A second meeting in Second Life

After venting about last week’s meeting in Second Life, I feel obligated to give an update after this morning’s experience there.

This time around was much more pleasant, even though the meeting format was, again, basically a PowerPoint presentation. The timing of the meeting was certainly better (one hour at 9am beats the hell out of three hours at 5am), but there were some other improvements.

For one thing, this time there was only one main speaker, which avoided the problems we’d had the previous week with people moving to and from the stage and wildly variable audio levels. And almost everyone kept their audio off during the meeting, so we didn’t have the feedback loops. The audio was much better during the Q&A, too, even if I wasn’t “near” the avatar speaking.

There was surprisingly little text chat during the meeting (there might have been another back-channel going on — I hadn’t fired up Sametime before the meeting, so if someone set up a back-channel there, I missed it).

We still suffered from slow slide changes; I tried alt-clicking on the slide, as Caliburn Susanto suggested, but it didn’t seem to help much (could it be a different keystroke on a Mac?). But the slides weren’t all that critical (which is good, because people kept getting between me and the slides!) — the real information was carried in the speaker’s voice

I wouldn’t say that this meeting took particular advantage of Second Life as a venue, but it didn’t suffer from the choice, either. It was nice to be able to see who else was in the meeting (thank goodness for virtual nametags), and the higher-quality of the audio in SL made listening much more pleasant than it would have been on the phone. But I am definitely still waiting to see the value of SL.

Thoughts after a meeting in Second Life

I spent the first three hours of Wednesday in a meeting in an internal instance of Second Life, and, while it was an interesting experiment, I have to say that I just don’t get it. I’ll try to ignore the technology teething pains (people’s systems crashing, audio feedback, and the like), and I’ll try to ignore the fact that the meeting was scheduled at a “globally-friendly” time of 0500 Pacific (so my crankiness knob was turned up to 11 before I even sat down), and compare the meeting to a traditional teleconference.

What was better?

  • When the audio worked, it was high-quality, full-duplex, stereo audio, not the usual mono 300-3000 Hz with half the people using half-duplex speakerphones. Voices sounded more natural, and stereo audio provided spatialization, so, unlike a conference call, the voices in my head came from different spots.

  • SL’s “text chat” provided a natural back-channel that was easy to see and use.

What was worse?

  • For most of the meeting, we were watching people present slide decks. That meant figuring out how to position myself so that I could see the slides in a sufficiently large size to read them — but that meant that I couldn’t see anything else but the slides without having to maneuver my avatar (or at least the camera), which was just too much trouble.

  • Just like in reality, if someone spoke without coming to the podium, you couldn’t hear them — there didn’t appear to be any secondary microphone that could be used.

  • Every time the slide changed, it took a long time to come into focus.

  • Because everyone had a different audio setup, the levels were very uneven and many speakers had 60-Hertz hum problems (though, to be fair, this is not that uncommon on a conference call)

  • Some of the defaults don’t scale to a large group — for example, if you don’t do something to avoid it, everyone near you hears you typing (through a synthesized typing noise). That might be OK for a small group, but fails badly with 75 people in the area.

Maybe it was this meeting?

  • This particular meeting probably didn’t gain from being in Second Life. There wasn’t any time for interaction during the heart of the meeting, so there was no real reason to hold it synchronously, much less in Second Life.

  • Powerpoint presentations don’t show off Second Life to its best advantage. I am taking it on faith that there is an advantage somewhere.

  • If you are going to have a “presentation-based” meeting, it’s critical that the presenters have tested their connection and audio with an audience before the meeting. It’s not necessary to go through the presentation in any detail, but it is important to know that the audio is working properly.

  • Headsets are mandatory. People not using them should be shot. Or at the very least, their mikes should be forcibly muted.

I’ve been wrong before

The very first time I saw Mosaic, I thought it was cool but that its bandwidth requirements would keep it from catching on — but that was in the very early days, when people were using graphics strictly for decoration (remember all the pretty colored bullets?), and I was restricted to a 14.4KB modem. Once I saw a properly hyperlinked document and a properly clickable image, I saw the value of using that bandwidth, and I knew that Gopher’s days were numbered.

And when I first read about podcasts, I thought they were a silly idea — who would want to use a medium that you had to listen to in real-time and didn’t easily support skipping around? Especially to hear someone droning on about whatever topic hit him over morning coffee? But eventually, I found some worthwhile podcasts and now I spend much of my driving and exercising time listening to them. I do wish there was a way to listen faster, though!

So I might well be wrong about Second Life (and its relatives). I got into some Twitter and Facebook discussions during the meeting, and some people who disagreed with me made some good points. If you’re interested, here’s the Facebook discussion (I think you have to log in to Facebook to see it); it’s much harder to capture a Twitter discussion, but this Twitter search comes close.

Will I try it again?

I probably don’t have a choice.

Truth in Comedy

After last week’s improv class, our teacher, Bobby August, sent us a note of encouragement, along with a suggestion to read Truth in Comedy.

The encouragement was welcomed (learning improv is hard work!), but the book suggestion was pure gold.

