Alan Sondheim is a writer, teacher, and cyberspace theorist who co-moderates four Internet email lists: Cybermind, Fiction-of-Philosophy, E-conf, and Cyberculture. He edited Being On Line, Net Subjectivity (New York: Lusitania Press, 1997), and guest-edited New Observations on Cultures of Cyberspace. His other books include Individuals: Post-Movement Art in America (New York: Dutton, 1977), and Disorders of the Real (Barrytown, NY: Station Hill, 1988). His text on the philosophy of the virtual, The Case of the Real,  has been published by Potes & Poets Press (Elmwood, Connecticut, 1998). Sondheim has published over a hundred and thirty articles, and has lectured at a number of venues on the Internet and related subjects. His films and videos have been shown internationally. Sondheim has an M.A. from Brown University, and currently lives in Brooklyn, New York.

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David Harris Smith
Eleni Stroulia
Bill Kapralos
Lynne Heller
John Bonnett
Paula Gardner
Matthew Delaney
Erik DeJong
Kiret Dhindsa
David A. Galbraith



Introduction to macGRID


Abstract:  A brief history and objectives of the macGRID multidisciplinary simulation research network and platform.

Researcher Profile:  Dr. David Harris Smith is Assistant Professor in the Department of Communication Studies and Multimedia at McMaster University. David is an artist and researcher in interactive new media. His research interests include new media and digital cultures, interaction design, and the practices and applications of virtual worlds and mixed reality environments. He teaches courses in Design Fundamentals, DIY Media and Cultures of Peer Production, Avatar Cultures and New Media Arts. David is the Director of Research for the macGRID Simulation Research Network an international research network utilizing the Open Simulator platform and SHARCNET High Performance Computing.


Smart Services Across the Real and Virtual Worlds


Abstract: In this presentation, we explore the roles that virtual worlds stand to play in the systems of the future. Virtual worlds, where thousands of people can interact simultaneously within the same simulated three-dimensional space, have interesting implications for business, education, social sciences, and engineering. The rich user experience that virtual worlds afford creates new opportunities for software systems with new forms of system-user interaction. We have been exploring these opportunities in the context of the three projects. In the Smart-Condo project, we adopt a virtual world as a rich, intuitive and interactive visualization platform. In the simulation-based training project, the virtual world provides the platform in which trainees can, through their avatars, apply their knowledge and practice their skills to demonstrate their professional competence. Finally, in our most recent augmented-alternative reality games project, the virtual world is serving as a means to communicate the narrative of the game through the game-world simulation and to support the game interactions among the players across the real and virtual worlds.

Researcher Profile:  Eleni Stroulia holds the NSERC/AITF IRC on Service Systems Management (w. IBM support) with the Department of Computing Science at the University of Alberta. Her research addresses real-world problems with software systems that support human activities and improve their efficiency and quality. Having made substantial contributions to the areas of software analysis, architecture and evolution, she now focuses on collaborative web-based and mobile platforms for innovative health-care and education. In the Smart-Condo project, her team is developing technologies to support people with chronic conditions live independently longer. As a PNI with the GRAND NCE, she is working on collaborative-research platforms and simulation-based training for health professionals. Finally, with ICCHange, she is developing an open-source electronic health record in Kenya.


Serious Games for Surgical Education and Training


Abstract:  The acquisition of surgical skills has historically been based on Halsted’s in-theatre apprenticeship model whereby the resident (trainee) acquires the required skills and knowledge in the operating room [3].  However, the present era brings with it stresses on the apprenticeship model for surgical training.  These include limited resident work hours, reduced case volumes, the need for more complex operations in patients with more comorbidities, requirements for greater surgical expertise and accountability, less time for teaching because of academic responsibilities, and demands for efficient use of operating room resources. Furthermore, such an approach leads to increased resource consumption (e.g., monetary, faculty time, and time in the operating room) and has generally become more costly [4].  This has led to decreased training time in the operating room and hence less operative exposure, teaching, and feedback.  Therefore, efforts must be made to optimize operative room exposure by devising training opportunities using artificial settings before exposure to patients.

