Ohio


21
Apr 13

Spring Project: Installing a Split Rail Fence for Bauser

If you follow me on Twitter or Flickr, you may have noticed my picture stream became flooded with doggy pix over the last few months with the newest addition to the Fleephaus family.

Bauser’s not too keen on the whole seatbelt concept.

Here’s the story:  Late one night at the end of November, I was driving a friend home, when I rounded a curve to find a big dog standing right in the middle of the road looking terrified at the oncoming headlights.  I pulled over to try to call him off the road, and as I got out of the car and hollered for the dog, I didn’t even think about the fact that I’d left my driver side door open.

In went the dog, right in the driver side seat.  The big dog.  With big teeth.  My friend jumped out of the other side of the car and we both stared at each other in horror.  How to get the big dog OUT of the car now that he was in it and didn’t seem to want to leave?

Well, he wouldn’t get out even with calling, whistling, cajoling.  He squirmed into the backseat and firmly planted himself there with a look that said, “So, where are we going?”

Bauser checking out the house for the first time.

Eventually we went home with the dog in the car and the next morning I posted flyers and tweets and called the SPCA.

But after a few weeks, no one had claimed him and the SPCA called me back to see if I wanted him, otherwise they were going to put him to sleep.  What could a good bleeding heart softy do but adopt the poor fellow?

First night home from the SPCA, he lost 8 pounds in just a couple weeks there!  🙁

We decided his name was Bauser, after a dog my grandpa had when my mom was a little girl, and the slow process of introducing the kitties to the dog began.  And since I didn’t have a fence, every single time Bauser needed to potty meant putting on boots and coats and dragging ourselves out in the snow and cold.  It was a long winter.  😉

Bauser really wants to go out and play in the snow, but there’s no fence!

But now, finally! spring has arrived, and after much research and prep work, my mom and I are putting in a split rail fence so Bauser will have full run of the yard, get good exercise, and I can be a little lazier and just let him outside when he wants to go.

Bauser is very excited about his new bone, but sad that he’s tied to a line.

Putting in a fence is something in the past that I would have asked my grandpa to help me with, but now that he’s gone, my mom and I have had to start learning how to fend for ourselves with these big house projects.  I seriously do not know what mankind did before the internets, because thankfully, there’s tons and tons of good information and how-to videos about how to do things like put up a fence.    I’ve collected some of the best videos I found on my wiki here.

Step 1:  Get a Property Survey

If you want to build a fence near your property line, and you don’t already have markers for where your property lines are, the first thing you have to do is get a professional surveyor out to mark it for you.  I called a bunch of places and the initial estimates were in the $500-$900 range, which nearly knocked me over!

Fortunately, I had a chat with a neighbor who also put in a fence this spring, and he gave me a tip for a local surveyor who gave a much better price.  His name was Doug Spreen, and if you live in the Cincinnati area and need a property survey, I highly recommend him.  He was very friendly and knowledgeable, got me scheduled within a week, charged a much more reasonable price, and did a great job.  Plus hooray, I discovered my property was actually much larger than I thought!

Step 2:  Get a Permit

In Green Township where I live, the City of Cincinnati handles the permits for exterior home improvements.  I called the City of Cincinnati Zoning department, explained to the lady who answered what I wanted to do, and within a few moments she emailed me the permit application and an image of my parcel that I could draw where the fence would go, and boom, emailed everything back and paid the $130 permit fee online and I was set to go.  I was very pleased that the process could all be done online and very quickly, which really says a lot about how much the City of Cincinnati has modernized their services.

Step 3:  Call Before you Dig

In Ohio, the Ohio Utilities Protection Service makes it super easy to find out from local utility companies where underground powerlines, water lines, and other utilities are located.  One quick phone call to 811 or 1-800-362-2764, and within a few days the utility folks come out and mark anywhere on your property where an underground utility exists.

Kinda hard to see in the picture, but they spray painted where the utilities are.

It was super simple and I felt a lot better knowing that my proposed fence site was in the clear and I wouldn’t have to worry about accidentally zapping myself by digging in the wrong place.

Step 4:   Clear Brush and Snap a Mason’s Line

The right rear corner of my property is wooded and was pretty overgrown with honeysuckle and vines and scrub brush, so I had to clear out a path for the proposed fence.  It was daunting at first, but not nearly as bad as I thought it would be.

Once the brush was cleared, my sister and I marked the property line in pink string, and the proposed fence line in neon yellow.  Not only would it help us make sure our fence didn’t get crooked, it was also really neat to finally be able to visualize exactly where everything would go.

Step 5:  Get Supplies and Tools

One of my biggest gripes at the moment is that manufacturers do not make tools for women!!! It is extremely frustrating that most tools and hardware are designed for someone at least a half a foot taller than me, with bigger hands than me, and a lot more upper body strength than me.  My mom and I scoured the hardware stores looking for tools that had a smaller grip or shorter handles to make it easier for us to use them.

Shorter, more manageable post hole diggers from Lowes.

And yes, we looked at renting an auger, but holy moses, we could hardly lift the darn things, let alone imagine trying to use them.  Eventually we found some fiberglass post hole diggers that were much lighter, and even a pair of wooden handled ones that were much shorter and easier to maneuver, and so far they are serving us very well.

The full list of tools and supplies we’re using:

  • Mason string and stakes for marking the fence line
  • Measuring Tape
  • A large level for checking plumb
  • A good spade for starting the hole (not a shovel)
  • A small digging shovel for squaring the holes
  • Two post hole diggers, one larger, one smaller
  • A baseball bat and a long straight stick for tamping the dirt back in
  • Gravel for drainage at the bottom of the holes

One note:  To concrete or not to concrete?  After much research on the internets, where there are lots of conflicting opinions about whether or not to set the posts in concrete, I decided to NOT go the concrete route because I found it pretty convincing that the concrete holds moisture and can cause the bottom of the fence posts to rot.  Since this is not going to be a heavy load bearing fence, I felt the concrete option would be more work and maybe cause potential problems that I didn’t want to deal with.  Plus if you do concrete, you have to set it below the frost line, which in Zone 6 is 36 inches, and that would require longer, more expensive posts.  Hopefully I won’t regret this decision down the road.

