Language Switcher for WordPress

I’ve recently had occasion to install the Language Switcher WordPress Plugin on a website I’ve been building for my family’s Cider Mill business. The business operates in Quebec, so it was desirable to communicate with customers in both English and French. I mention the plug-in here, because the archaeological community has always been naturally multi-lingual, and it would be good if archaeological websites could reflect that multi-lingualism.

The problem with designing multilingual websites though are two fold – getting everything translated, and then managing the mass of pages, since everything needs to be duplicated, triplicated, or what have you. It can be very easy to end up with multiple trees, folders, files and complicated interlinkages between them. The Language Switcher plugin on the other hand works by treating language as just another display tag, and adding a filter to your wordpress. If the ‘English’ button is pressed, it filters the entire site so that anything written  in a post or page (including titles and categories) between [lang_en] and [/lang_en] tags is displayed in English – German would be bracketed with [lang_de] und [/lang_de] tags, etc. So one post can contain as many languages as you want, greatly simplifying the management of your site (little nation flags are included as well to use as buttons, if desired).

This could even be useful someone wanting to use their wordpress site – in conjunction with the Courseware plugin or similar – to teach languages (including Latin; I suppose it could be made to work with non-Roman alphabets too).   There are other language plugins out there, but this one worked best for me. Unfortunately, since ‘electric archaeology’ is a hosted blog courtesy of wordpress.com, I can’t add the plugin to this site.

As for translation – I read French quite well, but writing it  is quite another matter. So, in this case, I took my English text and ran it through Babble-fish and Google Translate. Then, when I read the competing versions, I could tell where things were loopy, and was able to correct them so that, although not particularly elegant, the French text read reasonably well. This is an approach that many others could take, since as academics we tend to be able to read many languages, but are only able to write fluently in a few.

Solipsis – another online world

They’re getting to be like cockroaches: everywhere. Here’s another online world. From its own publicity:

“Solipsis is a pure peer-to-peer system for a massively shared virtual world. There are no central servers at all: it only relies on end-users’ machines.

Solipsis is a public virtual territory. The world is initially empty and only users will fill it by creating and running entities. No pre-existing cities, inhabitants nor scenario to respect…

Solipsis is open-source, so everybody can enhance the protocols and the algorithms. Moreover, the system architecture clearly separates the different tasks, so that peer-to-peer hackers as well as multimedia geeks can find a good place to have fun here!

Current versions of Solipsis give the opportunity to act as pionneers in a pre-cambrian world. You only have a 2D representation of the virtual world and some basic tools devoted to communications and interactions. But it just works, so, come on and enjoy !”

Some reflection on this is provided here:

“[...]I wonder if Linden’s mad rush to open up its servers over the coming quarters towards “multiple grids by 2009″ (see my previous post) is driven at all by the accompanying mad rush of developers in all corners to open source other options. I’ll make a call to the Virtual World’s Standards Consortium to check that all these worlds will be interoperable and that we’ll have access to portable avatars per IBM’s scheme, if I can only find the number.

Final notes:
– Oh, and if anyone can slice through the acronyms and tell me whether it will support interoperability with 3D modeling I’d love to know.
– Keep an eye on the Wikipedia entry for Solipsis. It sounds like it was written by the company’s PR folks. Now that Wayne has brought attention to this (yay attention!) expect the OpenSim and Linden folks to go over and make a few corrective adjustments to the entry. )

Lulu.com and bypassing the publishers

PDQ Submission
I first became aware of Lulu.com, the print-on-demand site, after visiting Sebastian Heath’s ‘Mediterranean Ceramics‘ blog. He writes:

“As I’ve mentioned before, Billur Tekkök and I are editing the digital publication Greek, Roman and Byzantine Pottery at Ilion (Troia). I’ll talk about our work as part of the AIA panel “Web-Based Research Tools for Mediterranean Archaeology“.

One point that I will stress is that we intend to deliver this information in whatever formats will be useful to users. Currently, this means the website, a PDF file released under a Creative Commons license, and as a bound volume available for purchase from Lulu.com. It’s pretty trivial to generate the PDF – which we produce so that users can take all our content into the field – and then upload it to Lulu, after which third parties can purchase a printed copy.”

