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Plant Your Own (Virtual) Tree

DryadStanford computer scientist Vladlen Koltun is giving away trees. Millions of them. They're 3-D trees that can be downloaded, viewed from any angle, and planted in virtual worlds.

Thanks to their complexity, virtual trees are enormously difficult (and expensive) to create from scratch. But Koltun's Stanford Virtual Worlds Group incorporated data from botanists into a mathematical engine that generates trees by defining about 100 different attributes (such as the thickness of the trunk, or the size of the leaves), each of which is infinitely variable. You can try out the new program, called Dryad, simply by navigating with a computer mouse through the program to choose the tree you want.—Dawn Stover

Image: Stanford Virtual Worlds Group

Congressman Makes Virtual Appearance at Climate Summit

Bu_markey_avatar_bx103 Since Representative Edward Markey couldn't be in Bali for the United Nations climate change meeting, he appeared virtually instead. With the help of a staffer, Markey created an avatar in Second Life, and addressed the meeting via video screen, from his place in the virtual world. Sadly, he didn't get too adventurous with his dress. Even his avatar looks like a Capitol Hill insider.

Markey said he couldn't be there because he needed to be in the US to help pass a clean energy bill, but he should've taken a greener-than-thou route instead. Why did any of them waste the jet fuel going to Bali? They all should have stayed home, saved the fuel, and met in Second Life instead.—Gregory Mone

Via SFGate

Mind-Controlled Avatars in Second Life

Bci_second_life The Matrix, here we come. Japanese researchers have developed a brain-computer interface that enables a user to control his or her virtual avatar in the popular virtual world, Second Life.

An electrode-equipped headpiece picks up activity in areas of the brain associated with controlling arm and leg movements, then converts this into virtual action. At this point, the movements are pretty simple, but in the future the researchers hope their device will enable users to execute complex gestures and motions via thought alone, and give people with severe physical impairments a chance to freely communicate and even conduct business in the virtual space.—Gregory Mone

Via PinkTentacle

Second Life Community Looks to the Future

Secondlifediary6thumb At the Second Life Community Convention in Chicago this weekend, panelists and guests gathered to discuss the progress of and prospects for the growing virtual world. The real-world meeting featured live music, a masquerade ball and proclamations of how Second Life will be bigger than the Internet. Some panels focused on social networking issues - building trust, for example, and the sex life of avatars. The latter panel, hosted in part by someone named Stroker Serpentine, proved to be one of the biggest draws. But some of the more interesting discussions centered around the economic prospects of Second Life members. One entrepreneur noted that it's difficult to get people to show up for work in her virtual shop - her "employees" don't treat it like a real job.

Sibley Verbek, who runs a company called Electric Sheep that helps businesses set up shop in the virtual world, stressed that Second Life needs to be easier to use before it can truly take off. Only 1 out of 10 newcomers to Second Life remain active members, and Verbek thinks this is probably a usability issue. He said that Second Life needs to 'AOL-ify' itself. The comment earned some laughs, but CNET writer Caroline McCarthy convincingly argues that the assessment is dead-on.—Gregory Mone

Sexy Lawsuit in Second Life

Second_life Second Life, the online digital world with nearly 9 million virtual residents, has now spawned a lawsuit.

Kevin Alderman, the founder of Eros LLC, a company that outfits Second Life avatars with realistic genitalia and a handful of intercourse-related moves, says someone has been pirating and selling his work. Alderman claims that his SexGen Platinum product, which goes for $45 in Second Life, was ripped off by an avatar named "Volkov Catteneo," who has since been selling it to other virtual residents. Now Alderman has filed suit to recoup those losses from the real person operating through that virtual thief. Hashing out their differences in Second Life just wasn't going to cut it.

We're not sure if Volkov is actually guilty or not, but his name doesn't exactly scream innocence. Could you ever dream up a better moniker for a science fiction villain?

Anyway, you can read more details about the case here.—Gregory Mone

Via AP

Grand Opening! The PopSci's Second Life Future Lounge

Sllounge_main_385 We here at PopSci.com cordially invite you to attend the grand opening of our brand-new home in Second Life—the PopSci Future Lounge! Our virtual digs will be the place to come hang out with PopSci editors, attend events and concerts, pick up some free schwag or take a ride in our futuristic Concepts and Prototypes vehicles before they exist in the real world.

Join us tonight starting at 6:30 p.m. PST (9:30 p.m. on the East Coast) for opening remarks and a ribbon-cutting by editor in chief Mark Jannot (PS Mandelbrot in-world), and stay to check out live sets from PopSci podcaster Jonathan Coulton as well as Second Life musicians Nance Brody and DJ Nexeus Fatale. Or swing on up to our green-roof dancefloor/garden. Or pick up a shiny new Nokia 770 Internet Tablet for your avatar to chat with. Or kick back and see the video on our massive solar-powered flat screen. Or fly around on a kick-ass rocket-powered PopSci Slegeway (we're giving one free to the first 100 attendees. I've already logged some serious flight time, and they're a blast). Seriously, PopSci knows how to virtually throw down. 

So come on over to our new home tonight (SL link here, be sure to IM Baccara Millionsofus in-world to get on the guest list)—we're the place with the giant Skystream windmills on the roof; you can't miss it. We've warned the neighbors over at Wired that it could be a rager (possibility of Wired vs. PopSci dance competition: high). And if this whole Second Life thing still doesn't make much sense, why not have a look at our in-depth primer from the September issue and give it a try? See ya there!—John Mahoney/Ricky Romeo

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