Step 6:  Get Fencing Materials

After looking at the stock split rail fencing materials at Home Depot and Lowes, I have to admit I was pretty unimpressed.  Many of the rails and even posts looked warped and just not the kind of quality I expected.  With again a thousand thanks to my nice neighbor, he gave me a great tip – he got his materials from Mills Fencing Company, a local fencing place, and to my great surprise, not only was the stock MUCH higher quality, it was also cheaper!

So again, if you’re doing a project like this in the Cincinnati area, I highly recommend the Mills Fencing Company folks.  The fellows we worked with picked out the nicest posts and rails and loaded them all up for us.

Step 7:  Mark the Spot & Start Digging (and Digging and Digging..)

From there it’s really not too complicated.  After marking the spot where the first end or corner post goes, you basically dig a hole, pour in some gravel, set the post, tamp the dirt (or in my case, nasty clay) back in, and you’re off to the races.

Mother starting the first post hole.

A few things we’ve learned along the way:

1)  Dig the holes and set the posts one at a time:  Since my fence is following the contour of the land and my property slopes steeply downhill in places, it’s best to do one post at a time instead of marking all the spots and digging the holes in advance.  The rails fit pretty snugly in the posts if you measure it correctly, but if you’re off by even a little bit, the rails either don’t go in enough or go in too far.  With the slope, I can imagine it would be very easy to get off course if you tried to dig the holes in advance.

Me setting the first post.

2)  Don’t dig a hole bigger or deeper than you need:  This is really silly advice and should be self-evident, but our first few holes were enormous!  It took us a little practice to get good at making the holes just the right size so we didn’t waste effort digging too much – which was especially painful since that meant we also had to waste effort filling it back in!

Bauser is very sad that we won’t let him come over and help dig.

3) Measure, eyeball, and check plumb constantly: It’s easy to get caught up in doing what you’re doing, but the second you forget to check your placement, or to check whether the post is plumb, that’s when you goof up and have to expend even more energy to fix your mistake.  We’ve definitely learned the value of checking measurements and plumb constantly.

So that’s the report so far, we’re about 1/3 done and I am pleased as punch with how the fence is coming along.  I think it’s beautiful!

I’ve completely surprised myself with my strength and endurance, and Bauser is going to LOVE being able to run around like a wildman in his own back yard.


7
Sep 11

What I Mean When I Say I’m A Progressive

As we start to head into another Presidential election season, I want to write more about political issues, but I’ve always been a little shy of blogging about it because I live in an area that has overwhelmingly different political views than my own.  Since I moved to Green Township (a western suburb of Cincinnati), I’ve voted in nearly every single election and most primaries, but the candidates or issues I voted for have only won maybe a half a dozen times in 8 years because this is such a conservative area.

Feeling unrepresented at both the local and state level (nevermind the national level) gets a little depressing after a while, and realizing just what a minority view I hold in this area of the country has made me hesitant to post about it.  Still, I think we have a civic duty to speak up and be heard, so I’m going to start by just putting some of my core political beliefs out there.

~

I consider myself a progressive.

It’s been a long time since I’ve read an official definition of progressivism, but to me, at its core, to be a progressive means to believe in the ability of people to improve the human condition and our way of life – that we have the intelligence and ability to analyze our situation, discover where problems lie, and fix them.  It is above all a hopeful viewpoint that refuses to give in to despair.

I believe government is not only necessary, but that it can create positive social change in ways that the private sector or other public sector actors simply cannot.  It is popular these days for people to argue that government isn’t necessary at all, for example a leading Republican candidate for president recently argued that the federal government had no business helping victims of hurricanes, but as a progressive, that’s exactly the kind of thing that I think government can and should do.  In the face of widespread natural disasters, I believe government has a duty and an obligation to care for its citizens.

Further, in my view it is the government’s job not just to protect and defend the people and our nation as a whole, but also to protect the average working person from the greed and excesses of the wealthy, the under-privileged from the excesses of the over-privileged, the minority from the tyranny of the majority, and to create the kinds of “public goods” that the private sector will never provide because some of the most important things in life can’t be quantified in dollars and cents and there is no profit motive to provide.  Some things are simply more valuable than money – like clean air, safe towns and cities, safe food and water supplies, and an educated and healthy populace.

I also believe Science is one of humankind’s greatest achievements and our only hope of dealing with some of the most pressing environmental problems of our time like climate change, depleting petroleum-based energy sources, and dwindling supplies of water.  Science also is responsible for our increasing life span, reductions in infant mortality, improvements in cancer survival rates, improvements in nutrition, and a whole host of other improvements to our general health that were often funded by, you guessed it, government.

Government can and should fund fundamental science and research for the benefit of society at large, in my view, and all of that is absolutely dependent upon a population with a solid education.  Without public education, this nation would never have achieved the triumphs of the last century and we won’t achieve triumphs this century if we don’t make our schools and education system a true priority. I simply can’t understand those who would abolish the Department of Education or the National Institutes of Health or NASA, or any of the other government agencies who are tasked with educating our people or researching cures for diseases and future technologies.

Another thing that really frustrates me, especially in our political discourse, is that our public rhetoric doesn’t seem to allow you to be considered a spiritual person unless you are some variant of the big three religions.  I disagree with that entirely.  A person can be spiritual and compassionate and caring about their fellow man without being religious, and despite what the media might say, conservatives don’t own the market on spirituality.  I want the other political parties to recognize my spirituality, government to protect me from having the religious beliefs of others forced on me, and both to allow me the freedom to practice the kinds of charity, volunteerism, and public service that I feel called to do.

I also want government to protect my right to make decisions about my own body. I believe one of the very best things a society can do for women is to provide access to affordable birth control and reproductive health care services so that we have control over our own lives and can choose when and how and the circumstances under which we have children.

And speaking of control of our own bodies, the criminalization of certain categories of drugs has been about as successful as Prohibition was (in other words a total disaster), and though Prohibition was a classic political goal of the Progressive Era, I’d like to think the progressives of then would appreciate how much we learned from Prohibition and would oppose the War on Drugs now.  Just as Prohibition ended up greasing the wheels of organized crime and political corruption then, the War on Drugs serves the same purpose now, and I want our politicians and governments to acknowledge this and treat addiction as the sickness it is instead of imprisoning those who suffer from it.