Sebastian writes that the version for purchase from Lulu.com – the printed version – will ultimately only be an archived version of the constantly changing internet edition, and so he writes, “don’t buy this book”. I was struck immediately by how useful this approach is. There are things I’ve written for various conference proceedings that, anywhere from 3 to 6 years later, still have not come out. So over to Lulu.com I went.

This site is one of the print-on-demand variety. You upload your files (formatted according to their specs), and they keep it, with cover art and blurb, in their database. Should somebody purchase it, they print it and send it off. You the author set the price after the printing cost, and Lulu takes a 20% of that as a commission. You’re getting therefore 80% of the profit. Not a bad deal, really. A downloadable version can also be made available, at any price you set.

In the spirit of scientific inquiry, I set about to publish my own book. Now, for archaeologists, I can see many advantages to this system- specialist catalogues that wouldn’t otherwise find a publisher, site notebooks, conference proceedings, textbooks, collected writings… I opted to create an archive of this blog. After all, I have no idea *where* in the real world this blog lives. What happens if the server goes on the fritz? I’ve got somewhere around 140 posts, nearly 30 000 words of material. This thing has eaten many hours of my time. I want something to show for all of that effort, just in case… It seemed to me too a good idea to make the download free, because after all who would pay for what they can already get freely by going to this site?

It was all quite straightforward. I selected what turned out to be 98 pages of blog postings, organised them thematically, added a table-of-contents, and turned any links into footnotes with the full urls. Then I uploaded it to Lulu, selected some nice cover art, and voila. I’ve purchased one copy to keep on my shelf – an archive of this blog. I might never sell a single copy, but that’s ok. What is a nice benefit though is that people might find it without ever having come across this blog, and so widening my readership.

Anyway, if you’re interested, the book lives here.lulubook.jpg

Civilization Revolution

It seems that the Civilization franchise is coming to the console market. This can only be a good thing, since I believe that Civilization is one of the greatest gifts the games industry ever gave us historian-folk. Civilization: Revolution is not a straightforward port though of the PC version to the console. There are numerous differences, one of which is that it would seem that new content, scenarios etc will only be available for people with the Xbox Live service. On the plus side, presumably the interesting errors and glitches that exist in the player-created content won’t be there (in my mod, if you look carefully, the Roman Senate looks an awful lot like the modern United Nations building… :) ). Anyway, an in-depth review is available here.

What I find also quite exciting, is that a port is planned for the Nintendo DS (the dual-screen; you’ve seen them, they look like little PDAs). The Nintendo DS allows multiplayer play when players are sitting together, over a tiny wi-fi link. This port will allow head-to-head competition over that link. From an educational point of view, this is the most valuable part of any commercial game used educationally: the ability for players/students to discuss and think about the playing – the metagame. Hopefully, new content will become available periodically for the DS version too.

Official site: http://civilizationrevolution.com/

Moodle + WordPress = Online University

A year and a half ago, I was looking for some online teaching to round out some contracting work I was doing, and I saw an advertisement in the Classical Association of Canada Bulletin from a new online university called ‘Robert Welch University‘. I applied, and soon found myself teaching Latin 101 over RWU’s Moodle system. Moodle is one of a number of course management or learning management systems (others you might be familiar with are Blackboard, Horizon/wimba, and of course, the much loathed WebCT). What is nice about Moodle is that it is all open source, php and mysql driven, and there are numerous plugins, modules, and themes to expand its functionality.

Being inclined to tinker around the innards of things I soon found myself in charge of managing the moodle and doing a university-wide moodle upgrade (nothing like a small institution for upward mobility!) RWU is a completely online school, devoted to Classics and Liberal Arts. When the moodle goes on the blink, the whole university effectively ceases to exist. The moodle interfaced with a front-end website that was completely custom-coded by hand, so when I upgraded the moodle to the latest version, I was not aware of the full complexities of how that interface was handled.

Uh-oh.

