Monday, October 31, 2005

Cue Ministry

Maxx Monde recently commented that felt he was less enthused about Halloween this year than he had been in the past, and speculated that perhaps it was because every day in Second Life is like Halloween.

Passing through the subway station this weekend, it was interesting to see how many of the women, in costume and on their way to Halloween parties, were wearing wings.

Wax and Wane

Like all good things, absence makes the heart grow fonder. Since being one of the primary organizers of the SLCC in New York City, I’ve been taking quite a bit of a break from Second Life. I’m keeping up with SLBoutique’s customer service needs, and staying in touch with friends, but only spending an hour or two each week in world. I’ve talked to many other people about this phenomenon in Second Life, and recently asked myself, “Why?”

I think the main reason this occurs with Second Life - and not with the Internet as a whole - is the way Second Life is totally engrossing. While the World Wide Web can be easily used to check for information, and at the work place, Second Life is all about our passions. This can be draining over time. A little bit of time off refills the passion tank, and is often a good thing. Second Life doesn't seem to suffer from the problem games do: garnering a major interest for several months, then being completely discarded after the passion tank is empty. Instead, interest in Second Life waxes and wanes, but never goes away.

Fortunately for me, this hiatus has come while my laptop is being repaired. I'm sure I'll be back in full force, but for now, a little vacation away has been great for me.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

The Night I Got Schooled Twice

I'd been thinking about Torley's blog entry about SL apprenticeship for the last few days, so its fitting I had that on my mind when I got my ass taken back to school - TWICE - last night.

The first lesson was one I had been looking forward to for a while now, I just didn't know who it was going to come from. Jauani Wu has been working on a large scale project that he occasionally snapzilla'd, and I'd been on his case for the last few days about checking it out in person.

Well, last night he came through like a champ, and gave me the grand tour of a gorgeous recreation of a german castle ruin.


J-Wu teaches me the finer art of texture-fu and related building trickery.

We must have wandered around the castle ruins for hours, as Jauani pointed out parts that were especially tricky or ingeniously accomplished. I pelted him with questions on everything from laying out the build to collaborating with others on a large scale project to the best way to get non-repeating textures into SL. We collectively moaned over the pain a builder feels when you've completed a project, but you still find little things wrong (that no one else but you will see). We finished up in his sandbox, so he could show me some neat tricks by modding a sphere with dimple and then changing it to a cube. Advanced Building, grad school edition. I learned more from J-Wu last night than I've learned from any one individual about creating structures in SL.

How many more building pimps would we have in SL if the advanced tricks were out of the bag? Granted, the vast majority of residents are concerned about getting the basic steps down, and then we just get out of their way while they go nuts; the people who care about building in SL as a craft and as an art will, I assume, eventually find someone willing to be the Yoda to their Luke. Its so hit and miss - I'm damn lucky that Jauani, for some reason, likes the stuff I build, and took the time to give me some one-on-one advanced tutorials. I'll remember his patience and his skill when I find myself in the Yoda position someday.

SO. Mind reeling from all the science that got dropped on it, I crawled back to my little island to try and digest what I'd just learned. I was feeling good. Damn good. Proud of myself, that Jauani thought enough of my skill to hook me up with more. Optimistic about the level I could take myself to.


Makaio rented the other corner island on the sim I just moved to and popped over to say hi - at this point it was almost 6:30AM where I live, and he figured anyone working these "crackhead hours" must be cool enough to show some reaaaaally crazy music videos to. (PS I am that cool.)

Thinking I was all benevolent with myself, I passed him along some of the Gold Coast builds and waited for the oohing and aahing. Instead, he tells me that's pretty cool and then drops me photos of some of HIS work.

These are a small sample of the tons of genius Makaio pulled out on me last night. They really have to be seen to be believed.

His building and texturing were enough to get me going. When he started pulling out his scripted shit, my mind shut down completely and I started wondering how I could get a copy of his genetic code structure so I could make an army of Makaios to do my evil bidding.