Finally, as a progressive, I have been utterly and absolutely appalled by our government’s response to the economic crisis our country has been in for the past three years.  From the bailouts of the big banks and large corporations to the focus on cutting spending on social services when they are needed most, it certainly feels like all the election rhetoric about needing to help Main Street and reign in Wall Street was simply fancy talk.  Instead I know more people out of work or fearful of losing their jobs, more people struggling to find work or pay for school, more people struggling to make mortgage and rent and car payments, and all of us struggling with higher gas and food prices.  I think the Obama Administration should be ashamed of itself for the condition of the American worker – it was so hard to swallow Obama’s speech on Labor Day that I had to turn it off.  I believe government absolutely has a role to play in ensuring that every American who wants to work can and that those of us who do shouldn’t be ripped off by the Presidents and CEOs and shareholders at the top of the pyramid.

~

I’m sure I could go on, but these are just a few of the core things that are important to me politically and I keep hoping to see these beliefs represented at ANY level of government, local, state, or national.  But I don’t see much of it and I’m really not sure why.  I think people get so caught up in labels and boxes, so caught up in the election horse race, so invested in a particular political party or cause that they stop even thinking about what their actual core beliefs are.

It’s hard not to get so jaded by how corrupt the whole mess is that you tune out completely, but despite all the cynicism and corruption, the progressive in me wants to remain hopeful.  The progressive in me still believes that we’re smarter than this, we’re better than this, that we CAN do better.

I’m just not sure how.


13
Mar 10

Cincinnati Food Security: A Community Assessment

For my second learning mission on EVOKE, I read a Master’s thesis entitled Cincinnati Food Security: A Community Assessment written by Brandy Jeanette McQueary at the University of Cincinnati (2008).

From the paper’s abstract:

This study investigates whether residents within the City of Cincinnati, Ohio have equal food access. For the purpose of this project, literature was reviewed from the following disciplines: international development, sociology,  environmental science, urban policy, geography, planning, health, nutrition, and economics. For the purpose of this study, food access evaluates both geographic and social character. The research project establishes whether food deserts exist within Cincinnati neighborhoods, and whether a correlation exists between neighborhood social character and food insecurity.

From the paper’s first couple of chapters, I learned more about the definitions of phrases like “food security” “food deserts” “grocery gap” and other terms defined by international as well as US organizations. This helped me to better understand the research. I also learned some interesting facts about food production and security in the US:

  • In the US, just 10 companies supply more than half of the food and drink consumed in this country.
  • Farmers account for less than 1% of the US population.
  • Food travels 2,000 miles on average from farm to plate in the US.
  • Inner-city shoppers sometimes pay as much as 40% more for basic grocery items than suburban shoppers.
  • Food production and delivery systems are often not considered or accounted for in urban planning models.

While I was aware that food production and distribution chains have consolidated tremendously in the last few decades, I didn’t realize just how much! And it was disturbing to discover how vulnerable inner-city populations are to food insecurity, and that urban planning often fails to address food system needs at all. Food is so basic to community sustainability (obviously!), it is shocking to realize that city planners don’t even take it into account!

After the introductory information about the topic and laying out the terms and definitions to be used for the study, the paper continued with its primary objectives, to identify all the grocery facilities in the Cincinnati metro area, defined as fifty-two Cincinnati neighborhoods, and to identify if there were “food deserts” in Cincinnati. A grocery store was considered to have a service area of 1/2 mile radius around the store, since that is the distance a healthy person could walk within 15 minutes to reach the store.

Based on McQueary’s survey of grocery stores in the Cincinnati area, I learned:

  • Cincinnati is home to 165 grocery stores – 91 supermarkets, and 74 convenience stores.
  • Of the 52 neighborhoods in Cincinnati, not one is completely food secure.
  • 31 neighborhoods do not have a single grocery store within their boundaries.

And significant portions of the Cincinnati metro area could be defined as a “food desert” as indicated in this graphic (all areas outside the circles):

external image 4429654088_7e95174965.jpg

Based on this research, it appears that Cincinnati is not nearly as “food secure” as I would have thought, for being such a large metropolitan area surrounded by extensive farmland in Ohio, Indiana, and Kentucky. These findings are quite disturbing!

My mom and I have talked about finding out if a community garden exists in our neighborhood, and if not, maybe we should start one, and this research just reminds me that we need to get moving on that.    Mom, are you reading this?  Call me!


10
Jan 09

2008: The Year of Limits

I started writing this post in 2008 but didn’t get it finished before the year ended, even with the extra second. In light of the subject, perhaps that is quite apropos.

Like most of you, I’ve been reading all of the end-of-year retrospectives and predictions posts, and scrolling through the “year in photos” or video clips or whatever, caught up in refreshing my memory about just how many things happened in 2008. Wars, elections, economic meltdowns, media shifts, massive natural and man-made disasters, and that’s not even including all my personal stuff. It was a crazy year no matter how you slice it!

And though it is.. overwhelming to absorb this barrage of our collective memories on the net, I do think there’s value to the tradition of reflecting on the year just past and the year ahead. If it’s honest reflection, and you or someone else learns from it, then there can never be too much of it so I refuse to apologize for the length of this post. =)

2008: The Year of Limits

In reflecting on 2008, my experience was one of recognizing “limits”. Some of them are absolute limits, but some of them are just current limitations that I know will change in the future. Some of them are artificial limits, too, and those seem to deserve special attention since it’s easy to make bad choices if you’re working with falsehoods.

The list below describes some of the limits I ran into in 2008…

1. The limits of American-style “free-market” capitalism

Wall Street I won’t belabor the point, we’ve all heard plenty of analysis and finger-pointing, but I will repeat the headline from my initial blog post at the beginning of the end of the beginning of the crisis:

Privatizing Gains, Socializing Losses

On the days when I feel most pessimistic, I think the TARP bailout is nothing more than a wholesale absconsion of our national treasury with perhaps more on the way. So far at least, the US government seems to be much more concerned about the troubles of our corporate citizens than the troubles of our human citizens. On my optimistic days.. I have the teensiest bit of hope that _someone_ _somewhere_ will have the will and the power to do what’s best for the people, not just what’s best for the corporations.

The economic problems have limited the options for many people I know – friends and relatives laid off, retirement nest eggs shrunk to nothing, people unable to sell or buy houses and get on with life. On a personal level, I haven’t felt this economically pinched in a long time. My modest university salary isn’t keeping up with the rate of change very well and in 2008 I began to really hit the limit of my budget in ways that cause me to question what I’m doing, how I’m doing it, and how much I can scale back.