Of course it’ll be useful in improving my improv skills, but I found quite a lot to apply to other areas — mentoring, working with my team, conference calls…even programming. Here are a few of their “key points” that I plan to use offstage (and on).

  • Agreement is the only rule that cannot be broken.
  • There are no mistakes. Everything is justified.
  • Treat others as if they are poets, geniuses and artists, and they will be.
  • Yes, and…Accept and build.
  • Stay in the moment. What is happening now will be the key to discovery.
  • Be specific with your objects.

It’s a quick read – 149 pages – and well worth your time. Check your local library (or feel free to follow this link) for a copy.

And the show is just about four weeks away…yikes!

Watch out for zombies!

My mother’s Yahrzeit is coming up, and her name will be on the Kaddish list this Shabbat, so perhaps it’s appropriate that I’m making a posting she would have considered complete gibberish.

For the last three weeks, my MacBook Pro has been giving me fits. When I tried to start a program, sometimes it just wouldn’t start. And, when I looked in /var/log/system.log, it was littered with lovely messages like these:

Apr 17 00:45:31 dssmac com.apple.launchd[103] ([0x0-0x2effefd].com.apple.systemevents): fork() failed, will try again in one second: Resource temporarily unavailable
Apr 17 00:45:31 dssmac com.apple.launchd[103] ([0x0-0x2effefd].com.apple.systemevents): Bug: launchd_core_logic.c:6780 (23714):35: jr->p
Apr 17 00:45:36 dssmac /usr/bin/osascript[13552]: spawn_via_launchd() failed, errno=12 label=[0x0-0x2f01eff].com.apple.systemevents path=/System/Library/CoreServices/System Events.app/Contents/MacOS/System Events flags=1
Apr 17 00:45:36 dssmac com.apple.launchd[103] ([0x0-0x2f01eff].com.apple.systemevents): fork() failed, will try again in one second: Resource temporarily unavailable
Apr 17 00:45:36 dssmac com.apple.launchd[103] ([0x0-0x2f01eff].com.apple.systemevents): Bug: launchd_core_logic.c:6780 (23714):35: jr->p
Apr 17 00:45:42 dssmac /usr/bin/osascript[13553]: spawn_via_launchd() failed, errno=12 label=[0x0-0x2f03f01].com.apple.systemevents path=/System/Library/CoreServices/System Events.app/Contents/MacOS/System Events flags=1
Apr 17 00:45:42 dssmac com.apple.launchd[103] ([0x0-0x2f03f01].com.apple.systemevents): fork() failed, will try again in one second: Resource temporarily unavailable
Apr 17 00:45:42 dssmac com.apple.launchd[103] ([0x0-0x2f03f01].com.apple.systemevents): Bug: launchd_core_logic.c:6780 (23714):35: jr->p

with the occasional

Apr 15 14:41:42 dssmac kernel[0]: proc: table is full    

thrown in for bad measure.

I couldn’t figure out what was going wrong (Activity Monitor only showed between 60-80 processes, far fewer than the system limit), so yesterday, I reinstalled Mac OS X (using the archive-and-install method) — and it didn’t help.

I was, needless to say, unhappy. I hadn’t brought my external drive to the office, so I couldn’t do a bare-metal reinstall yet. But I could (and did) tweet about my problem:

Still getting fork(1) failures (“resource not available” — which one, dammit?), so I guess it’s time for a full reinstall. Crud.

This one caught the eye of many people who wanted to help, and I want to mention two in particular:

Ed Costello thought it might be hardware — I ran the hardware diagnostics, which showed nothing.

Rich Berlin (from Sun) made the suggestion which wound up putting me on the right path — he suggested running:

sudo dtrace -n 'syscall::fork*:entry{printf("%s %d",execname,pid);}'

which showed two Eclipse-based processes forking their little hearts out. So I did a “ps” to discover what they were (unsurprisingly, Lotus Notes and Lotus Sametime), but what startled me was how many “(NotesDynConfig)” processes there were in the process table. I wondered how many, so I ran

ps -aA | wc

and was shocked to see a result of about 160, compared with the 70 processes shown in Activity Monitor. So I stopped Notes and suddenly, I was down to 70 processes via both methods.

It seems that Activity Monitor doesn’t report zombie processes. Neither does the line at the top of “top(1)”, which I’d also used while trying to troubleshoot.

Given that discrepancy, I can now understand why the system was running out of processes. I don’t know why Notes is leaving zombies around, but that’s a problem for another day (my next step is to upgrade to the latest beta and see if it helps — I’ve also reported the problem, of course).

And I guess I probably don’t really have to do a full reinstall…though I might, anyway — it’s my Windows training coming to the fore.

Kosher l’Pesach AND Presidentially-Endorsed, just not very tasty

I was amused to note that the Haggadah used at the Presidential Seder last night was the same one I grew up with (although a newer edition), the Maxwell House Haggadah.

A Seder at the White House

a seder at the white house

[Download High Resolution]

(President Obama hosts a traditional Seder dinner in the Old Family Dining Room of the White House on Thursday
night, April 9, 2009. Some friends and White House employees and their families joined the Obama family.
Official White House photo by Pete Souza)

[White House.gov Blog Feed]