Thursday, August 19, 2010

Brassica campestris: Virtual Harbin Histories, The first making of virtual Harbin as ethnographic field site took place using Open Simulator

Harbin ethnography:

... And in the course of my building of the beginnings of virtual Harbin in Open Simulator, the theft of my knapsack in San Francisco in June 2009 with the computer that had this on it, and “The Making of Harbin Hot Springs as Ethnographic Field Site in Open Simulator and Second Life” (MacLeod 2009), the history here of actually building a virtual, anthropological Harbin interactive field site, which corresponds with actual Harbin Hot Springs informs new ways of understanding virtuality, with great potential for ongoing research, as well as, especially, exploration and creation of Harbin life online.


The first making of virtual Harbin Hot Springs as ethnographic field site took place using Open Simulator (OpenSim), a virtual world which shares its library of assets with Second Life, but operates on its own grid, which connects the islands together, and allows avatars to move back and forth between them. With a friend who has a background in programming and network technologies, we got together 4 regions each to make two separate islands on his computer and on my computer. From my field Notes from April 30, 2008:

“Here I am in the program OpenSim on B’s machine, and want to start building a Harbin/Harbin Hot Springs in this virtual world. Where to begin?

Curiously, I stepped into what looks like a puddle in this unformed, virtual landscape, with its water and terrain. And I jump to the sky and come down. How? I’m familiar with Second Life, and this usually doesn’t happen without the user at the keyboard doing something. Did B, on whose computer this OpenSim application is, in Massachusetts, do this? (I'm physically located near Monterey, California, when I writing this journal entry).

And how can I expeditiously make a Harbin in this simulation, and then connect it to the Multiverse/Metaverse/Second Life?

I have a regular island to build on. Do I put the warm pool in the center? Looking at Google Earth and the USGS site for topographic maps, to see the boundaries of the property. What’s my plan?

I’ve taken some snap shots of this virtual world, and it will change a lot in the weeks to come.

The potential for creation is in front of me, and I’m a little discomfited. I have a number of things to learn. There’s a grid, and I can make anything imaginable, and I’m not sure how to proceed . . .

Can I create a space, a virtual social context for loving bliss vis-à-vis Harbin or Harbin Warm Pools?”

This was the beginning of the first virtual Harbin, and the possibility for my avatar to be on the virtual island on B's machine via internet protocol over the web, felt a little like my experience of man's first walk on the moon to me at the time. (B had worked in mission control on space missions in the past). At this point, I had been in Second Life for a little less than two years, and had first been on B's computer on an Open Simulator virtual island on April 11, 2008, and B's skill at trouble shooting the networking, and then connecting these virtual islands made my whole experience of virtual worlds fresh, and novel. He also controlled his IP address, which was important. In many ways B and I did what computer hackers (see Himanen, The Hacker Ethic 2001) have done through the decades in making buggy, existing software work. Although, from California, my avatar walked on this virtual island on his hard drive on his computer in Massachusetts, we never took the next networking step where his avatar would walk on a virtual island on my machine. OpenSim is different from Second Life in that the virtual spaces can be hosted on your own hard drive, whereas Second Life's virtual islands, or sims, are hosted on their computer servers, and thus controlled by them. OpenSim is also relatively buggy, compared with Second Life, and, at the time, OpenSim was much buggier software with much less functionality than Second Life. As a prehistory of virtual Harbin, this was an exciting event and creative moment. Here was a community of two given form by this OpenSim virtual world technology around the building of virtual Harbin using digital technologies.

During this learning-to-build-time in OpenSim, with Harbin in mind, I made a box which corresponded to the Harbin warm pool, into which, like at Harbin, many avatars could fit and soak, and filled this pool with virtual water. ...

( - August 19, 2010)

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