Of course, many people are in tight situations right now, that’s why they call it a recession! But it’s what choices you make when you start to hit those limits that define who you are as a person and as a people.  The government (of the people, by the people, for the people) has choices, too. I guess we’ll see in 2009 what choices we all make in light of these new limits and I hope for all of our sakes that they turn out to be good choices.

2. The limits of American racism

Change

Of all the limits on my list, this one felt really good to bump up against. I can’t say how immensely proud I am of my country for the results of the 2008 presidential election. I am relieved to know that the president-elect’s middle name is Hussein and his last name sounds like Osama, and he’s black, and spent some time living in a Muslim country, and grew up in a non “2 parent/2.1 kids” houseshold, and that none of these things kept him from being elected. Not that racism has ended by any means, but this was an example of its limits and it really does give me hope.

On the personal side, my 74 year old grandpa who still refers to people as “colored” from time to time, and who has been a staunch Republican voter all of his life, actually voted for a black Democrat. Yes Virginia, hell really did freeze over! I can’t take 100% credit for this change of course, but we had a lot of downright difficult and uncomfortable conversations about race, so this year’s election felt like a personal victory as much as a national milestone.

3. The limits of the American educational system and limits to learning online

It’s possible I am living in a concrete-reinforced, super-duper-thick, no-sound-enters-or-escapes echo chamber, but it seems that everywhere I turn, everyone from _everyone_ is convinced that the American educational system is in desperate need of a massive, major overhaul. In my own neck of the woods, Ohio is in the process of implementing a state-wide university system, several education related organizations that are funded by the state are being abolished or merged, and a couple of universities including my own are switching from quarter systems to semesters (not as simple as it may sound and more expensive than you might think).

So change is happening already in a pretty big way, but I’m not sure how much these changes will address some of the underlying problems. One of which, I am convinced, is a staggering lack of understanding about the power of current IT/web/net based technologies. There is increasing curiosity at all levels – thank goodness or I wouldn’t have a job! But from administrators to faculty to staff, I’m perpetually shocked by how little others use the web even for basic things,like as a reference system. Everyone now uses email, of course, and LMS adoption has increased tremendously in both breadth and depth of use, and the core university business and billing systems are state of the art, but the social media/personal empowerment side of the web doesn’t seem to have penetrated academia very much yet at all. You might be surprised how many faculty don’t know about using quotes in google searching, for example, or who don’t read the blogs of their peers from other institutions.

I find that pretty distressing for a lot of different reasons, not least of which because this lack of understanding really limits my choices as a student (or potential customer, if you prefer).

The first problem is that the thing I want to study not only doesn’t have its own discipline or recognized curriculum, most people aren’t even aware it exists! My area of study is the metaverse and I spend far more time trying to demonstrate that it is “real” (ie has real impact) and justifying why we should be studying it than anything else. What time I do get to spend on actual research doesn’t count towards tenure, and unfortunately, most of my output is in blog posts and wikis and PDFs and Second Life builds, and none of these things will get me a degree either. They aren’t “accredited” kinds of output.

The second problem is that even if I could find a good fit in a program, then what? Will I be able to bear sitting in a classroom with a bad teacher who regurgitates the text book and wants me to regurgitate it too? Will I be able to keep my trap shut when we all hand in our papers to the prof and learn nothing from each other instead of sharing them so we all learn more?

When I think of it, I tend to tell myself and others that I can’t find the time or money to go back to grad school right now (artifical limit, I’m sure I COULD if I were willing to radically alter my life), but the truth is something different: I can’t bear the thought of fitting my learning style back into that crummy old model when I’ve found something 1000000 times better – the entire web is my school, my laboratory, and my teacher. I would guess that in 2008 I read more reports, white papers, and peer-reviewed journal articles (and thousands of blog posts and news articles), attended more lectures by more world-class thinkers and teachers (and talked to them, individually!), and had more hands-on, active and engaging learning experiences than I have ever had in any other year of my entire life – in school or out. I also spent a heck of a lot of time reflecting on what I learned, sharing it with others, collaborating on shared learning experiences, and had a few pretty nice milestone publications of my own.

Everywhere I look, I’m butting up against limits. Limits of the existing system, limits to people’s understanding about what it is I want to study, limits in program and curriculum choices, personal limitations (financial, practical, selfishly wanting to learn MY way instead of THEIR way)..

Furthermore, despite the free and wonderful education I received from the intarnets this year, I also learned that there are limits here too. There are limits to how much information I can process, how many connections I can form, and how many channels of communication I can keep up with. There are absolutely, most definitely limits to how many emails I can process in a day. There are limits to how much I can learn on my own unaided by others. I often have questions, need help, need guidance, need mentoring, need direction. I know without a doubt my work and output would improve if I had a better foundational understanding of both the technology that makes the metaverse possible and the research that already exists about human behavior in online environments. I don’t for a second believe I can “master” this material all on my own, even with the tremendous resources the web offers.

And of all my learning experiences online this year, I’m perhaps most grateful for my experience with the Connectivism & Connective Knowledge MOOC (Massively Open Online Course), because it _broke_ some (artificial) limits in my understanding about what a “class” is and could be, reinforced some limits I was aware of (how much info/connections/channels I could keep up with), and gave an example of how universities might overcome limits in how many students they reach.

Without a doubt, these limits are frustrating, but not altogether discouraging. It just means there’s much work to be done, and I sincerely hope decision makers at the institutional level are paying attention to technology, but at the same time, I also hope that those of us using and evangelizing technology are being honest about its limits even as we explore its promises.

And speaking of technology evangelism…

4. The limits of personal evangelism

My suitcases are tattered from so many cross-country flights here there and everywhere talking about Second Life, Web 2.0, and the emerging metaverse. I gave talks at conferences and workshops and lunches, to teachers, professors, administrators, instructional designers, businesses, entrepreneurs, laywers, government employees.. so many different sectors of society. What I’ve taken from all my days on the road is that there’s a real lack of perceived value and ROI. 1) People need to see more evidence that this technology is useful for accomplishing their goals before they will be willing to invest the time and resources it takes to get to successful implementation. 2) The technology itself must become cheaper and easier to use.

This is not revolutionary news, I know. But I’m reminding myself because as I mentioned above, I genuinely hope to do more research into those areas so that the next time I spend all day flying across the country just to give a two hour talk, I feel like it was really and truly worth the trip for me and the audience and the university that paid for me to do it.

