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Interview with Smithee

 By Betty B Introduction:

Andy Smith aka Smithee, living in London/England, opened his aw world CVDS (Collaborative Virtual Design Studio), which is connected to CASA(Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis ) based at the University College London, on 1 December 1998. CVDS started as a one time 30 days project .
Smithee´s goal is to look at the things people build. Due to it's success itwill continue with another 30 days( which will start on Monday January, 11th 1999). To get ppl in, he offered on the first 30 days a citizenship for the best innovated building. Which was won by Brenda. (Congratulations Brenda :)) The next 30 days, people can win a High Rez cd-rom of active worlds, for the one who builds the most innovated building. But this time you also can add your own made rwx objects and textures to your building!! I think it will be very interesting to see what ppl are going to create and display in CVDS. 

When you enter CVDS and open the web browser you can look at map of CVDS, which is updated every day, so you have an overview on the developments in the world. A lot of fancy words and abbreviations in the above text, so I thought it is time to let the creator of CVDS speak for himself and tell us what he is doing in CVDS and give him a chance to get more people into building in CVDS .

Interview:

Betty B: When was the first time you heared of AW?
Smithee: Good question, i came across AW while looking up VRML browsers on the web. It came up as AW was not a VRML browser (at that time, it now imports limited VRML 2.0 Nodes)! Such is the wonders of web search engines.
Betty B: True love the search engines :)) 
Betty B: Did you visit more virtual worlds, like palace or others?
Smithee: I visited Blaxxun and Community Place mainly. I was really impressed by Blaxxun at the time, this was 18 months ago
Smithee: But also the Palace and VChat etc etc..
Betty B: And why were you looking for those browsers?
Smithee: I was writing a report for the Advisory Group on Computer Graphics as part of my research at University College London. The main section of the report was on VRML, as 2.0 was in its early days, and 2.0 seemed to promise so much
Betty B: you were mapping the vrml?
Smithee: No we were using VRML to model urban environments on the web,combining our work with Panoramic Imaging and CAD based modelling.
Betty B: So you were already working on making your own 3D world?
Smithee: Yes, I personally was already creating our first Blaxxun worlds. Using Blaxxun you could make the VRML multiuser with avatars, a major step forward at the time, Sony was doing a similar thing at the same time, but the two systems were not compatible.Using Blaxxun we managed to combine Photorealistic images with avatars. I also went down the Superscape VRT route using Blaxxun as the multiuser interface
Betty B: ok so your company is part of the University of London, who does research on special um...thinghies lol..... and looking to virtual life as an example for many real things in life right?
Smithee: The company (Plannet http://www.plannet.co.uk) is seperate to my University research
Smithee: I set up the company last year as a spin off to the research
Betty B: ah i see
Smithee: The Universiry work is aimed at creating a real representation of an urban environment in a virtual world, for use in public participation, planning and architecture.
Betty B: Why using internet to do research and compare it with real life?
Smithee: If you can model real life in a virtual world it gives those without access to locations in real life a say in design descisions. For example our Wheelchair based avatar in CVDS is used to give planners and designers a view of the world from a WheelChair users point of view.
Betty B: Are there wheelchairs? I never saw them:(
Smithee: They have been taken out while 30 Days is running
Betty B: ok i understand that you can use 3D worlds for many things, but..
Smithee: ...
Betty B: i was asking myself why not try most things in real life? Likethe wheelchair...ask people in wheelchairs what their priority is
Smithee: Because not all people get a say in real life. By placing the work on the net you can widen participation.
Betty B: yes thats true
Smithee: ie we are placing CVDS in old age homes in the new year
Betty B: Well maybe a boring question......but why?
Smithee: To give the eldery a say in the design decisions of their local area, because they, at least in the UK, are often an over looked section of society. Give them a say in cyberspace and you give the power back into their hands
Betty B: So you're creating their enviroment online? Or can they make their own?
Smithee: We are doing both, creating variations of an environment as well as letting them design there own from sctratch
Betty B: But will it have influence on their real life? 
Smithee: Yes it will, the envrionment is planned for us all, but only a few have a say. We are giving power back to the people, using digital technologies. We are placing AW and related technologies in public access points. Libraires, London Museums, and Community Centres. Also working on a Housing Development in New Jersey, USA. Local envrionemntal issues become global if modelled in multi user VR
Betty B: So if i understand it right...
Smithee: yes,..