Simulations, both physical and virtual, offer a viable alternative to practice in an actual operating room, offering residents the opportunity to train until they reach a specific competency level.  One of the prevailing arguments for using simulation in the learning process of trainees is their ability to engage the trainee in the active accumulation of knowledge by doing. The rising popularity of video games has seen a recent push towards the application of video game-based technologies to teaching and learning. A serious game can be defined as an interactive computer application, with or without a significant hardware component, that i) has a challenging goal, ii) is fun to play and/or engaging, iii) incorporates some concept of scoring, and iv) imparts to the user a skill, knowledge, or attitude that can be applied to the real world [1].  Serious games “leverage the power of computer games to captivate and engage players/learners for a specific purpose such as to develop new knowledge or skills” and with respect to students, strong engagement has been associated with academic achievement [5]. In addition to promoting learning via interaction and engagement, serious games allow users to experience situations that are difficult (even impossible) to achieve in reality due to factors such as cost, time, and safety concerns [6].  Serious games may provide an opportunity to acquire non-technical cognitive skills outside the operating room in an interactive, and engaging manner, thereby optimizing operating room exposure with live patients.

Here, serious games will be introduced followed by an overview of the application of serious games for medical surgical education and training.  Some of the issues and open problems with respect to serious games will also be provided.

Researcher Profile:  Bill Kapralos is an Associate Professor in the Game Development and Entrepreneurship Program at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology. His current research interests include: serious games (videogames whose primary purpose is education and training) and more specifically, examining the factors that lead to a maximum transfer of knowledge and retention, real-time acoustical modeling and 3D (spatial) sound generation for virtual environments and video games, multi-modal virtual environments/reality, and the perception of auditory events.


Going Virtual in the Virtual: Looking at the evolution of an art practice in Second Life


Abstract:  This presentation will give an overview of my practice-based exploration of a spectrum that exists between the concrete, materiality of our everyday lives and the environment of online, interactive 3D virtual worlds where one is represented by an avatar. In 2007 I became interested in using the experiences and the imagery encountered in the virtual world of Second Life to construct installations that allowed for a confounding of boundaries. Multiple large-scale projections created an immersive experience, in which avatars were life-sized and the virtual world had an intimacy. By including ephemeral elements, such as light manipulation, video projection and virtual performances in the work, these crossover elements and methods gave voice to questions about what is real and what is virtual and how they impact each other. Through the concept of blurring boundaries a new iteration of the work evolved.  I wrote a series of comics that used my avatar, Nar Duell as a central character. Screen captures from the avatar’s travels through the virtual community become evidence of the physical / tangible intermingling with the world of digital imagination. My doctoral research intends to demonstrate that the emotional relationship one has with one’s representation in the virtual world can be theorized as mother / daughter relationship. Based on the work of Luce Irigaray who discusses women’s metaphysics and psychology from alternate perspectives, this feminist turn gives us a framework to understanding a fluidity between the concrete and the virtual rather than a dichotomization. By imagining our relationship to our avatar as neither strictly our own selves nor just a tool, but rather as a complex animated image and polysemic idea, we will more clearly understand the relationship between the concrete and virtual. A key theorist influencing this proposition is WJT Mitchell whose ideas about our complicated relationship to images helps us understand our affective bond with our own avatars.

Researcher Profile:  Lynne Heller is a post-disciplinary artist and educator. Her interests encompass material culture, new media performative interaction, graphic novels and sculptural installation. International exhibitions include the Australian National University, Canberra, AU; Low Lives 2, El Museo de Barrio, NYC, USA (among other locations), Hysteria: Past Yet Present, Rutgers University, Newark, USA; The Stray Show, (Art Chicago, Chicago, IL, USA); Neck of the Woods, England; Deviant Detours, Mexico; artist residency, Palazzo Rinaldi, Italy and The University of Cuba, Havana, Cuba. Solo national exhibitions have included Gallery 44, Red Head Gallery, White Water Gallery, Red Deer District Museum and Gallery, Red Deer,  Whitby Station Gallery and the Art Gallery of Northumberland. Heller completed her MFA at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 2004 and is currently undertaking a doctoral program at University College Dublin. She teaches at the Ontario College of Art and Design University.


