Second Life

I have too many hobbies. It's always been true. And, indeed, a quote by Mike Dunford has spurred me into writing a post... but not this one. The other one will come sometime (I hope). In grad school, I suppose it's possible I would have graduated sooner if I hadn't done some much theater. I wasn't always doing a play, but I had small roles in the musical Working and a sort of dramatic reading of John Brown's Body; I was the stage directory for a musical revue (the baby of my housemate, musical director Deepto Chakrabarty); I was a unicycling waiter in Hello Dolly!; I was Brutus in Julius Caesar (my favorite role); I was Antonio in Twelfth Night; and I was Polonius in Green Eggs and Hamlet. (Assuming I haven't forgotten anything.) I was also, the entire time, principle second violinist of the Caltech/Occidental orchestra, and was regularly playing with a chamber group administered through the excellent chamber music program of Caltech which was (at least at the time) amazingly well run by Delores Bing. And, I was a C-128 and Amiga nerd, idly participating in some things associated with that— at one point I ran the premier ftp site (this was pre-widely known Web) for the C64 and C128. I also started the Dramatic Exchange with Mike Dederian.


Now that I'm pre-tenure, I don't have time to do any theater at all, and I'm no longer involved in Amiga or C-128 stuff. I do still play in an orchestra sometimes, but I'm not doing a lot of chamber music.

I know that us scientists are supposed to absolutely hyperfocus on what we do and put all of our time and energy into that, but I've never been able to work that way. I've always had too many diverse interests.

Alas, I've found yet another one.

Second Life is sort of a "massive multiplayer online roleplaying game," but not really. It doesn't have a lot of "game" elements with it; there are no quests, goals, experience, etc. Really, it's a virtual world created and run by Linden Labs. Almost everything inside that world has been created by the residents. When you create an account, you create an "agent" or "avatar" (really the former, but people use "avatar" to mean a couple of different things). You choose a name for it; it's almost impossible to make it your own name, even if you wanted to do that. You then are injected into the world. You can wander around, teleport freely to where you want, fly around, look at what's going on. There are live music events (people show up and listen to music being "performed" by people who are streaming the music— sometimes truly being performed live). There are game-like things (including "combat sims," although I have yet to wander into that sort of thing). You can buy land and build things; there are plenty of impressive builds to find and look. And there's urban blight and sign pollution. There are griefers, people who's fun involves trying to annoy the crap out of everybody else. There are classes on how to get around. There's massive amounts of shopping, where you can spend "Lindens" (where 1 US$ is about 270 L$— you can buy L$ directly at about that rate) to purchase clothing for your avatar, or even new avatars.

And, there is the occasional educational event. One of my favorite places is The 'Splo, the SL (Second Life) arm of San Francisco's Exploratorium, run largely by Patio Plasma, who is the SL avatar of Exploratirum employee Paul Dogherty. There's the Science Center run by SL avatar Troy McCluhan, which frequently hosts talks by scientists (including me). There's the Slacker Astronomy group, who recently sponsored a talk by Bad Astronomer Phil Plait (although I didn't make it myself, and don't know Phil's avatar's name).

Prospero Frobozz

When in Second Life myself, I am Prospero Frobozz. I chose the last name from a list of last names that were available when I signed up; the name is a reference to the classic Zork games; the second game was entitled "The Wizard of Frobozz." The first name went with the wizard theme, choosing one of my favorite Shakespeare characters, the wizard of The Tempest. While many in Second Life conceal their real life (or "FL," First Life) identity, I'm open about who I am.

Working on my Celestial Sphere model

So what do I do there? Hang out, goof off. I am working on building a planetarium. I have built a small "tabletop" model of the Celestial Sphere, which you can set to rotating and such. Indeed, I sometimes fantasize about gettin gmy entire Astronomy 103 lab into SL to play around with this thing.... I also own an island and a gadget store. I've built some things. I've written some code. It's a fun diversion.

If you're in Second Life, look me up.

I will certainly be writing more about Second Life in the future.

More like this

Just a reminder: I'm giving a talk / Q&A session about the discovery of the accelerating Universe today in Second Life. The talk is at 10:00 AM PDT / 12:00 Noon CDT / 1:00 PM EDT / 17:00 UT. Find it by going to this location: Spaceport Bravo (120,65,278). Also, for those of you who don't know…
A friend (Deepto Chakrabarty, former housemate, and as such one who would understand) pointed me to this comic. To first order, that is a complete description of my behavior.
Hey, Bora got a job interview by suggesting that he was the right person for the job on his blog. I don't have the specific job in hand, but it's a public forum. Perhaps there's somebody out there looking for me, only they don't know it, and I don't know it. And, let me quote Bora again, because…
An insane audiophile of my acquaintance recently remarked (in a locked LiveJournal, otherwise I'd link to it) that while live classical music is clearly superior to recorded classical music, it's crazy to go to a live performance of pop music because "you're not hearing actual instruments/voices,…

So the Intelligent Designer was Linden Labs all along.

Jeb -- you were mistaken. I go up for tenure the year after next. And, at the moment, things are looking very scary for the simple reason of funding. Unless I can squeeze a grant out of the NSF, I'm going to be on the street. (If I do manage to get a grant, then there is hope I'll get tenure. Without it, it won't happen.)


I just became a Second Life resident also - Dolores Homewood. I will look you up if it's alright, I'm still kind of lost there. I'm certainly interested in seeing your planetarium and Celestial Sphere! Are you familiar with the YearlyKos convention? It will have a live virtual presence in 2nd Life this year.

NSF panels met last week, so word should be out any day now, except last I heard the budget had not yet trickled down from the division level - ie they had rankings and knew the overall MPS budget, but not how much, say, galactic astronomy was going to get the other sub-fields.

You still have time for an ATP round, deadline is june 1st.

Could you partner with a private company for an STTR?

If meteorology sensors could be modified to detect Nazi bombers, perhaps there are some technologies sitting around little used by anyone but astronomers that would have similar benficial impacts for the rest of society.

There is a war on you know:
Or that whole "going to the stars" thing instead of just looking at them:…
And DARPA will accept proposals on anything:

It is hardly pure science, but it might be worth spending an afternoon shooting the breeze about worldly applications of astronomy science and tech. If you want to go for an STTR, let me know and I'll give you some advice. I know very little about how to get them but I know too much about how not to go about getting them. ;)

By c. taylor (not verified) on 24 Apr 2007 #permalink

NSF panels met last week, so word should be out any day now

Yikes. I almost don't want to hear. It's very scary, since so much is on the line with these things nowadays.


I just thought you may be interested in this.

The blog is by a law student/lawyer (I'm not sure how his bar exam went, but I believe he is now an attorney in Texas) who specialises in, basically, computer games and related issues. In that particular post he talks about the legal problems that may arise from having professionals on Second Life, particularly lawyers and psychologists. He has a whole load of posts on the legalities of MMO's, in game economies, in game gambling and similar issues.

By Paul Schofield (not verified) on 27 Apr 2007 #permalink