Of bread and roses

Bread and Roses
Bread and Roses

Bread and Roses, located at LEA13, is an interactive, educational installation commemorating the 1912 Lawrence Textile Strike, and which is open now through until the end of December 2014.

The strike, which commenced on January 1st, 1912, was prompted by textile mill owners in the town of Lawrence, Massachusetts, arbitrarily cutting workers pay after a new law reduced the working week from 56 hours to 52. The cut, amounting to around 30 cents, equated to the loss of around three loaves of bread for the already hard-pressed working families in the town (hence one of the strike’s other names: “The Three Loaves Strike”).

To put this in perspective, the staple diet of mill workers and their families in Lawrence was bread and molasses. Meat was a luxury few could afford. What’s more, the conditions were so harsh that the mortality rate for children was 50% by age six, and that 36 out of every 100 mill workers, male or female, were dead by the age of 25. Families were crammed into poorly maintained tenement blocks; thus the pay cut was, to say the least, cruelly severe.

With its largely immigrant population (some 51 different nationalities), the work force in Lawrence had been deemed by more conservative trade unions to be too ethnically divided to be properly organised. However, under the guidance of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), representatives of which had been active in the town ahead of the imposition of the pay-cut, the strike grew within a week to encompass some 20,000 workers and ran through a harsh winter prior to both sides reaching agreement.

Bread and Roses
Bread and Roses

The strike particularly came to the attention of the United States as a whole (and the rest of the world) after local police attempted to prevent IWW from sending 100 children from striking families in Lawrence to Philadelphia to stay with the families of supporters of the strike until it had reached a conclusion. Arriving at the railway station, the police drew their batons and began clubbing mothers and children alike, in full view of the press, resulting in Congressional hearings being called.

In the end, the mill owners acceded to the demands of the strike organisers. Pay was raised, working conditions were improved – but it was in the end something of a pyrrhic victory.  The IWW refused to enter into written agreements, allowing the mill owners to slowly but surely take back the concessions made, whilst also removing union representatives from their workforce.

Bread and Roses
Bread and Roses

The installation at LEA13 is the brainchild of Canadian-born Dr. Sharon Collingwood (aka Ellie Brewster in SL), a Professor in the Women’s Studies department at The Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio. It’s an interactive piece, aimed a school students, and offers plenty to do.   A tour through the set takes students through a mill where images provide visual and text-based information on the strike, while large blue buttons provide additional information or questions to be answered by students. In addition, there are media elements and links to external web resources.

As well as examining the strike, the installation also offers some social commentary as well; not just in the strong contrast between the houses and attitudes of the well-to-do mill owners and the frightful conditions endured by the workers – but also in the often entirely blinkered viewpoints of movements which marked the times. The latter is perhaps most clearly demonstrated in the house occupied by the (white, middle-class) suffragettes, citing the strike as an example of the “power” embodied within women, whilst ignoring the black scullery maid in the kitchen…

Bread and Roses
Bread and Roses

An exploration of the installation will reveal it to be seemingly incomplete. There are empty rooms, etc. This is intentional, as it is hoped that students will add to the exhibit throughout its duration. In addition, students can assume one of four identities prior to explore the exhibit and, for the benefit of those who may not be familiar with using Second Life, there is a brief set of tutorial items offering basic instructions on finding one’s way around the viewer.

All told an interesting glimpse into history, and a useful educational tool. Those wishing to use the classroom facilities within the exhibit should contact Ellie Brewster in-world.

And the title of the piece? “Bread and Roses” was another name by which the strike came to be known, after being incorrectly linked to the strike by author Upton Sinclair. The origins of the phrase in fact seem to lie with labour union leader, Rose Schneiderman, who was not directly involved in matter in Lawrence, but who stated during a speech that, “The worker must have bread, but she must have roses, too.” This in turn inspired James Oppenheim to write a poem of the same name, which in turn became a song strongly associated with labour movements and the concepts of fair wages and dignified working and living conditions.

Bread and Roses: Joan Baez and her sister, Mimi Farina, who founded “Bread and Roses”, a nonprofit co-operative organisation, designed to bring free music and entertainment to institutions: jails, hospitals, juvenile facilities, nursing homes, and prisons.

