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Confronting the Fear of Public Speaking via Virtual Environments

Confession: In the past, I’ve been extremely quick to dismiss the value of Second Life in the context of teaching and learning.

Even worse, my dismissal was not fact-based … and, if truth be told, I’ve gone out of my way to avoid opportunities to ‘gather the facts’ by attending presentations at conferences, conducting my own research online, speaking with my colleagues, etc.

So I, dear reader, am as surprised as any of you to have had an egg-on-my-face epiphany this morning …

Please allow me to elaborate:

It was at some point during this morning’s brainstorming session that the egg hit me squarely in the face:

Why not use Nortel web.alive to prepare graduate students for presenting their research?

Often feared more than death and taxes, public speaking is an essential aspect of academic research – regardless of the discipline.

image004Enter Nortel web.alive with its virtual environment of a large lecture hall – complete with a podium, projection screen for sharing slides, and most importantly an audience!

As a former graduate student, I could easily ‘see’ myself in this environment with increasingly realistic audiences comprised of friends, family and/or pets, fellow graduate students, my research supervisor, my supervisory committee, etc. Because Nortel web.alive only requires a Web browser, my audience isn’t geographically constrained. This geographical freedom is important as it allows for participation – e.g., between graduate students at York in Toronto and their supervisor who just happens to be on sabbatical in the UK. (Trust me, this happens!)

As the manager of Network Operations at York, I’m always keen to encourage novel use of our campus network. The public-speaking use case I’ve described here has the potential to make innovative use of our campus network, regional network (GTAnet), provincial network (ORION), and even national network (CANARIE) that would ultimately allow for global connectivity.

While I busy myself scraping the egg off my face, please chime in with your feedback. Does this sound useful? Are you aware of other efforts to use virtual environments to confront the fear of public speaking? Are there related applications that come to mind for you? (As someone who’s taught classes of about 300 students in large lecture halls, a little bit of a priori experimentation in a virtual environment would’ve been greatly appreciated!)

Update (November 13, 2009): I just Google’d the title of this article and came up with a few, relevant hits; further research is required.

ORION/CANARIE National Summit

Just in case you haven’t heard:

… join us for an exciting national summit on innovation and technology, hosted by ORION and CANARIE, at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre, Nov. 3 and 4, 2008.

“Powering Innovation – a National Summit” brings over 55 keynotes, speakers and panelist from across Canada and the US, including best-selling author of Innovation Nation, Dr. John Kao; President/CEO of Intenet2 Dr. Doug Van Houweling; chancellor of the University of California at Berkeley Dr. Robert J. Birgeneau; advanced visualization guru Dr. Chaomei Chen of Philadelphia’s Drexel University; and many more. The President of the Ontario College of Art & Design’s Sara Diamond chairs “A Boom with View”, a session on visualization technologies. Dr. Gail Anderson presents on forensic science research. Other speakers include the host of CBC Radio’s Spark Nora Young; Delvinia Interactive’s Adam Froman and the President and CEO of Zerofootprint, Ron Dembo.

This is an excellent opportunity to meet and network with up to 250 researchers, scientists, educators, and technologists from across Ontario and Canada and the international community. Attend sessions on the very latest on e-science; network-enabled platforms, cloud computing, the greening of IT; applications in the “cloud”; innovative visualization technologies; teaching and learning in a web 2.0 universe and more. Don’t miss exhibitors and showcases from holographic 3D imaging, to IP-based television platforms, to advanced networking.

For more information, visit

Juniper Seminar: Key Takeaways

Yesterday, I attended the Toronto session of a Juniper seminar focused on security and datacenter solutions.

The following are the key takeaways I extracted:

  • Juniper is standards-oriented. In the area of NAC, e.g., they are co-chairing with Symantec the Trusted Computing Group‘s Trusted Network Connect (TNC) effort. It’s not (yet) clear to me how the TCG interplays with the IETF … And speaking of IETF, Juniper’s Network and Security Manager (NSM) makes use of IETF’s NetConf standard in, e.g., simplifying the provisioning of new devices on the network.
  • Juniper has a comprehensive portfolio of offerings at the intersection of security and networking. Interestingly, Juniper’s Security Threat Response Manager (STRM) OEMs technology from Q1Labs.
  • 802.1x is a solid bet. Based on a number of trends, and a variety of requirements, Juniper promotes use of 802.1x. Even though this is a path we’ve already identified, it’s good to have it independently validated …
  • Security, and other services, can be offloaded to purpose-built devices in the core. Instead of inserting, e.g., a FWSM into a device (e.g., a Cisco 65xx) that is primarily providing routing and switching services, Juniper has recently introduced a new paradigm with its SRX series. Touted as a services gateway for the core, the purpose of the SRX is to offload from the routing/switching devices various services – e.g., firewall, VPN, etc. As I understand it, the SRX runs JUNOS with various enhancements from ScreenOS (their O/S from their firewall devices). Even if you don’t make use of Juniper solutions, it may make sense to understand and potentially apply the offloading-of-services concept/paradigm in your core.
  • Juniper allows for the virtualization of switches. Juniper Virtual Chassis (VC) is currently only available for their EX 4200 platform. With VC, it’s possible to virtualize up to 10 physically distinct EX 4200s into one. Within the next year, Juniper plans to provide VC on, e.g., their EX 8200 platform. Because vmWare’s vMotion requires layer-2 adjacency, server virtualization may prove to be a significant driver for switch virtualization. I expect that this will prove, e.g., to be particularly relevant in providing failover services (at the networking layer) between multiple, physically distinct, and geographically separated locations.

Even though the event appeared to be more of the sales-y/marketing-y variety, there was substantial technical content in evidence.

CANHEIT 2008: York Involvement

York University will be well represented at CANHEIT 2008
Although you’ll find the details in CANHEIT’s online programme, allow me to whet your appetite regarding our contributions:

Cyberinfrastructure: Worth the Slog?

If what I’ve been reading over the past few days has any validity to it at all, there will continue to be increasing interest in cyberinfrastructure (CI). Moreover, this interest will come from an increasingly broader demographic.

At this point, you might be asking yourself what, exactly, is cyberinfrastructure. The Atkins Report defines CI this way:

The term infrastructure has been used since the 1920s to refer collectively to the roads, power grids, telephone systems, bridges, rail lines, and similar public works that are required for an industrial economy to function. … The newer term cyberinfrastructure refers to infrastructure based upon distributed computer, information, and communication technology. If infrastructure is required for an industrial economy, then we could say that cyberinfrastructure is required for a knowledge economy. [p. 5]

[Cyberinfrastructure] can serve individuals, teams and organizations in ways that revolutionize what they can do, how they do it, and who participates. [p. 17]

If this definition leaves you wanting, don’t feel too bad, as anyone whom I’ve ever spoken to on the topic feels the same way. What doesn’t help is that the Atkins Report, and others I’ve referred to below, also bandy about terms like e-Science, Grid Computing, Service Oriented Architectures (SOAs), etc. Add to these newer terms such as Cooperative Computing, Network-Enabled Platforms plus Cell Computing and it’s clear that the opportunity for obfuscation is about all that’s being guaranteed.

Consensus on the inadequacy of the terminology aside, there is also consensus that this is a very exciting time with very interesting possibilities.

So where, pragmatically, does this leave us?

Until we collectively sort out the terminology, my suggestion is that the time is ripe for immediate immersion in what cyberinfrastructure and the like might feel like or are. In other words, I highly recommend reviewing the sources cited below in order:

  1. The Wikipedia entry for cyberinfrastructure – A great starting point with a number of references that is, of course, constantly updated.
  2. The Atkins Report – The NSF’s original CI document.
  3. Cyberinfrastructure Vision for 21st Century Discovery – A slightly more concrete update from the NSF as of March 2007.
  4. Community-specific content – There is content emerging on the intersection between CI and specific communities, disciplines, etc. These frontiers are helping to better define the transformative aspects and possibilities for CI in a much-more concrete way.

Frankly, it’s a bit of a slog to wade through all of this content for a variety of reasons …

Ultimately, however, I believe it’s worth the undertaking at the present time as the possibilities are very exciting.

CANARIE’s Network-Enabled Platforms Workshop

Next week, I’ll be attending CANARIE’s Network-Enabled Platforms Workshop: Convergence of Cyber-Infrastructure and the Next-Generation Internet in Ottawa. Although the workshop is described elsewhere, to provide a little context consider that:

The purpose of CANARIE’s Network-Enabled Platforms Workshop is to explore the development of and participation in network-enabled platforms by Canadian researchers and other interested parties. The workshop will be an important step towards the launch of a CANARIE funding program in this area.

Based on the agenda, I expect this will be a highly worthwhile event, and I am looking forward to it.