For about 10 hours one bleak afternoon, the university disappeared. It would be like somebody turning up for class at the University of Toronto, and finding just an empty lot where the campus ought to be. I learned a lot about php that day…

A daily problem we were having with the front-end of the University site and the Moodle was all of the custom coding. It was so byzantine that once the original creator had moved on to other things, it took a lot of trial-and-error to figure out what was responsible for what. It was also extremely difficult to update the site with new content or layout. Consequently, it was stuck in something of a design rut. Anyway, the point of this post: I’d been thinking of ‘ecologies’ of various web services for delivering education (see earlier entry on Facebook and WP Courseware plugin), and decided that moodle + wordpress = online university. So over the last two weeks I’ve been carefully migrating all content and functions from our old site to WordPress, and I’m pleased to say that it is done and I invite you all to take a look.rwumain-screen.jpg

Why WordPress? We’d looked at Joomla initially. I even did a mock-up Joomla site. But in the end, my experience writing this blog won the day. WordPress just seems to be much more flexible and with its enormous user-base, there’s a plug-in for almost any occasion. The next time we want to change the look of the site, it ought to be much less painful, too. When I killed the site this time, we were only offline for two minutes.

More about RWU:

RWU is a new university based in Wisconsin, receiving state EAB approval to operate as a university and to grant the Associate Degree in Liberal Arts. Its proposed BA is currently undergoing review. It operates five six-week sessions per year, with seven to ten students on average per class. The university concentrates on Classics and Classical languages, along with modern and ancient Hebrew, and Arabic.

Update: Much to my sadness, RWU is no longer a going concern. This post continues to generate a lot of traffic, so I will leave it up for old time’s sake.

rwumoodle-screen.jpg

CALL FOR PAPERS for ALT-J – Learning and Teaching in Immersive Virtual Worlds

My thanks to Eleanor for drawing my attention to the following call for papers from the Association for Learning Technology:

CALL FOR PAPERS for ALT-J

Learning and Teaching in Immersive Virtual Worlds

Special issue of ALT-J, Research in Learning Technology

Immersive virtual worlds (IVWs), such as Second Life, Active Worlds, Croquet and Forterra and massive multi-player games (MMPGs), such as EverQuest and World of Warcraft represent a paradigm shift in learning technology, and an important challenge to the world of education. They provide a platform with the potential to support a wide variety of activities, many of which have been adapted to learning and teaching, particularly in higher education. For some the spatial and social qualities of IVWs are exciting and attractive, for others, such as those involved in games-based learning, they can be seen as slow and troublesome. Nevertheless, interest in using IVWs and MMPGs in learning and teaching is growing rapidly.

The aim of this special issue of ALT-J is to develop and publish a timely collection of papers representing current research, developments and ideas in educational applications of IVWs and MMPGs. Of particular interest are papers that go beyond descriptions of objects and activities to build links between practice and pedagogy, and offer conceptual, methodological and analytical rigour. Example topic areas for inclusion in this special issue include, but are not necessarily confined to:

  1. Issues of embodiment
  2. Running IVWs and MMPGs cost effectively on a large scale
  3. Contexts in which use of IVWs is likely to be pedagogically effective
  4. Understandings of identity
  5. Research into learning and teaching in IVWs and MMPGs
  6. The impact of virtual quests
  7. Uses of collaborative simulation
  8. Collaborative construction
  9. The value of virtual laboratories
  10. Uses of virtual field work
  11. Group discussion in IVWs and MMPGs
  12. Problem-based learning in IVWs and MMPGs
  13. Geo-spatial representation of content
  14. The impact on learners and teachers
  15. Institutional aspects of IVWs and MMPGs
  16. How IVWs and MMPGs alter views of learning
  17. IVWs and MMPGs in schools

For queries and guidance relating to the call please contact Special Issue Editors Maggi Savin-Baden or Robert Ward.

