and complying with regulations related to accessibility. But like most government documents, it is offered in a traditional, conservative format. One of my goals over the years has been to transform a document like the ADA Toolkit into a three dimensional experience.  Not only does a 3D space offer a much more engaging "read," but it can also increase retention of the material. So over the last year or so, I worked on building a 3D version of this toolkit. You can see a quick tour of the result of this work in the video below.

If you are interested in checking out the toolkit, there are several options for doing so. For those of you familiar with virtual environments, you can visit to learn where I have set up the hosting of the toolkit. One additional grid not yet listed on that site is the MOSES grid which is owned and operated by the U.S. Army. If you are already a member of MOSES, you can find the toolkit there by searching on the map for munigov. Then when the map locates that area, you can teleport over. (I will eventually add the MOSES setup as an option on the website, but because the website and toolkit were entered in the FVWC before I could set the toolkit up on MOSES, I was not sure I could alter the website until after the contest.)

If you want to check out the toolkit, but have never yet entered a virtual environment where you are represented by an avatar, rest assured this will be one of the easiest and least threatening places to visit. And because many people entering a virtual space for the first time are worried about interacting with others, I have set it all up so that you can run and visit the toolkit on your own computer. Just download and unzip the following file and follow the directions on the Readme file (this is a very large download – about 560 MB zipped and just over 1 GB unzipped):

By visiting the toolkit with this method, there will be no else who can enter the toolkit other than you. You can also download and unzip the files onto a USB drive so that you can use them on any computer. 

For those of you interested in my choices of design, I realize I could have chosen many different themes and visualizations. But for this particular document, I decided to remain somewhat conservative and traditional in my 3D representation. This is because people in my field of engineering and public works and even local government are still not yet heavily involved in the use of virtual worlds or 3D technology. So most people in these fields who visit the 3D ADA Toolkit could be entering a virtual environment for the first time. And based on feedback I received over the years from colleagues who attempted to check out virtual environments, I believe that they will have the most positive and successful experience if the virtual space is at least somewhat familiar. This is also the reason that I have set up the environment in several different locations. Those interested in checking out the toolkit can do so not only by visiting it in existing virtual worlds like OSGrid and MOSES, but also on the privacy of their own computer where they can focus on the toolkit and not have to worry about interacting with others.

I'd like to continue to explore transforming government documents into 3D learning environments and sharing them with other government professionals. And over time, as people become more familiar with the learning techniques offered by virtual settings, I would expect to eventually expand the visualizations to become more interesting and non-traditional with even more tools for engagement. Eventually I would also like to try out this transformation using other software such as Unity3D. In the meantime, if you have a particular document you would be interested in seeing transformed into 3D, or are interested in collaborating on creating one, or have feedback or suggestions for improvement, just send me an email or share your information in the comments below. 



Applying a Local Government Management Structure to Second Life

Today's post is a break from my usual "A Day in the Life. . ." series. This break is due to two reasons: taking time off for the holiday and working on a project I am submitting to the Federal Virtual World Challenge.

The Growing Digital Community

Lately I've been thinking a lot about communities. I guess this isn't too unusual because I tend to do this anyway as part of my job working for local government. But lately it's been different. And as crazy as it sounds, I think playing Farmville started it all. Yes, aside from inspiring me to dream up an agriculturally themed set of Transformers, playing Farmville has also driven home the point that I have truly become part of a community other than the one in which I physically live. (Which, by the way, why is Farmville selling stuffed animals when they could have been selling a whole line of these cool Transformers!?)

Sure some of the people I am neighbors with on Farmville are people I know offline – one is even a best friend from high school. But there are also many who I have only known through our mutual use of virtual worlds like Second Life. I don't know all of them as well as I knew my best friend – the majority of people I know from Second Life are more like acquaintances and most are people I have never physically met. But other than the difference of meeting digitally vs. physically, there seems to be little difference from the types of relationships I have offline. I am normally best friends with only a few and acquaintances with many. Some I may only know by name because I hear about their work or see their name in the paper. And this is also how I know of many in Second Life.

The Management of Second Life

So it was with these thoughts I read several blog posts about the resignation of Kimberly Salzer (Kim Linden), former VP of Marketing at Linden Lab – the creators and hosts of Second Life. Two posts in particular ( Communications and the Lab. Again, by Inara Pey, and A Rosedale by Any Other Name… by Aeonix Aeon.) explored Salzer's work, her influence on Second Life, and why it seems that the people running the ship seem to have forgotten they have passengers. I agree with much of what they have observed and with most of their suggestions for improvement. Yes, Linden Lab needs to come to the realization they have created an actual place that people depend on for meeting people, learning, having fun, hanging out, and for some, earning an income. Second Life is not a game any more than Chicago is a game because the Bears, Sox, Cubs, Bulls, and Blackhawks play games there.

In a way, the company reminds me of a parent who had such great hopes and dreams for their child to grow up and fit their mold of the perfect child. But the child grew up and become their own person with their own hopes and dreams that were much different than what the parent had planned. And now the parent is in denial or at least agitated. They don't seem to know or recognize this person who came home for Thanksgiving. At times, they don't know how to treat them. And the big question is will they accept the fact that the future of their child is not entirely under their control or will they, like some parents who fall into this trap, spend their time trying to convince their grown-up child that the parent will always know what is best for the child?