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Magic Leap: the elephant (or dragon, or…) in your room (or street, or…)

You'll believe a whale can fly - or that's perhaps Magic Leap's hope (among more practical things)
You’ll believe a whale can fly – or that’s Magic Leap’s hope (among more practical things)

Augmented Reality took a shot in the arm this week with the new that Google is at the forefront of some US$542 million investment in technology company Magic Leap. What’s more, not only is the coming putting the money forward directly, rather than through their investment arm, Google Ventures (which has previously put money into things like Philip Rosedale’s High Fidelity, alongside of investment house True Ventures), but two senior executives from Google will be joining the Magic Leap board. These are Sundar Pichai, Android and Chrome leader, and Don Harrison, Google’s corporate development vice-president.

The funding round comes on top of an initial round of investment in February 2014, which drew some US$50 million to the company.

But who or what is Magic Leap? According to the company’s website, it is essentially an augmented reality system which uses a “Dynamic Digitized Lightfield Signal”, although they note we can call it “Digital Lightfield™”, capable of merging realistic computer graphics with everything the user sees in the real world. This appears to be something of a merging of both VR and AR (with the emphasis on the latter), to create an immersive whole. The system doesn’t use the Oculus Rift, but apparently uses a headset system possibly akin to, say, the castAR system or perhaps Google Glass; the latter of which might explain Google’s interest – or it might not.

However, no-one knows precisely what Magic Leap is or how it works, because there haven’t been any public demonstrations of the system, nor have any images of the hardware been released. And while trendy terms like “Digital Lightfield™” are used on the equally trendy website, there is little to tell what is going on.

So far all that has been released are a series of pretty stunning images and videos – witness the video above, or the images top and centre in this article. However, that’s not so say the company don’t have something to get investors excited.

“It was incredibly natural and almost jarring — you’re in the room, and there’s a dragon flying around, it’s jaw-dropping and I couldn’t get the smile off of my face,” Thomas Tull, CEO of Legendary Entertainment (aka Legendary Pictures) told the Wall Street Journal. Images, projected into the wearer’s eyes, can even be made to appear to pass in front of or behind real-world objects. Tull was so impressed by what he saw, he not only had Legendary Pictures to invest in Magic Leap, he also made a personal investment as well.

Nor are Legendary Pictures and Google alone. Other investors in the funding round include Qualcomm, Kleiner Perkins, Andreessen Horowitz, Vulcan Capital, Obvious Ventures and Caufield & Byers. Qualcomm’s executive chairman, Paul Jacobs, is also joining Magic Leap’s board, and will sit alongside Google’s Don Harrison and an observer.

One of the Magic Leap promotional images: a yellow submarine apparently floats down a street the Magic Leap wearer is walking along
Another Magic Leap promotional image: a yellow submarine apparently floats down a street the Magic Leap wearer is walking along

Such a broad spread of investment potential speaks to the vision held by Magic Leap’s CEO, Rony Abovitz, who wants the company to become “a creative hub for gamers, game designers, writers, coders, musicians, filmmakers, and artists.”

The potential for something like Magic Leap in films is clear; imagine sitting down in a movie theatre, donning a pair of glasses perhaps not too dissimilar to the current 3D glasses provided at theatres, and then seeing a film where events can become a shared experience as they extend into the audience…

That may well be why co-founder of Weta Workshop, the SFx company behind the visual effects for Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies (among others), Richard Taylor, was also drawn to the project. He participated in the first round of funding for Magic Leap, and now sits on the company’s board of directors.

Weta Workshop co-founder Richard Taylor: Magic Leap investor and board member (image via Stuff)

“What Rony and the Magic Leap team have created is nothing short of remarkable and will forever change the way we interact with images and information,” Taylor said at the time of his investment.

“The wearable technology they have developed is revolutionary in its ability to create amazingly immersive and fantastical experiences. This goal alone would be a Herculean endeavor for any development group, but the fact that the Magic Leap team is driven by the mantra of also delivering devices that complement human physiology is extraordinary,”

Bing Gordon, a partner at Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, and a former executive at EA Games sees a huge the potential for Magic Leap. Commenting on how the system is better coordinated with how the human eye and brain process images, making the computer graphics feel, and move, more naturally, he told the New York Times that Magic Leap could help drive augmented reality to outstrip mobile devices in terms of popularity in its possible range of uses.