Important dates:

Until 22 February 2008 Submission of abstracts and formal/informal response from Special Issue Editors.Submission of full papers: 31st March 2008

Types of papers:

To ensure both the quality and usefulness of the contributions a variety of papers will be considered. These might include, for example,

  1. a review of current literature practice,
  2. a paper that theorized particular aspects IVWs and MMPGs
  3. a critical stance on issues such as linking the previous studies on student learning with aspects of IVWs and MMPGs

ALT-J submission process and Timetable:
Manuscripts Papers should not exceed 5,000 words. Authors should submit their papers electronically to the ALT-J Administrator. Submissions in Microsoft Word are preferred.

Papers should be formatted as A4 size (or equivalent), double-spaced, with ample margins. In order to guarantee anonymous peer review the name(s) of the author(s) and the address where the work was carried out should only appear on a separate first page, along with the full postal address of the author who will check proofs, receive correspondence and offprints, as well as an email address. All pages should be numbered.

Each article should include an abstract/summary of 100-500 words, Footnotes to the text should be avoided as far as possible, notes should be marked with [1], [2] and should be collected at the end of the article, before the reference section.

Further details on submission (including types of papers) may be found at the Routledge Taylor Francis Group.

Until 22 February 2008 Submission of abstracts and formal/informal response from Special Issue Editors.

31 March 2008 Submission of papers.”

The Ecology of Games

Today is obviously a blog-writing day. Last post for now – ‘The Ecology of Games‘ may be downloaded freely in whole or in part from this page here – and it’s legal! Many of the big names in game studies are in this volume.

The Ecology of Games
Connecting Youth, Games, and Learning
Edited by Katie Salen

In the many studies of games and young people’s use of them, little has been written about an overall “ecology” of gaming, game design and play–mapping the ways that all the various elements, from coding to social practices to aesthetics, coexist in the game world. This volume looks at games as systems in which young users participate, as gamers, producers, and learners.

The Ecology of Games (edited by Rules of Play author Katie Salen) aims to expand upon and add nuance to the debate over the value of games–which so far has been vociferous but overly polemical and surprisingly shallow. Game play is credited with fostering new forms of social organization and new ways of thinking and interacting; the contributors work to situate this within a dynamic media ecology that has the participatory nature of gaming at its core. They look at the ways in which youth are empowered through their participation in the creation, uptake, and revision of games; emergent gaming literacies, including modding, world-building, and learning how to navigate a complex system; and how games act as points of departure for other forms of knowledge, literacy, and social organization.

Contributors:
Ian Bogost, Anna Everett, James Paul Gee, Mizuko Ito, Barry Joseph, Laurie McCarthy, Jane McGonigal, Cory Ondrejka, Amit Pitaru, Tom Satwicz, Kurt Squire, Reed Stevens, S. Craig Watkins.

About the Editor

Katie Salen is a game designer and interactive designer as well as Director of Graduate Studies in Design and Technology, Parsons School of Design. With Eric Zimmerman, she is the coauthor of Rules of Play (MIT Press, 2003) and coeditor of The Game Design Reader (MIT Press, 2005).

Open source virtual world: Croquet

I’m sure I’ve mentioned this one before, but if not, check out this post here to understand a bit more of what’s going on on the technological front concerning immersive worlds for learning… and why Croquet might be a better place to spend our time:

“The Croquet Constortium is “an open source metaverse software foundation” which has developed Croquet, a development environment/architecture for creating virtual worlds. The presentation was given by two of the founding architects of the platform: Julian Lombardi, Duke University’s assistant vice president of Academic Services and Technology Support (Julian’s blog), and Mark McCahill, also at Duke (and creator of the Gopher protocol). Their point was that the Internet was designed as a client-server model back when computing power and bandwidth were scarce, so authoritative servers were needed to provide clients with the necessary state.  But that model is no longer valid — 30 users can stress a game server using that antiquated architectural model.  And so to build new virtual environments using that schema is thus fundamentally flawed.  Their Croquet platform is peer-to-peer based, so the users retain the current state of the virtual worlds, and new users logging on get the latest version of the world from the closest node on the network.  The architecture stresses the replication of computing rather than of data — it is a coordination protocol.”

And finally, “7 ways Croquet is Better than Second Life“. I have yet to try Croquet, but it is certainly worth keeping an eye on.