I guess this means my “zealot phase” (and hopefully “self-righteous jerk phase”) is over for the moment. That isn’t to say that I’ve given up, but rather that I’ve learned the limits of what I, Fleep can do alone. I need to start leveraging my networks better and work in collaboration with more people instead of running myself ragged trying to do too much alone.

5. Limits of the Second Life platform and our current Metaverse

Of course, the job of evangelizing would be a lot easier if the thing itself were easier. Alas, we face some tough issues. The metaverse as a concept is mind-boggling for many, the best iteration of it at the moment (Second Life) is hard to use and has serious limitations, and everything else out on the horizon is still in alpha/beta phase.

I really can’t stress enough what an obstacle our current lack of.. vocabulary is. What is a virtual world? What is the metaverse? What the heck is Castranova talking about with all this synthetic stuff?

Earlier this year when I was struggling with the Looking to the Future: Higher Education in the Metaverse piece, the hardest part was explaining what the metaverse currently IS, nevermind what it might be in the future. Here’s what I wrote:

In its current context, the metaverse is a complex concept. For the purposes of this article, the definition in the Metaverse Roadmap will suffice: “In recent years, the term has grown beyond Stephenson’s 1992 vision of an immersive 3D virtual world, to include aspects of the physical world objects, actors, interfaces, and networks that construct and interact with virtual environments. . . . The Metaverse is the convergence of 1) virtually-enhanced physical reality and 2) physically persistent virtual space. It is a fusion of both, while allowing users to experience it as either.”

In short, we can imagine multiple and myriad digital mirrors of the real world existing alongside multiple and myriad digital worlds that do not represent the real world, all used for a variety of purposes, tied into a variety of communication methods, and populated by any user with Internet access, as well as a steady stream of data originating from objects and devices in the real world.

That’s awful! A mouthful of confusing stuff and I feel very disappointed in myself that I couldn’t find a better way to communicate it. That’s a limitation I (we) must break through in the coming years.

Beyond the limits of our terminology, there are serious limits with existing platform(s) that can’t be ignored either. I still believe that anyone interested in the metaverse must be in or at least paying attention to Second Life – Linden Lab’s platform and the OpenSim derivatives are the most promising metaverse project on the horizon, and perhaps more importantly, the people using, working, and playing in Second Life simply _are_ the vanguard.

But Linden Lab’s Second Life, and the alpha-stage OpenSim grids, are still extremely limited in their enterprise use. Whether the intention is to use it as a social or collaboration space, or as a modeling and prototyping space, or to explore the new frontiers of music and art made possible in these worlds – the platforms need a LOT of work across the board, from the GUI to reliability to providing access to other digital content. Sadly, after 5 years of being out of beta, Second Life’s group IMs still don’t work reliably.  I can’t show a flash or .wmv movie in Second Life, can’t collaboratively access webpages and documents with others easily, and it takes forever and 50 steps to do something as simple as making a prim clickable to launch a webpage.

And those are the simplest technical limitations that need to be overcome. That’s not even getting into the wet, squishy world of legal, philosophical, and social questions: content creator rights, intellectual properly, who has jurisdiction, who governs these spaces, code as law, what’s happening with all of the data we generate from “living” in these spaces and how can we protect ourselves from its misuse, what are the social implications for communities moving to the metaverse, and on and on and on..

In other words, we have a LOT of work to do.

6. The limits of Will Wright

Yes, I’m sorry, this one gets a whole bullet point of its own. Do you have ANY IDEA how long I waited, and with how much _anticipation_ I waited for the release of Spore? (Many many years, and a lot, respectively.)

Others have done a much better job than I in analyzing just why it was such a rotten egg, but I think that might be my biggest (most trivial) disappointment of the year.   I don’t know where it all went so wrong, Will, but dude, you really let us down.

(Sorry, needed a little levity before tackling #7..)

7. The limits of life itself

In late 2007, we learned that my Dad (grandpa, actually, but my dad in all other ways)  had stage-4 metastatic lung cancer that had already spread to his adrenal glands. By mid-2008, it had spread to his spine.  Helping to take care of him through this battle with cancer has been excruciating and it affected every single day of the year for me.

I know that death is a part of life. I know that death is inevitable. I know that I am neither the first nor the last person to lose a parent or to lose a loved one to cancer. I know that some day I will die. I know all of these things, but I’ve never _felt_ them until now.  In my heart, I know it’s a minor miracle that he’s survived more than a year past the initial diagnosis, and it’s a gift that we’ve had all this time to say goodbye, share memories, and adjust to the hard reality. But it has also irrevocably changed my sense of time. I see the limits it imposes on us all in the starkest of terms now.

This experience has also made me wonder how on earth people without families or support networks manage in the face of serious illness (something we’re all bound to face) because without a doubt, I have finally seen the limits of the American health-care system up close and personal.

Wow, what a wreck. I don’t even know where to begin. The absurdities of insurance claims and Medicare, Part-D and doughnut holes, hospital staff that don’t even put on clean gloves unless you ask them too, different doctors with different charts and lab results and patient information systems that don’t talk to each other, medication regimens that require a PhD and 50 gazillion bottles, refills, and dosages to keep up with, doctors prescribing medications that conflict with pre-existing orders… the list goes on and on and on and on. It’s insane. INSANE.

Our family care-team is made up of four intelligent, literate, capable people and we can’t really keep track of it all. The hoops are simply ridiculous, the cracks in the system are more like black holes, and for all the mistakes or near-mistakes we’ve caught, I fear to think of all the ones we didn’t. And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention my deep bitterness that the _only_ part of the American health-care system that appears to be using IT efficiently is the damned billing systems. Sharing information about the patient to improve care? That’s a spaghetti mess, but they can sure share information about how much it all costs!

Perhaps my viewing the year 2008 from this prism of limitations is all the result of Dad’s cancer; maybe it’s colored my view so much that limits are all I see at the moment. But I don’t really think so. When I look at what’s happening in a broader context, I see that the American economic, education, and health care systems aren’t the only large-scale systems and institutions that appear to be feeling the strain.

For one, the financial/economic crisis is definitely a global one. It’s not an indivual experience, or a national experience, it’s a global one. Even those who haven’t felt the pinch yet have certainly felt the fear.