This guy is better than I could hope to be. We worked out that we have our strengths - he says he doesn't do organic well, which I'd have to see to believe - but suffice it to say he's Cher and I'm Sonny.

Why doesn't anyone know this guy's name? Why isn't he making ridiculous bank? I've met people that claim to pull $13,000US from contract work in SL and they're punks compared to Makaio. I wish everyone that ever rhetorically sucked my dick over my builds could see Makaio's work. I hope he doesn't care too much that I'm continuing my slobbering fangirl gushing from last night over into this blog post. I told him I want to host a vendor for him at my shop in Bisque. (Actually the correct term would be "begged".)

I like Makaio. He's laid back. He'd never heard of Snapzilla. Probably hasn't ventured onto the forums more than once or twice. His SL is his SL and no one else's. He sells stuff to his friends. He makes stuff that amuses him. He's modest as hell and he's not in the popularity contest. Whenever he wants to be famous, he can be - he has the talent and the goods to back it up. He has the talent and the goods to make half the builders I know - the Upper Echelon - cry in their soup. Me included. I'm still sobbing. Which is good, because for a second there, I was starting to believe my own hype - and the second you do, you stop forcing yourself to get better.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Explain the Pain and You'll Have Much to Gain!

I'm exhilarated, exhuberant, and enthused to post on this most excellent SLog. As a natural extension, my own blog will be for personal introspectives, but community-addressing views have a better home here. It's meta, reaching out and touching like this. One thing I keep in mind is, from my standpoint at least, never try to cover everything in a single post—otherwise, one runs the risk of Picard's professor syndrome. As in,

"There was no opportunity. There was no pause. He just kept talking in one long incredibly unbroken sentence moving from topic to topic so that no one had a chance to interrupt. It was really quite hypnotic." -Captain Jean-Luc Picard of the Starship Enterprise NCC-1701-D and -E

When I made my last post, "Master and Apprentice", I was conscious of how I was struggling to say some things I couldn't quite put into words. I, Torley Torgeson, can be like a ravaging wildebeest at a Presidential inauguration ceremony. Being dumb this way, I'm glad I thrust my fists against the post and let Forseti deliver the coup de grace in a really nice comment. He found the words I could not say, and shared more light about his artistic experiences. That's a wonder of why we're here, together, these perspectives as a group—and hopefully more to come.

Given that we may be like pieces in the puzzle of Second Life, it comes with no surprise that the jigsaw is being shaken. There is mass frustration being expressed on the SL Forums today (and yesterday) since 1.7 was released. Maybe that's an understatement, but by now, it doesn't pack the surprise for me of what happened after 1.6—what a blessed joy the ability to search the archivesis—and what's more, I remember my very first few days on SL, shortly after 1.5 came out. Infact, on September 15, 2004, there'd been unexpected downtime. I heard many Resis around me talking about how buggy it was compared to 1.4. I hadn't been through the release of that version increment, however, so I couldn't speak with experience then.

Now I can. Come with me for unomomento, a sideroad, as I see Second Life, and the forums as a subset of it, like a psychological test. It is what it is. Yes. And what you say about Second Life may ultimately say more about you, revealing layers of your personal onions that have yet to be ringed and baked in crispy batter. Today, in the midst of making some posts, a lightbulb, ticktocking and metronomey, lit up in my head. It rhymed!

Explain the pain

is what "it" said to me, and like Stephen King's Thad Beaumont starting to scratch wildly about the sparrows flying, this was another phrase I knew I had to pound out like my (Second) life depended on it. I made the post, and here's the original context of the thread. I only echo the emotional greats that came before me like Norman Vincent Peale and John Gray, but this was a unique situation. Here's why: a queer thing is that offline, with people, face-to-face, I don't feel the same level of intensity in interaction that I do online. Maybe that's because some internal poles are flipped within me, and it certainly is part of the reason why I indulge in SL so much, but the point is... since I know most other people don't perceive things the real way, they may seem more angry and shouty on Internet than they would in person.