Betty B: You think that if you bring technology...back to the ppl, then you get a better insight in people's needs
Smithee: We can give them a say.... thats the important point.... at the moment a large number of minority groups arent even given the chance to participate. 
Smithee: We are asking them, using easy to access technology
Betty B: Um... am i asking stupid questions ?
Smithee: No your questions are just fine :O)
Betty B: Feeling a bit silly lol
Smithee: Which is why i use AW
Smithee: No your doing great......
Smithee: (ask me why i use AW)
Smithee: lol
Betty B: So the idea behind cvds, is that ....lol
Betty B: Hey Smithee, why do you use AW?
Betty B: LOL
Smithee: rotfl
Smithee: I'm glad you asked that!
Smithee: Its a long story.....
Betty B: well tell me :)
Smithee: Using Community Place and Blaxxun, VRML enabled use to incorporate additonal behaviour into urban models. However, it soon became clear that the rendering speed for detailed urban models was too slow for entry level machines...we were then using P90s
Betty B: those are computur systems?
Smithee: They ran ok in our Virtual Reailty Theatre, using our high end SGI, but not on a slow Internet link. So the concept of internet delivery and public access was lost. I then came across ActiveWorlds, using RWX, and it seemed interesting. It ran smoothly on a low end system and far out performed any VRML browers...
Betty B: And available to everyone
Smithee: Well VRML was/is available for every one as well.....Aw is only PC, VRML is cross platform.
Betty B: oh ok :)  psst i´m a nitwit in computer world, but go on tell our readers :)
Smithee: But AW didn't contain the ability to encode behaviour and viewpoint tours like vrml
Smithee: (lol thats fine....)
Smithee: So at first it was just software to evaluate and write up in the report, but the more i looked into it, the more i liked it
Betty B: What are viewpoint tours? That you can chose whatever point of view you like?
Smithee: Viewpoint tours are like Teleports, but they run smoothly and create a rolling tour of a scene, they move you to new views of a scene
Betty B: But isn´t that what they use in here too?
Smithee: Well yes and no....AW is a lot larger then a VRML model...so teleports jump you to places, rather then render a fly past
Betty B: ah ok
Betty B: but bump warps do that
Smithee: yes, but warps fly you at great speed, viewpoint tours are a tour....you can see where you are going on the way, its like having an automated guided tour of a world....where was i! lol
...... arh yes Aw....
Betty B: So you chose aw.....
Smithee: I choose Aw for a number of reasons....
Smithee: Firstly the flexibility of the server, the 30 Day trail is really useful. Secondly, the speed of RWX, enabling CAD models from Software such as 3D Max to be ported into a 3D multi user world. 
Thirdly, the ability to build, but build using objects created by the world owners in as mentioned 3D max, the London Pub is an example in CVDS. I'm not keen on AW objects a such, but being able to add our own begins to enable us to place the real world in the virtual
Betty B: What was your first work in AW?
Smithee: My first Aw work was Scicity
Smithee: Science City, (scicity on the worlds list) was built in 7 days, it was really part of the learning curve to get to grips with 3DMax and AW in one week.... SciCity was built around an exsiting web site.A research group asked us to complement the site with a 3D world. A number of our texture mapping techniques now used were tried out in SciCity. But i think if you look around SciCity now, we hadn't really got the lighting quite right at the time
Betty B: Like the panoramic view?
Smithee: No, the panoramic views came in our 'Reality Rooms' in CVDS. The Reality Rooms are like a Tardis Principle....A Small Box on the outside and a large round open space inside. It enables reality to be quickly modelled in a virtual world
Betty B: I have a question about that
Smithee: Ok go ahead
Betty B: How come that the pixels always seem wrong?
Smithee: The Reailty Rooms are in early days, they were first built in VRML
Betty B: Why isn´t it possible to have the same quality like you would look at a picture on a web site? How come the web site pictures look sharp , but not on a picture in here ?
Smithee: It's because the ActiveWorlds software maps an image to 128x128 pixels, regardless of size. So if you place an image which is approx 70 foot high, it becomes pixelated, we can get around that by cutting the image up into seperate sections
Betty B: So best result in aw you get when its 128x128
Smithee: The high res CD gives 256x256,but yes in the web worlds its 128x128. Which is why the reality seems a little rough around the edges at the moment!
Betty B: Where are the reality rooms?
Smithee: The panoramic room, and the London Features, were cleared for the 30Days project. They will be back in a new server in the new year.We will then be running 4 worlds
Betty B: 4?
Betty B: The old peoples home one?
Smithee: Scicity, CVDS, Atlas and the up and coming server
Smithee: The old peoples one will be another one
Betty B: Can everyone enter it?
Smithee: Yes, all our work is open access
Betty B: Cool so i can acctually meet the persons who are going to build there?
Smithee: We will also be running our Aw work using VR Headsets in London Museums
Betty B: thats really great Smithee ....love to see that :)))