For another, I believe wars and violence result when political systems fail. Mumbai. Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Sudan, Palestine, Georgia, and many more places besides, deaths caused by people killing other people, caused by the limits of our existing political institutions.

Human activity in combination with completely “natural” weather and geological phenomena are rapidly, and I mean RAPIDLY changing our environment. The very finite resources of the planet and the real consequences of natural disasters are absolute limits that we simply can’t afford to ignore. The earthquake in Sichuan, China killed almost 70,000 people. The Nargis cyclone in Myanmar killed almost 135,000 people. Predictions seem to indicate that more trouble is on the way, and for the most part, our individual, national, and global responses to these challenges have seem limited by disorganization, misinformation, and a terrible refusal to plan for the reality we all know is coming. It’s absurd. And frightening.

I should probably stop there, this post already turned into something of a monster and I could go on in this vein for quite a while. But the lingering question I have at the end of all this reflection is this:

Have we reached the limits of our patience with behaviors and systems that just plain don’t work anymore?

I sure hope so, because the upside, the real benefit to recognizing these limits, is the ability to leap into the paradigm-shift – and leap we must.

The parameters aren’t what you thought they were.

The rules of the game are changing.

The world of the 21st century is different than the world of the 20th.

The sooner we come to terms with it, the sooner we can start dealing with it. These limits – even the artificial ones – really need to, can, and must be addressed.

I don’t know if I’m up for all the challenges I see looming in the days ahead, with my work, my personal circumstances, with Dad’s cancer. I don’t know how to best prepare, either, but if I’m sure of anything after 2008, it’s that I don’t have a choice about it anymore. The changes are already coming too thick and too fast to ignore, best get with it, buckle down, and get ready.

(And 10 days after the new year, I finally get this posted.  Hooray.)

Continue reading →


19
Oct 08

Conferences and Projects and Articles – Oh My!

Since the start of school in September, it’s been a whirlwind of activity! Like Dorothy, I’m trying hard to stay on the yellow brick road, but the poor blog suffers when I get too busy. Here’s a quick update though on a number of exciting things..

University of Cincinnati Galapagos Islands Project

Progress continues on the Galapagos Islands project, and I have to give all due credit to my student assistant Ferggo Pickles for his truly excellent work in creating the sculpted animal models! News of our project is spreading and we’ve gotten very kind mentions in EDUCAUSE Review, the Chronicle, and even Virtual World News! Another blogger discussed our work too, but I wasn’t sure if it was positive or negative considering we don’t have any plans for visitors to pull the tails of lizards. =)

Chilbo Community

Incredibly, the Chilbo Community marks its two-year anniversary this month! We held a Chilbo Town Hall Meeting this afternoon, and I managed to complete the 2008 CCBP Annual Land Census and am preparing to distribute the 2008 Resident Census in the next few weeks. A note to any Chilbo residents reading this – you’ll have to complete the survey to keep your house or store in Chilbo, so be sure to read that email when it comes! Aside from all of the professional opportunities I’ve had because of Second Life, I must say Chilbo – the place and the people – is my favorite spot in the Metaverse. Whatever serendipity led me to meet such great people, I’ll never know, but I continue to be grateful that I did.

Connectivism Course

The Connectivism & Connective Knowledge course continues into Week 7, and I have fallen woefully behind on the readings, and even missed the last couple of meetings in Second Life! Still, the Connectivism Village continues to receive a high amount of foot traffic and I keep getting emails that people really enjoy the resources we’ve provided there, so I’m hopeful that the sometimes asynchronous nature of our connections in online networks doesn’t dilute the usefulness of the space. I hope things will be a little calmer this week and that I’ll get to attend the next Second Life cohort sessions!

EDUCAUSE 2008

I have the privilege of working with AJ Kelton (SL: AJ Brooks) from Montclair State University and Joe Essid (SL: Ignatius Onomatopoeia) from Richmond University again this year to stream in the EDUCAUSE 2008 Virtual World Constituent Group Annual Meeting into Second Life in a few weeks. How often do you get to work in an evening gown! Looking forward to the conference itself, and the Second Life interaction. Are you coming to EDUCAUSE this year? Leave a comment and let’s meet up!

What: EDUCAUSE 2008 Virtual World Constituent Group
When: Wednesday, October 29th, 2008
Time: 4:55pm to 6:10pm EST (1:55pm to 3:10pm SLT)
Where: Orlando, FL and in Second Life
SLurl: http://slurl.com/secondlife/Montclair%20State%20CHSSSouth/129/158/22

Learning, Libraries, & Technology 2009

Another symptom of the “too busy!” syndrome – I almost missed the opportunity to put in a proposal for the Learning, Libraries, and Technology 2009 conference! Formerly called the Ohio Digital Commons for Education, the new name didn’t ring a bell when I saw the Call for Proposals in my in-box – doh! Thankfully, my good friend Brenda Boyd (SL: Stargazer Blazer) at Miami U gave me a poke with a sharp stick about submitting something – thanks Brenda! This is without a doubt one of the best educational technology conferences I attend all year. Ohio educators especially should go to meet and network with great colleagues, learn about what’s happening in the state, and to get new ideas to bring back to your home institution. In the years that I’ve attended, I don’t think I’ve ever come away from it without learning something new and immediately useful. Will cross my fingers on the proposals!

I’m sure there’s something else I’m forgetting, but that’s it for today’s updates. Hope everyone else is having a great quarter or semester so far, and maybe doing a better job of keeping up with everything than I am!

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17
Sep 08

CCK08 – Disconnected

(This post is about the Massively Online Open Course called Connectivism and Connective Knowledge being taught by George Siemens and Stephen Downes from September to December 2008. Over 1900 participants have signed up, and I am facilitating the Second Life cohort for the course. Over the following months, I will be posting about the experience, home work assignments, and other materials related to our activities.)


Storm damage in Cincinnati, photo by elycefeliz used under CC licensing.

On Sunday, the remnants of Hurricane Ike traveled all the way up to Indiana and Ohio, and though I’ve certainly seen my fair share of weird weather phenomena, I have never seen a wind storm like that! I lost my biggest shade tree in the back yard and have a little roof damage, but other than property damage, all my friends, family, and coworkers are ok. Being so far inland, this part of the country is certainly not prepared for hurricane or tropical force winds, and it caused a massive blackout in the region, shortages of gas and food, school closings, and a new understanding and sympathy for those in Texas who took the brunt of the storm.