It would seem that Google is looking more broadly at the potential of the technology as well, rather than button-holing it for any particular use or in combination with any particular product (Glass itself has been somewhat low-key this year, and was all but absent at the corporation’s Google i/o in July). Many commentators believe that Google’s investment, coming as it does from the company, rather than its investment arm, is a strategic move, with Google willing to see how the Magic Leap technology matures. Abovitz has gone a little further on matters, stating that Glass and Magic Leap use different approaches and will not be merged.

Rony Abovitz (in the space suit) and friends appearing at TEDx Sarasota event in December 2012 - still generating a "Wut?" response in many people today
Rony Abovitz (in the space suit) and friends appearing at TEDx Sarasota in December 2012 – still generating a “Wut?” response in many people today

Abovitz himself cuts something of an unusual figure – as anyone who witnesses his appearance at the TEDx Sarasota’s inaugural conference is liable to agree. The Magic Leap website is equally somewhat offbeat, indicating that the Magic Leap team comprises (among others) “rocket scientists”, “software ninjas”, “computing hobbits”, and “psychedelic physicists”.  however, it might not be wise to underestimate him. Abovitz also founded MAKO Surgical, producing surgical robotic arm assistance platforms, a company he took from start-up in 2004 to being named, in 2011, the fastest growing technology company on Deloitte’s Technology Fast 500.. In 2013, he orchestrated the sale of MAKO to Stryker Medical in a US$1.65 billion deal.

“Magic Leap is going beyond the current perception of mobile computing, augmented reality and virtual reality,” Abovitz said in a company statement following the funding round. “We are transcending all three, and will revolutionize the way people communicate, purchase, learn, share and play.”

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Waterscapes and Flying Things

Waterscapes and Flying Things
Waterscapes and Flying Things

During my wanderings through the SL10B Community Celebration regions in June 2013, I came across Evan Moonshine’s Lepidoptera Museum. It was both a lovely build, and the subject matter within it fascinating; my only regret being that the cards describing all of the  lepidoptera on display were to small to the read, and the subjects were themselves a little on the small side to be fully appreciated.

Now, in an exhibit at the Ode’s Arts & Culture Community running through until November 15th, 2014, DecemberGrey has brought some of her own images of lepidoptera and beetles to Seceond Life, combining them with some of her fabulous waterscapes of well-known SL regions. Called Waterscapes & Flying Things, it adds up to a fascinating display of artistic talent well deserving of a visit.

Waterscapes and Flying Things
Waterscapes and Flying Things

The images of moths and beetles occupy the ground floor of the OACC’s converted watermill gallery. At first glance, these might appear to be reproductions of drawings of the subject matter painstakingly created in the physical world by some 19th century botanist. Not so. These are images painstakingly created by the artist as a result of getting unexpectedly sidetracked at university, as DecemberGrey explains:

While in my second year of a BSc in botany (some fair while ago), I looked into the microscope on the lab bench while the lecturer was talking about angiosperm reproduction…. And from that point on, was captivated by the world seen only through a magnifying lens. I forgot the lecture, became lost. Today, all I remember is the brilliance that captivated me. It changed my life.

…My macro work started manually, my fingers moving the focus ring on the camera – millimetre by millimetre – to create a number of images of the same body which would then be compiled into a single image. Now it is a process somewhat automated. Technology is impressive, and allows an entirely different method of working. It gives me time to dabble in color and light. And to imagine. To transform. To create.

Waterscapes and Flying Things
Waterscapes and Flying Things

The results are simply amazing, with each of her subjects beautifully presented (and all of them available for purchase).

For DecemberGrey’s waterscapes, climb the stairs all the way up to the mill’s attic, where you’ll find them displayed perfectly on the whitewashed walls.

Featuring famous locations such as Roche, Hazardous, The Colder Water, Nagare and Frisland, and arts locations such as Imagin@rium and Immersiva, these pictures are as beautifully composed as the real-life images on the ground floor; in fact I’d say without a shadow of a doubt that they are among the finest images I’ve seen captured from within SL. To call them exquisite would not be over-emphasising them at all.

Waterscapes and Flying Things
Waterscapes and Flying Things

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