As caretakers of our communities, those of us who are public servants can also fall into this trap. We can think that our idea of how the community should look, operate, or function is best. But the citizens might think very differently. And this group vision can change over time. This is why we have a structure in place to manage the operation of our communities and why we regularly update strategic plans and create new comprehensive plans.

For a few years now, I've often thought the system we have in place in local government would work well for Second Life. There is such a similarity between the community that is Second Life and the community in which we physically spend time. So I have been waiting for Linden Lab to see this same comparison. And yet they have not. And I wondered why.

I started thinking after reading the posts today that most people probably aren't intimately aware of what exactly goes on in government. In fact, based on recent articles in newspapers, people probably get the impression that nothing really gets done by government – there's only a bunch of lazy, uneducated, not-good-enough-to-get-a-job-in-private-industry people sitting around doing nothing at all waiting to retire to collect a fat pension. Yet, nothing could be further from the truth. There's a whole system in place for managing communities that's been developed over thousands of years. Is it perfect? No, because communities are people, and people are not easily managed, but the system works most of the time. We all are supported by our local governments, and most of us provide this support so well that people have forgotten we are even here working for them 24/7. So maybe the Lab doesn't seriously consider this as a solution because they just aren't familiar with it.

Applying a Local Government Management Structure to Second Life

So, I'm adding my voice to the others out there offering suggestions to the Lab. And I've laid out below a beginning framework of operation based on how we manage physical communities. And because the digital space has some challenges and issues unlike many we normally deal with, the framework would have to be refined over time. In the end, I figure this structure could fit within the structure of a private business like Linden Lab, and it can't do any worse than the current setup.  

Applying a Local Government Management Structure to Second Life

Here is a brief description of what I was thinking about the basic function for each.

Chief Adminstrator – this is normally the city manager who provides the overall structure and leadership for the team. This person also makes sure the team is working towards meeting goals set by the strategic plan and doing so within budgetary limits. For Second Life this would be the CEO (Rodvik).

Community – this is the most important part of the structure because without a community there is no reason for this organization. For Second Life, this would be all the users/customers.

Community Board – this is normally the elected body chosen by the community to represent their interests in management of the community. For Second Life, I would suggest that the community be divided into regions based on what would make sense to the users. Some suggestions are: mainland, private land, adult land, etc. And then allowing premium members from each region to vote for their representatives to serve on this board. Based on offline experience and current in-world active population, I would also suggest limiting this elected board to 20 members with 2 from each region and a term of 2 years for each. Of course, because Second Life is a private company, not an actual government, this board can only serve in an advisory capacity.


Legal – the function of this office is straightforward and probably already in place at Linden Lab. However, perhaps this department could be expanded to offer services to the Premium members of Second Life. There's such a large group of users who are developing new content and products, perhaps a small office to offer advice on the legal aspect of trademarks, patents, and business would be helpful.

Finance – the function of this office is also obvious and also probably already in place at Linden Lab. Based on feedback from users, I would only suggest beefing up the customer service aspect. Perhaps adding a 311 type center that would not only deal with billing but all "citizen" service communication would be helpful. I realize Linden Lab must already have something like this, but patterning it off the 311 system might help improve its operation.

Communication/Public Relations – again, the Lab must already have something like this – perhaps it is their marketing department. It just seems that they could do more not only in-world, but in the physical world.

Human Relations – another typical office that is most likely already in place at Linden Lab for personnel and other employee issues.

Community Development – in local government this office helps carry out the community plans, helps develop policies, oversees building and development within the community, enforces zoning and other policies. These functions could be applied to the world of Second Life. We've already seen that zoning was eventually needed and applied. We also already have "building" policies and requirements that need to be enforced. I think most people who have used Second Life for quite some time would easily see how the work of this office could be implemented in-world. And they'd probably have some additional suggestions for this office.

Economic Development – like in our physical world, the economic growth and success of the community is vital. In local government, this office acts a liason to business, analyzes business and tourism within the city, supports local businesses and those looking at setting up a business. And the office promotes tourism and marketing of the community. Staff can also oversee events and act as a liason and offer support for groups hosting events in the community. Again, I think most residents of Second Life could easily see how the work of htis office could be implemented in Second Life.

Public Works – of all the departments in local government, this is the one that would be the least similar in its application to the virtual environment. In the physical world, public works provides and maintains physical infrastructure like roads, water, sewers, and electricity. But there's no need of these things in a virtual environment. Instead there is hardware and software supporting the operation, access, and management of the world. And there is the in-world infrastructure already created and maintained by the existing Linden Lab Public Works department.

Education – this office is not always a function of local government. However, because of the needs of the users in Second Life, it does seem that it would be a beneficial office to maintain. It would support training for Lab employees as well as education of users. This is probably already a function in place at Linden Lab. An office for outreach to educational efforts on the grid and educational institutions operating in the physical world would also be useful.


Citizen committees provide an important function for local government. They can help focus community interest and efforts and help advise management. Committees would be helpful in Second Life, and there is already somewhat of a structure in place in Second Life to work with. I've listed a few committee suggestions, but I'm sure the users of Second Life would have other suggestions. It would also be helpful for the Lab to offer a small budget for each committee to help them carry out their goals.


Another important process used by local government is to hold public hearings to help develop strategic plans, comprehensive plans, zoning changes, fee changes, etc. Public hearing feedback is normally advisory in nature, but can help prevent development of bad policy and unsuccessful projects.

Of course, I realize Linden Lab will probably never implement this, but I figured it was worth a shot at putting it out there for discussion.