A lucid, blunt example I can give of the preceding is when a furious Resi says,


on Hotline To Linden. That's an exclamation, not a question. Hop back a-ways with me to my "Master and Apprentice" post, and I notice I made it a very obtuse thing to ask a question (in a big fontsize nonetheless) in the midst of it all. Because, I am fascinated in learning more.

Some may simply see the rage (incidentally also the title of a Stephen King book published under the nom de plume of Richard Bachman) and say, "Eh, human nature", but it's not a part of me, and I'm human (and I use "human" in a broad sense, encapsulating furries and mechas too). Keep coming closer and you'll soon notice that it says in a sticky, for anyone with wide-open eyes,

Rants and redundant complaints will be moved to an archive. This forum is meant to provide a place for people to find answers to a wide variety of questions. Rants and complaints about technical issues tend to make it much harder to find the answers.

That's my favoritest unfavorite word, REDUNDANT! (RRL = Really Redundant Loop.)

Why don't more people ask? I won't answer that.

And I won't rebuke anyone for not reading more carefully.

What I will say, however, is how much Second Life has this overlay (much as how editing land has a colorful overlay currently due to an odd bug) of a psychological test. How people react to problems within it. SL itself as an online world has an incredible change of pace. The Tofflerian terminology for it is "accelerative thrust". You may also be familiar with the J-curve as seen in the SL Future Salon.

As irrational as fear may be, it is very real. I don't need to be Dr. Jonathan Crane to tell you that. Yes, there is a lot of psychology involved. For a "game" to some, SL can be incredibly stressful, to the point where support groups are mused about on the forums. And as a "metaverse" to others, personal investment is obvious. To someone such as myself with a stacked hybrid approach, I can foresee that if SL disappeared one day with nothing to fill that hole, not unlike a world without watermelons, I would be the most depressed ever.

It says something when people lash out on the SL Forums. It doesn't compare to a Mommy having her baby cut out of her uterus and destroyed with a meat tenderizer while being forced to watch, but sometimes it comes out that way. It shows Resis care about being in SL, and in the cases where it's more about money than the actual experience, that makes itself apparent too.

This is also applicable to related situations, for example, when I ask a creator whose works I'm not yet that familiar with some questions on a thread in the soon-to-be-changed Classifieds. I like to touch around, get a feel. See if I get good vibes. Janie Marlowe is one I'll specifically name, and true to form, some weeks after buying some of her clothes and liking her sense of humor, she starts up this positive thread in the midst of it all. I've had a few bad incidents. I like to keep things progressive and lavish praise instead of dole out drama, but there was a recent incident in which I asked someone a number of questions about several of his products, and found him to be condescending and unhelpful. Not working together with me to find flaws in one's own product is a BAD sign. So, Torley gives that the thumbs down, and I will not be supporting his products, nor his personality. For the inverse, see Compulsion Overdrive, who was quick to offer me a refund upon my finding of defects. I declined, emphasizing I want to help make what is an insanely great thing even better! Janie and Compulsion are a couple examples of the excellence I've found in SL, and I remain insatiable!

I like nice people.

The thing is, when things aren't too peachy, when I can tell someone else why I feel the way I do, it helps out. At least I know I've done the best from my perspective. With SL growing so quickly, say you were suddenly asked by two new Resis in the Welcome Area for help. Avatar A is repeatedly asking for L$ handouts and demanding you script up some magic from him whilst complaining about rezzing times, and Avatar B sounds clueless but curious and calm. Given the choice of assisting, who would you help first? I'd go for B without hesitation.

This isn't theoretical. Volunteers and Lindens alike are getting swamped, Live Help is on fire, the myopic IM interface needs some immense improvements. Only X many can be helped at Y amount of time. Things are busier than they've ever been before, and it definitely feels more crowded come 1.7 than 1.6. A lot of it's just a noisy wash—a lot of the rants do become redundant, just a staticky drone against the positivity and truely constructive criticism which is meant to help the community, not hurt the Lindens.