Virtual Worlds for History


Abstract:  Historians have traditionally ground their discipline on one form of representation:  text.  And for the most part, they still predominately, and perhaps rightly, insist that text will remain the primary expressive instrument of their discipline. That does not mean, however, that they should not consider how computation generally and virtual worlds particularly might enhance their capacities to express, to analyze and to teach.  The purpose of this talk is to consider a past application, devoted to pedagogy, and a future application, devoted to virtual heritage.  My purpose in this talk will be to present an overview of the 3D Virtual Buildings Project, a project that uses 3D modeling to teach students how to reconstruct heritage environments, and develop critical thinking skills in so doing.  My purpose will also be to discuss a tool I’m developing for a project titled HistorySpace.  Here, my concern will be to propose a method to enable historians to easily and intuitively exploit the expressive capacities of X3D to support narrative construction and documentation in the fields of architectural history and virtual heritage.

Researcher Profile:  John Bonnett is a Canada Research Chair in Digital Humanities based at the Department of History in Brock University.  He is the principal developer of the 3D Virtual Buildings Project, and is currently pursuing projects devoted to exploring how applications such as Augmented Reality, High Performance Computing and GIS can be used to support historical research and teaching.


Embodiment, Interactivity, Digital Venues:  Mindfulness to Music Making


 Abstract:  My team’s research at the OCADU Mobile lab seeks to understand and engender embodiment in a range of means– from interactive music making to biofeedback and new ways of becoming mindful.  This presentation addresses our team’s recent work on the Body Editing project uses  the Kinect device with an open platform (designed for user programming), to explore how gesture and movement can exploit apperceptive experience. The project seeks to create  new opportunities for collaborating in embodied manners, via the digital self, to create art experiences, with possible applications in health and wellness.  Another project, Mindfulness Technologies, seeks new manners in which we can utilizes EEG technologies together with mindful art pieces to  enhance mindfulness,  producing relief from stress, depression and anxiety.  These projects present opportunities for collaboration across spaces, particularly in game scenarios, that could be facilitated by spatialised information systems, as Open Sim could provide.

Researcher Profile:  Paula Gardner, PhD, is a Media Studies/Science and Technology scholar, documentary filmmaker and mobile experience art collaborator with expertise in critical media and feminist theory, ethnographic methods, mobile media, participatory art process, and video production. Gardner creates in the area of mobile experience design, using interdisciplinary methods linking engineering, social science methods, critical theory and art practice to create interactive, mobile art experiences. Gardner most recently leads Biomapping (SSHRC funded) various GRAND (NCE funded) projects experimenting in embodiment, the digital subject and mindfulness for therapeutic ends.  Gardner’s published work has addressed gendered critical psychiatric practices, subjectivity and mobility, and collaborative new media methodologies.


Towards Autonomic Adaptive Scaling of Virtual Worlds


Abstract:  Virtual worlds must accommodate a large number of users and, at the same time, support an immersive experience for each individual user. This requirement implies the need to support on-demand scalability for virtual-world platforms,   to avoid over-provisioning of resources. Three qualities are essential   for enabling a high-quality immersive experience for the users: (a) low-latency network connections, (b) fast updates of the virtual-world state (physics, scripts, ect), and (c) efficient content sharing (state, buildings, objects, ect) across all users.

Researcher Profile:
Matt Delaney is a masters student in computing science from the University of Alberta. His current research is on autonomic adaptive scaling of virtual worlds in the cloud. Specifically, he is working on scaling OpenSim on the OpenStack cloud infrastructure.


Creating a Virtual Campus in OpenSim:  Issues, Obstacles, and Successes


Abstract:  Using a virtual world like OpenSim has incredible potential for many educational purposes. The goal of this project was to create a virtual University of Alberta campus in OpenSim so that students entering the university for the first time, could visit campus virtually before stepping foot on the real campus. Teaming up with members from our University’s Computing Sciences department, we recreated our campus in OpenSim and developed a virtual orientation program. Some of the challenges that arose were: Importing Collada models into OpenSim and scaling them, overloading the server with logins, avatars crossing regions and losing control, voice server set-up, and selecting an appropriate viewer for the study participants. Many of these issues were resolved, but some solutions (like importing the collada models), were labour intensive. We continue to seek more efficient solutions. Ultimately, we managed to replicate a substantial portion of our campus at a very high level of detail and the first run of our study saw a small number of participants visit our virtual campus for a “virtual orientation” months before they stepped foot on the real campus.