And suddenly, in the middle of the Connectivism course, I found myself forcefully Disconnected.

I’ve had brief power outages before, but not for so long and never for so long in the summer. When you get a big winter storm, there’s a snowy white visual barrier between you and the rest of the world and you know it will melt and things will get back to normal. This time, there was no visual, nothing but the hanging powerlines and broken telephone poles to remind you that our modern society and all of our connections are really quite tenuous. Without the juice that those cables provide, and the pipes that transmit all of those 01010101011110001’s, those of us who are hyperconnected online may be more isolated and disconnected locally than ever before. It was a sobering thought.

It wasn’t until sometime on Monday when I began to worry that the power might not be back by Tuesday’s Connectivism course meeting in Second Life that I remembered my Utterz account. I have Utterz set up in such a way that I can call Utterz from my cell phone and record a message. Utterz then creates a post automatically on my blog, and WordPress is set up with a plug-in to automatically send a message to Twitter whenever something is posted on my blog. This means that when I was stranded with no electricity, internet, or landline phone, I could flip open my cell phone, record a message, and within a few minutes my voice was online and my network of twitter friends were notified. Chilbo residents Malburns Writer and Tara Yeats noticed it, and Tara is also in the Connectivism course, so she very kindly sent an email out to the Second Life Cohort to let folks know I was offline. (Thanks Tara!)

Hmm, so maybe not so disconnected after all. But it was quite strange to be standing in the dark and sending out what felt like an SOS of sorts into the ether. What to say when you’re talking to.. well, anyone? Should I direct the message to my blog readers, to the Connectivism course? Without access to my online calendar, I wasn’t even sure who else I was supposed to be meeting with, so maybe it should be as general as possible? I realized I am quite weirded out by posting a voicemail to anyone who happens to hear it!

Mobile post sent by fleep using Utterzreply-count Replies.  mp3

And then a few days later I ran across a post by fellow Connectivism student Janet Clarey, who writes about my Utterz post, saying:

Chris Collins (a/k/a Fleep) sends a mobile post to her blog because she has no power and no Internet connection. She’s letting her ~2,000 online course mates (in the CCK08 course) know that she won’t be in attendance today. No biggee right? It’s no different than a voice mail sent to a group. Or is it? I think it’s significant. She’s communicating with anyone.

I’m not sure I could be as creative if I found myself without power or a connection. Perhaps that’s because Fleep seems to have several less wrinkles than I do and doesn’t carry the weight of my prior telecommunication experiences. Or maybe I’m just not cool.

See, I’d call someone even though anyone would be the better choice for learning (e.g., what was covered during her absence). She’s inviting dialogue over monologue.

Janet gives me too much credit. =) I am actually old enough to remember shared phonelines, dialing telephones, and pressing 9 to get an outside line. I’m old enough to feel awkward speaking to just anyone who happens to hear, and I’m still experimenting with and feeling out my own boundaries about what is and isn’t appropriate to broadcast out to the whole wide world. The only difference, perhaps, between Janet and myself, is that I had previously played with Utterz, had taken the time to set up the cascading automated linkages that would make that audiopost > blog > twitter chain happen, and remembered it during the blackout. But on the inside, I’m still uncomfortable both with my connectedness and disconnectedness, I still feel unsure, strangely vulnerable talking to anyone and yet discomfited when the lights were out and the PC buzz was palpably absent.

I think we’re all still learning how to be connected, how to cope with disconnection, and where our comfort level begins to stray into uncomfortable territory. One of the lessons I took from this (besides the fact that I really should have a bigger store of batteries and non-perishable food!) is that there turned out to be great value in the hour or so I spent playing with Utterz.. what a year ago when I set that up? It turned out that by connecting my blog and twitter to some new service I wasn’t even sure how to use or what to use it for would eventually come in handy. That the few minutes I spend from time to time listening to my friends’ Utterz was back there in my memory, recalled in the moment of need. Setting up connections is time consuming, and sometimes I don’t know what value, if any, it will have, but in this case, it turned out to be very handy indeed.

And it wasn’t just the technology connection that made this work, it was also the people connection. Malburns and Tara are good online friends, good citizens of our community, and good hyperconnected netizens. Who knows how many people saw/heard that post and did nothing, but Tara took the time to not only listen to the message, but then to compose a message and forward it on my behalf, completing a circuit in the chain that was NOT automated (notifying the Connectivism SL cohort) – and it was our personal relationship and connection that made that part happen, not the technology itself.

Lesson: Need batteries and better emergency stores at home – you must plan for the unexpected.

Lesson: Our electronic connections are more tenuous than they sometimes appear. The energy crisis and degrading infrastructure in the US is a Serious Issue that we need to pay more attention to.

Lesson: Keeping abreast of and playing with new online tools and ways to connect can have big payoff in the future, even if you don’t see value in it now.

Lesson: Technology facilitates many things, but it’s the people connections that ultimately save the day.

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12
Sep 08

To Do: America’s Schools in the 21st Century (PBS) – Monday 9/15

Thanks to Kevin Jarrett for this tip! (PS Kevin was just featured on an NPR segment about tech in schools! Listen here!)

WHERE WE STAND: America’s Schools in the 21st Century, premiering
Monday, September 15, 2008 at 10 p.m. on PBS, presents a frank
evaluation of our educational system’s strengths and weaknesses.
Hosted by Judy Woodruff, Senior Correspondent for The NewsHour with
Jim Lehrer, the documentary will visit schools throughout Ohio, an
important swing state that represents a range of socioeconomic and
geographic school districts. The program will feature schools in urban
Cincinnati, suburban Columbus, and rural Belpre.

See http://pbs.org for local listing times.

But there’s more! Educators from around the nation are going to gather on Thursday of next week to discuss the documentary in Second Life. Kevin writes:

As a fitting follow-up activity, the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) will be hosting a free “Educator’s Social” in Second Life on Thursday, September 18th at 9:00 pm Eastern (6:00 pm Pacific). Educators from around the country (and the world) will gather at ISTE’s Second Life Island “Campfire Area” (http://slurl.com/secondlife/ISTE%20Island/213/150/22) to discuss the documentary. I’ll be moderating one of the discussion groups but there will be several others. If you have a Second Life avatar, please consider joining us!