Asking for help is good. I love helping, and you may see me firing out posts all scattershot. I don't back away from bad spelling, poor grammar, or even lack of technical knowledge. I realize I have a long way to go in those departments too; I can relate. What I do come down harshly on is a negative attitude of nonlearning that reeks like pissing in your own face and calling it "Morning, sunshine!", using the acidic stench to wash down a bowl of feces (also yours). (Germans call it "kaviar".)

I'm uncomfortable writing this, as it's especially pungent for me. And I am self-aware this will be taken more controversially than how I intended. But shortterm suffering can lead to longterm healing, and it really goes to show how vividly I want to illustrate what I'm feeling through words. Because on the SL Forums, that's what we have—words, and lots of 'em.

Continue on and we will survive...

The great gray gridstorm of 2005!


Monday, October 24, 2005

Prometheus in Boardman, or Bits and Bytes and a Bunch of Whites

Thanks to Forseti, I couldn't entitle this article; This is How Ended in Tokyo.

Thanks to Forseti, I am writing this article.

Post-modernism really does have its lines, and I drew those lines in the sand last-night. The Metaverse eats itself on a daily basis, and allows for nothing above or beyond itself. The cadence of every Second Life is out-drawn by a functional specification written by Dorian Grey.

How long can you walk on a rug that is a conversational piece?

I can't even whore up a proper analogy.

But the Metaverse punched me in the nose. A collective focus on its own existence by its inhabitants is the core of its being. The Metaverse is the Universe, and I already live in the Universe. I wouldn't go to an ACLU meeting either during The Rapture. Yeah, you got me.

I can't play dress-up with the boys and girls anymore because, for me, Second Life is not ontologically dependent on an asset server. Immersion was not the girl I dated in high-school. I didn't make-out with her, even if she did use that certain shampoo that drove boys like me crazy.

There are things that break your Metaverse, and they aren't scripted physical objects. If a racist kind of upsets you but a griefer makes you really angry, then you are a scripted physical object. I would rather not live in yet another world filled with NPC's.

I will echo what Prometheus must have been thinking; Malei Kamnei.

Tokyo by Cap'n Jazz

this is how it ended in tokyo. buildings rebuilt and billed to anyone dumb enough to be standing there. thanksgiving day. tossing eating wearing pigskin worn thin. torn teethly like the scaredy cat sacred custom goes. sweet chicken little eating lolli pox treats for turkey day. it's salmonella city. where we're worn thin. ordered to work in working order. bashful red shame and bold blue bruising whitey. hiding in houses looking like aching smiling faces. an oh, the comfortable forts we used to build with cushions and blankets. matching a patched up pair like us, apparently it's a given, given culture and all, we will break things just to call them broken. stained by this compulsion to ruin and name it art. (arthur to adults - "when you get caught between the moon and new york city..." (christopher kane?)) architects ache so they build. some subdivisions no matter how much pain or planning. no matter how much it matters. some ugly houses sprout up in rows. look like structures of sad accidents and broken happy plans. we named the clever chimp that picked up the first tool adam. we discovered we are really mostly just water. we pretend about a past to justify right now. we tell countless lies to make it through each day. keep on runnin' little bunny. keep on runnin'. all the duracell sold during the super bowl. and my disease. such an easy disease contagious as a yawn. my why chromosome.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Master and Apprentice

One of my favorite television spectacles was Donald Trump's The Apprentice—particularly the first season. Each episode was a goldmine of The Donald's take on business the American way, and I'm a YUGE fan of his. On a tangent, a favorite aspect of the show was how his weekly reasons for saying "You're fired" would contradict each other. For example, one loud-speaking candidate would be praised for being confidently honest while another would get dismissed from the boardroom for not listening well enough—even though they both interrupted Mr. Trump mid-speech! There's context involved and certain charisma that's ascribed to individuals that's nontransferrable (just like how guys don't usually wear skirts unless they're kilts or something, and as far as personality traits go, I don't think it's obviously realized enough among humans how useful contradictions are to embrace.