Betty B: ok why did you chose for another 30 days?
Smithee: Origionally the project was going to only run for 30 Days, as we needed the server for our other work modelling the Real World in AW. But the amount of building and community spirit that developed made us rethink the project.
Betty B: What changed?
Smithee: It was decided to dedicate a server to 30 days and continue to map and log progress, a number of new aspects will be introduced as time goes on.
Betty B: like adding own models of builders?
Smithee: For example a range of new objects will be introduced, these will be rw objects differing considerably from the aw range and users will be able to add thier own rwx models
Betty B: Sounds exciting :)
Smithee: A web page will be online shortly with details. Yes, no other world has allowed users to import rwx objects 
Betty B: True
Betty B: Although UVVU did....
Smithee: We will run a test world 'cvdsrwx' side by side so objects can be tested before entering the main server. UVVU, yes they did, but these objects are aimed at the basic newbie user with easy to follow instructions on the web pages and all objects will be aimed at improving the envrionment of cvds, so the objects have a purpose
Betty B: Thats good. What for example?
Smithee: For example, a range of street furniture, such as new street lights, park benches etc to aid the areas design. 30 days has got a lot of publicty in the UK and that must be good both for us as an educational centre and ActiveWorlds to get new users involved
Betty B: Yes must be
Betty B: All good publicity is good to get new people in
Smithee: Yes and thats really what 30 Days has been aimed at
Betty B: So COF must be happy with you
Smithee: Well COF have been very supportive
Betty B: You need a new sign at the gz :))
Smithee: They increased our users number on the server to 32
Betty B: Thats nice :)
Smithee: And the world size to 75 n/e/s/w a three fold increase on the normal p16xe server
Betty B: And does COF run the world with their server?
Smithee: No the server runs from our Sun machine, but COF can control the size, as with all servers
Betty B: How does that work? They have access to your sun machine?
Smithee: Good question! i dont know the ins and outs of it from the COFside - but i run the Sun server and back the world up every 24 hours
Smithee: Our SciCity server runs on a Windows NtT box, so we run both types at casa
Betty B: But where is the connection then? Can they turn this world down?
Smithee: I think thats a question for COF! lol, all i know is that i contacted them about the project and they dynamically allowed us to build out to 75/n/s/e/w
Betty B: hmm
Betty B: Must be a secret
Smithee: lol no i dont think its a secret! 
Smithee: I just dont know the tech details
Betty B: Ah ok :)
Smithee: :O)
Betty B: Well, you want to say more?
Smithee: Well i think the project speaks for itself so i'd like to ask readers to log into our web page and maybe take part in 30 Days :O) And of course to come and find me if they want any more details :O)
Betty B: They will do, i´m sure :)
Smithee: Good, CVDS is starting to get a good community feel to it now, i hope that continues to grow
Betty B: Well thanks for the interview Smithee and good luck with all your projects :)
Smithee: Thank you Betty, see you in CVDS :O)

CVDS homepage : http://www.casa.ucl.ac.uk/30days/
CASA homepage : http://www.casa.ucl.ac.uk/
 

Betty B


 

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