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15
Jul 08

Obama Addresses NAACP in Cincinnati

I was quite bummed to miss the rally tonight for Obama’s address to the NAACP (had family obligations). Local media broadcast the speech to a crowd in downtown Fountain Square, and local media reports a couple thousand people showed up.

Unfortunately I can’t embed the video directly here and it’s not yet up on YouTube, but you can click the image below to watch the speech.

Obama giving speech to NAACP

Given the audience, it’s not surprising that he addressed social justice issues (breaking down barriers and fighting oppression), but said that’s not enough alone, it’s also about economic justice.

He stressed corporate and government responsibility. “America is better off when the well being of American business and the American people are aligned. Our CEOs have to recognize that they have a responsibility, not just to grow their profit margins, but to be fair to their workers and honest to their shareholders and to help strengthen our economy as a whole. That’s how we’ll ensure that economic justice is being served, and that’s what this election is all about,” he said.

He also addressed public education, which given the abysmal state of the Cincinnati Public School district, should have been absolutely cutting to the administrators who have completely botched our local school system, and the need to educate and train those coming out of the prison systems.

But perhaps the most controversial part of his speech came at the end, when he stressed personal responsibility, directly addressing the firestorm over Jesse Jackson’s crude and critical comments caught on an open mic a few days ago. (For more on the response from the African American community, check out this NPR clip addressing, “..a growing disconnect between Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) and several prominent African Americans, who argue that he is moving to the center and catering to white voters too much.”)

I have to quote from Obama’s speech in full because it’s just too good:

“If we’re serious about reclaiming that dream, we have to do more in our own lives. There’s nothing wrong with saying that,” he said, “We can lead by example as we did during the civil rights movement, ’cause the problems that plague our communities are not unique to us, we just have it a little worse, but they’re not unique to us. Providing guidance for our children, turning off the TV set, putting away the video games, attending those parent teacher conferences, helping our children with their homework, setting a good example, that’s what everybody’s got to do if we’re going to be moving this country forward. Teaching our daughters to never allow images on television that tell them what they’re worth, teaching our sons to treat women with respect, and to realize that responsibility does not end at conception, that what makes them a man is not the ability to have a child but to raise one, that’s a message we need to send!”

And this in a week when the New Yorker had the horribly bad taste to run a cover “satirizing” the misconceptions and stereotypes about the Obamas. I’m not going to embed the image here because I think it was totally irresponsible of the New Yorker to publish it and I don’t want to give it more eyeballs on my site, but it portrays Michelle Obama as a radical militant and Barack Obama as an anti-American, flag burning Muslim.

And that’s a shame because if the statements I quoted above are “militant” or “anti-American” then I guess you can put me in that category, too. I don’t care if it’s just election year rhetoric or not at this point, it’s the best damned rhetoric I’ve heard in a long time from any politician and I give credit to Obama for not ducking the issue as the fellow from EbonyJet.com on NPR advised him to do.

Take the bull by the horns and address the complex and difficult problems we face, that’s what our leaders are supposed to do.

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5
May 08

Ohio Edu: Gov. Strickland’s Education Reform Plans

Courtesy of the Ohio Fair Schools Campaign comes a summary of recent news articles with information about Gov. Strickland’s plans for reforming education in the State of Ohio.

There has been a flurry of news reports about Gov. Ted Strickland’s education reform plan. According to an article in the Columbus Dispatch, the governor said he would spend much of the last half of the year working on his school reform plan. He plans to host regional summit meetings across the state to build support for his plan that will go to legislators in early 2009. Strickland also remains committed to his proposal to appoint a director of education to oversee primary and secondary schools.

To read related articles, visit:
4/28 Akron Beacon Journal
Failure is not an option: Ted Strickland sounds serious about repairing school-funding

4/21 Akron Beacon Journal
Digging Ohio out of an education rut

4/21 Dayton Daily News
Our view: State school board has duty to bow to governor

4/19 Plain Dealer
Plan for new director of education inches forward

4/18 Plain Dealer
Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland vows education reform

4/18 Columbus Dispatch
Strickland plans push for school-funding change

If you’re involved in education in Ohio, this may be an indication of what’s coming down the pike, and if you’re in another state, I’d love to hear what your state administration is doing to address budget shortfalls and challenges with the current systems in place.

Update: Oops some of those links were ugly, reformatted to make it readable!


19
Apr 08

Testing a Google Map – Virtual/Real Travel

Testing embed code for a Google map I created that shows the real life locations that I have visited to give presentations or learn more about Second Life, virtual worlds, and Web 2.0, and social media. (Hint, they’re all the same thing.) The lighter blue markers are places I traveled to “virtually” to attend or present.


View Larger Map

Does it work?

Update: Ok looks like that worked. The map makes a couple of points clear to me. First, the stereotypical perception that everyone heavily involved in Second Life or virtual worlds or web stuff is a closet shut in geek who never leaves the house clearly isn’t true. I do leave the house, lately more than I’d like to. Which leads me to the second point, that I’m feeling rather unhappy about doing so much flying and driving to talk about virtual world and web based technologies with people face to face. It just doesn’t scale, for one thing, it’s exhausting for another, and even though I’m very grateful my employer sponsors my work related travel, it’s also expensive. Don’t think I can pull a Christian Renaud from Cisco, who told us at the Dr. Dobbs Life 2.0 Summit that he would no longer be giving presentations in the flesh to cut down on needless travel, but I’d definitely like to travel less and still reach my audience. Hm.

Last point maybe the most important though, and that is, if I think back over all the things I’ve attended or presented at, virtually or in person, I think in terms of _content learned_, being on task and not just socializing, but learning about the topic we all reportedly gathered to discuss, the virtual events win hands down. The social networking at real conferences is just as crucial, I think, to one’s professional development and success, but in terms of actual _learning_, I seem to retain more, pay closer attention, and stay on task when attending a virtual conference session as opposed to a real one. Maybe that’s just me, but an interesting thought anyway.

I hope to show this map on Monday when I and some colleagues give another Second Life Bootcamp workshop at the US Distance Learning Association Conference in St. Louis. I think it demonstrates how crucial the discussions about Second Life and other web based technologies have been to my professional development over the last year.

Update2: Last edit, I swear. This is missing a ton of events I’ve attended with real world location counterparts, and another ton that only happened in a virtual world, no idea how to map those. You also have to zoom out to see the ones on other continents. I feel so.. virtual worldly. 😉