Speaking of The Apprentice—or apprentices in general, I come from a history of passing down classical music traditions. I had a very elderly but energetic piano teacher named Dale Reubart. You can google Dr. Reubart if you wish. He was a lot like Yoda, only much taller and not so green. A lot of his catchphrases seemed to parallel, though, like the time he emphasized, "Torley, don't try, DO!" as he pounded the piano harshly and sung the melodies I was playing. He had been a boxer in the military too, so this spooked the crapola out of me. Although I ultimately didn't agree with some of his musical views and I later "went techno", he instilled a lot of discipline and self-confidence in me through his training. It wasn't unlike training to be a figure skater or a gymnast.

I love pointing out missing the obvious in SL, and one of the most ready things I'll aim at is the following: Inworld libraries for reference materials have a long way to go. we have a lot of oral traditions we pass down from Resident to Resi, sometimes on the "clay tablets" that are notecards. Formal documentation is often sparse, though, and a lot of information comes through chat channels. So, even with our advanced technology, we're very primal this way. It's fascinating in a "raves are like tribal dances, only louder" way.

As I often do, I react to what I experience. I reacted to this thread on the SL Forums, and it instantly (like hot coffee mix) got me thinking about my next contri to SLog.

QUESTION: Why aren't there more Masters and Apprentices in SL?

I don't mean "educational classes", I mean one-on-one or maybe one-on-a-few relationships. (Nor do I mean Masters and Slaves in the D/s sense—there's a lot of this already!) I mean this, as an example: being an experienced content creator, and seeing a young upstart light a spark in your eyes—maybe even remind you of your early Second Life!—and taking him or her or it under your wing. As the Master, you could provide shelter on your spacious estate (which is bound to be at least 4096 m2, right? ;) ), helping bolster boarding for the youngster so rent money isn't a worry. In return, while you rest in the security of your oldworld sim, the Apprentice scours the world for new discoveries and shares them with you, so you may both soon head out on new journeys together, learning from each other and bettering each other's Second—and even First!—lives. Eventually, as the Apprentice, you may get to the stage where you are sufficiently skilled to collaborate with your Master on an amazing new project that'll wow SL. You both know it, it just hasn't happened yet.

These terms, "Master" and "Apprentice", are strictesque frameworks for something that happens more naturally. Learning can't be forced. But the focal point is dedicated instruction. I know there are requests for it. I frequently see asking on the SL Forums for teachers, and there are Volunteer programs like Mentors and Instructors, but how long do those relationships often last past a quick building lesson? Yes, there are many "friends made", which is wonderful, and in addition to that, where are our SL Yodas and Lukes?

Torley Torgeson, Sr. under the tutelage of Francis Chung and Kex Godel

I've been around. I've even talked with numerous Jedi and Sith groups, and insofar as I can make out, there's fun roleplaying, but hardly any of the serious discipline I'm looking for. And sensibly, discipline connects to patience. I come across new Resis who are unfortunately so quickly set on asking "HOW DO I MAKE L$???" that they miss fine opportunities to build character over a span of time. If they follow this Platinum Path, not only will they be more likely to earn the money they're looking for, they'll also develop a sense of self-confidence in this online world, AND have fun!

Learning skills in SL can be applied offline too. If we are to consider Second Life as a serious educational platform in addition to all the creative chaos that goes on here, this fundamental element cannot be left out of the pie we're baking! MMMM PIE!

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Half Empty, pt. 1

My real-life commute to work every morning lasts about half an hour. I have a five minute walk to the subway, a train ride of around fifteen minutes (plus however long I have to wait on the platform), and another five minute walk to my destination, a downtown office building buzzing with security guards, building maintenance personnel, and nine-to-fivers.