My contribution to the workshop will be a short presentation described by the following abstract:

Evolving Semantic Frameworks into Network-Enabled Semantic Platforms

Ian Lumb
Manager Network Operations
Computing and Network Services
York University

A semantic framework has been successfuly developed for a project involving a network of globally distributed scientific instruments. Through the use of this framework, the semantic expressivity and richness of the project’s ASCII data is systematically enhanced as it is successively represented in XML (eXtensible Markup Language), RDF (Resource Description Formal) and finally OWL (Web Ontology Language). In addition to this representational transformation, there is a corresponding transformation from data into information into knowledge. Because this framework is broadly applicable to ASCII and binary data of any origin, it is appropriate to develop a network-enabled sematic platform that (i) facilitates integration of the enabling languages, tools and utilities that already exist, and (ii) identifies the key gaps that need to be addressed to completely implement the platform. After briefly reviewing the semantic framework in a generic way, a J2EE (Java 2 Enterprise Edition) based, work-in-progress proposal for a network-enabled semantic platform is forwarded.

I expect to be sharing more on this thread as it develops …

My Next-Gen Mobile Platform: A Plain Old Cell Phone Plus Jott Plus flipMail?

In April, I stated that my next-gen mobile platform could just be a Plain Old Cell Phone (POCP) with Jott’s solution for “Mobile Note Taking and Hands-Free Messaging”.

In so suggesting, I thumbed my nose at the BlackBerry (my existing mobile platform) and the highly anticipated iPhone.

I’m not down on the BlackBerry or the iPhone, I’m just impressed by the Lowest Common Denominator (LCD) effect of the POCP when combined with Jott. (Please see the Aside below for more on this LCD effect.)

Even though it’s only been a few months, my next-gen mobile platform has just improved significantly – and I haven’t lifted a finger or spent a $!

Enter flipMail from TeleFlip:

The Teleflip beta story At Teleflip, we love creating exciting and innovative services for our customers. Three years ago we introduced our original service that allowed you to send an email to a cell phone as a text message. That service is now called flipOut. Since we first introduced the service, millions of flipOuts have been sent.

We’re very excited to launch our new service called flipMail beta. flipMail allows you to get your email on your cell phone for free.* No new software, no downloads, no new phone necessary. It’s that simple. Because we’re in beta, we invite you to share your ideas, suggestions, and feedback about how we can make this new service even better.

* SMS charges may apply – this, of course, depends on your plan.

This means I have email on my POCP. It could even be a Jott-generated email!

Because this is an SMS-based offering on the POCP, SMS-based limitations do apply:

What is a fliplette?A fliplette is a text version of your email that we flip to your phone. fliplettes are limited to 120 characters each. When an email is longer than 120 characters, you receive a series of fliplettes.

On my BlackBerry, I have the native BlackBerry email client. In my case, this client is integrated with The University’s enterprise messaging platform (IBM LotusNotes). I also have a native client for GMail on my BlackBerry.

So, even on my BlackBerry, I can see the value in making use of flipMail for email services that are not available natively for the BlackBerry.

Aside on the LCD Effect

Nicholas Negroponte’s USD 100 laptop is an excellent example of an attempt to raise the bar of the LCD in developing countries.

Whereas this laptop is intended to “… revolutionize how we educate the world’s children …”, the POCP plus Jott and flipMail embraces and extends the connectivity possibilities for those that already have cell phones:

The international implications for the service are even more impactful, as Teleflip solves a significant issue by providing e-mail access to millions of cell phone users in emerging e-mail-developing countries. As many as 70 percent of the world’s current 2.5+ billion mobile phone users do not have access to the Internet or e-mail. By establishing a flipMail account through Teleflip, this large population will now have instant access to send and receive worldwide e-mails on their regular cell phones, and again, without any new software downloads, special mobile Internet plans, or any new hardware or devices. So their existing cell phone number will be their onramp to the worldwide e-mail network.

While such a platform could have an impact in developing nations, where cell-phone usage often eclipses land-line usage, the POCP++ platform may have a broader global impact.

And although the USD 100 laptop has WiFi (including wireless mesh) capabilities, it may also benefit from cellular-based connectivity. Such a possibility could be enabled by, for example, adding a Bluetooth capability to the laptop’s already impressive array of technical specifications. In other words, with Bluetooth on both the laptop and cell phone, there exists an alternate vehicle for minimizing the connectivity gap.

Negroponte’s vision for the USD 100 laptop is compelling.

POCP++ could be a part of it – or some other humanitarian effort.