Researcher Profile:  Erik is Graduate Student at University of Alberta, currently working towards a PhD in Educational Psychology. He previously completed a Masters in Educational Psychology in the Technology in Education Stream at the University of Alberta. His work on previous projects has put him in charge of the implementation of virtual environments as part of two unique studies using SecondLife and OpenSim. Erik is currently continuing that research, working with Dr. Patricia Boechler and the rest of her team at the University of Alberta to study what people are able to learn while in a virtual environment.


Interacting with the Virtual World through Imagination


Abstract:  Brain-computer interfaces allow a user to interact with computerized devices using just their thoughts.  In this work, we use the Emotiv Epoch to record EEG activity (brainwaves) from someone while they perform mental imagery tasks, such as imagining an object disappear.  We train a machine learning system based on artificial neural networks to recognize the pattern of brain activity associated with that mental image, enabling it as a mode of interaction with the computer.  A virtual environment in OpenSimulator is set up to receive a signal when the machine learning system recognizes one of the learned pattern of brain activities, and a target object is affected in a way that is consistent with the imagery in the user’s mind.

Researcher Profile:   Kiret Dhindsa is a graduate student in the School of Computational Science and Engineering a division of the Department of Mathematics and Statistics, and is a member of Sue Becker’s Computational Neuroscience Lab in the Department of Psychology, Neuroscience, and Behaviour.  As a graduate student, he has been developing a brain-computer interface that allows users to interact with virtual environments, such as OpenSimulator, through their thoughts and imagination.  He is particularly interested in the development of machine learning algorithms that allow a computer to learn how to interpret an individual’s brain signals, as well as both artistic and practical applications of the overall system.  One day, he would like to see brain-computer interfaces that export conscious and subconscious through processes and mental imagery into virtual reality environments so that people will be able to more deeply interact with their inner selves and with each other.


MacGRID and Royal Botanical Gardens: Exploring Synergies and Opportunities


Abstract:  Royal Botanical Gardens is a complex landscape of many natural and cultural heritage features extending over approximately 1,100 ha. As a major botanical garden with associated nature sanctuaries, our mission is to promote the public’s understanding of the relationship between the plant world, society and the environment. This multifaceted mission, and our rich holdings of biological, horticultural, and archival data and materials, present opportunities and challenges to management. Although we have internal GIS and industry-standard database applications such as BG-BASE, we are always seeking improvement of our outcomes for visitor experience in, and for management of, our gardens, nature sanctuaries, park spaces and built infrastructure. Options to help us develop better documentation of our natural and cultural heritage resources, provide new tools for interpretation, visitor experience, and data mobilization for Internet outreach, are welcomed. We also seek to facilitate the use of RBG assets for discovery and innovation. Royal Botanical Gardens is interested in exploring ideas for new research initiatives that support our mutual interests involving McMaster University faculty. The capacities for modeling data in the MacGRID simulation environment may provide both institutions with unique partnership opportunities. Potential projects include modeling the behaviour of visitors in garden areas in response to loading, facilities and attractions deployment, hydrology of Cootes Paradise and the watersheds of its tributaries, modeling of microhabitat changes for plant populations under climate change scenarios, better understanding of on-site visitor experiences and behaviours, modeling the permeability of urban landscapes for wildlife, developing cloud-based visitor and stakeholder interactions with the landscape and each other, platforms for enhanced-reality visitor experiences tapping into our rich archival and scientific knowledge bases, and many, many others.

Researcher Profile:  Dr. David Galbraith is Head of Science at Royal Botanical Gardens and serves as liaison to universities and other botanical gardens around research, conservation and biodiversity projects. His own research interests are primarily in landscape and wildlife ecology, and conservation genetics. He leads RBG’s Science Department, which includes plant identification and plant taxonomy staff that oversee the institution’s herbarium, and that work with volunteers on the management of library and archival resources. Other professional staff at RBG include horticulturists, aquatic and terrestrial ecologists, species-at-risk biologists, plant records and data specialists, marketing, communications, fund-raising, visitor services, events, and exhibits specialists, educational program providers, operational managers of facilities and infrastructure, and many more. As a major cultural attraction and a transfer receiving agency of the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport of the Province of Ontario, and as a leading member of the American Public Gardens Association, Royal Botanical Gardens welcomes partnerships that enhance our sustainability and what we do on behalf of the community.

©2019 macGRID @ McMaster University

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