Although the basics of my commute remain essentially the same, there are aspects that change daily. A couple of times I've had to speed up to get out from behind a smoker walking in front of me. Sometimes I'm able to get a seat on the train; other times I have to stand, and curse the idiot college student standing behind me who keeps whacking me with his backpack because he's forgotten that he's attached a huge nylon hump to his back. Occasionally there are conversations to eavesdrop on. Once in a great while someone remarks on the book I'm reading.

- -

In the evenings I log into Second Life. I have a private sim, and my ongoing (Sisyphean?) project these days is to fill it with stuff. I can't possibly build everything myself, so I go on shopping trips, rambling explorations, looking for cool stuff to buy and bring home.

No argument, the creators of SL are inventive, and I've laid out more than a few Lindens to acquire the pretty, the kinetic, the interactive. The stores I've visited range in style from simple prim platforms to elaborate architecture, tiny rented stalls to private islands. The one thing all of the stores share in common is that they're usually deserted.

Of course the stores are unattended. What proprietor can spend 24 hours a day tending their Second Life store? What employee would man a store for the spare change a $L-based income represents? Who could stand the boredom of sitting around a virtual store, waiting for customers that could appear at any moment, but probably won't?

- -

Your mileage may vary, but I find SL to be, generally, a solitary experience. It's "Ghost Town" by The Specials. Obviously, to get your social fix you can attend any number of events at nearly all hours of the day, or chase clusters of little green dots around the grid. And there are ways that you can bring people to you. But people do not flow around us. There is little sense of living, breathing, daily occupation in SL. Like the Marie Celeste, there are traces of our passing: cigarettes left smoking in ashtrays, half-filled cups of coffee steaming on kitchen counters, torches guttering in gothic basements, stage lights strobing on colorful but empty dance floors, porch swings rocking quietly to themselves...

- -

Meanwhile, here I am with an entire sim to fill. When finished, it will undoubtedly stand empty of people for long stretches of time. What can I do to make up for the lack of human interaction when a visitor teleports to my island? Is it possible to make the sim itself a host, greeting, guiding, and actively entertaining the solitary visitor? I think it might be, but we won't know until I get around to writing part two of this sprawling epic, will we?

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Monday, October 17, 2005

Second Life Events I Almost Attended

I thought the fact that they were bad girls was the bright side. I decided against going because I felt I couldn't handle further upside.

Ultimately, I lack the commitment to be an all-day pirate. I'm a one, two hour pirate at best.

The enthusiasm almost makes up for the fact's a pizzaria.

Vanilla Mondays at Les Femmes
Rumor has it that Thursday is Mint Chocolate Chip. I am so there.

GOTH BALL @ Mahalai Succubus
I was disappointed to discover that this is not a sporting event.

Warning: this is not an educational event about how to avoid prim ghosting. I learned this the hard way.

--==NAKED hour at Klub Kink 500L Contest!!=--
Only an hour? They could learn a thing or two from the pirates. Worth attending for when the hour is finally up, and the revelers, feeling the shame of their nakedness, dress quickly and flee from the leering hunger of strangers' prying eyes. Or so I imagine.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Gone Fly-About

One of the things I have always enjoyed about Torley’s blog is her coverage of various locations and builds within SL. In the wake of the recent discussions over SL architecture, I decided to try my own “flyabout.” It took me from the old country to the new, from the northwest to the southeastern corner of the world.

At first glance, the view was entirely unsurprising: an eclectic mix of houses, castles, stores, and clubs running the gamut from conservative to historical to fantasy. Quality ranged from beginner builder to expert, from imaginative to banal. You do occasionally run across some really well-constructed homes, like this one from Gene Jacobs (left). I was impressed by one build in Olive (next to a lovely horse farm) and the puzzle fell into place when I saw the maker
– Random Calliope is one hell of a prim worker (gorgeous jewelry) and the structure in Olive was no exception to his (her?) work.

While many builds out there are small personal plots, there are also some big projects out there, like a city called Interzone emerging in Kress.

Enjoyment of an exploration such as this completely depends on your attitude. If you expect to see creative excellence and architectural/environmental planning, then you would declare that SL is an eyesore. If you are willing to see it as a rich quilt of independent voices, desires, and first steps in creative expression, then you might walk away feeling satisfied, even if not enriched.

A lot of thrown-together stores and clubs exist out there, and it brought back memories of my first two days in SL. I had wandered around and my recurring impression was that the grid looked like a commercial wasteland. Then I started discovering great builds like diamonds in the rough, and I lucked upon a sub-community of nice, creative people. As a new user, it made a difference having a base where I felt comfortable, surrounded by folks who answered my questions.

I did have two pre-planned destinations: the first was Abramelin Wolfe’s (call him Abra for your own sanity) new club Fusion in Devils Moon. This was the only private island I visited today – while you often see more integrated builds on islands, I wanted to focus on the mainland. I had been hearing great things about the build. Abra’s execution on a blade runner theme for the sim is excellent, and the new club is the same quality. The second targeted destination was Lauks Nest in Alviso. I discovered this a few months back from a picture on the homepage of all places (I don’t look there very often). This is a wonderful ruins build, with scripted birds that fly around and can even be fed. You can buy a packet of seed for L$1, and when you place it on the ground, the birds come to eat.

Amusing moments were scattered throughout. One plot was titled “Stairway to Sexy Heaven”, which I thought was just oh-so Second Life. I also ran across a lovely little church complete with buggy by the front door, and the group title on the church prims was “Hedonism 1”. One nice build, an Oxford-esque quadrangle, threatened me with “Home Security Orb” – thankfully this was the exception, not the rule. I happen to think that these security systems are too impersonal – they need more flair. If I’m going to have to sprint for the borders, I’d rather do it with a barking bulldog or a flaming dragon on my tail, not some invisible “orb” talking at me.

One thing remains constant in the virtual world. Scale still sells. The great northern wall in the atoll region is just sweet.

One of the challenges with SL architecture is that lighting is so flat in most builds. I keep local lighting and shadows off for performance, so depend on builders using shadow prims and baked-in textures (see tutorial). Full bright (coming in 1.7) might change this, but I think it will take many months for full bright to replace all the “light” prims out there. I didn’t stop long enough to know what the store in accompanying picture sold (does the name tell all?), but the texture shadow work really made the place come to life. However, even simple texturing can be really great if done right. In the superstructure of a club in Whitestone, there was a black and white textured maze of passageways (you have to zoom up the center column from the base). The whole B&W build had a nice retro sci-fi feel to it.

Another new discovery for me today was the gnubie store in Indigo. How I never previously learned about this cool resource for new members, I have no idea, but I hopped on board and added a few things to the collection (more to come). If you haven’t been in SL very long and have somehow found yourself on this blog, then swing by the gnubie store for some affordable builds, vehicles, clothes and textures.

Lastly, I wanted to mention a very cool fairground that a friend discovered a week ago called the Four Seasons Theme Park. It is in Eaton (60,26) and yes, in the picture, that is Toast booting from the ride.

As a side note, I did have some technical difficulties. One sim held only a few people, and physics and script levels seemed reasonable, but it ran like molasses so I skedaddled out of there (as fast as one can skedaddle in molasses). When I started I tried boosting my draw distance to over 400, but that did not last long. I had just happened upon a cute frozen lake that Kermitt Quirk and the Krytterz team had put together, when my cache filled up and SL crashed on me. A cleared cache and a draw distance at 256 had me ready to go again.

All in all, it was a fun journey. No, I didn’t discover cutting edge architecture that would have moved the SOP judges, but then I doubt I would have known it if I’d seen it. But perhaps I did see it – perhaps it was SL itself.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Stairway to the Nest

And I go over to the psychologist, and he says, "Emo, what does this inkblot look like to you?" I said, "Oh, it's kind of embarrassing." He said, "Emo, everyone sees something, so don't be embarrassed. Tell me what the inkblot looks like to you." I said, "Well, to me it looks like standard pattern #3 in the Rorschach series to test obsessive compulsiveness."
-Emo Philips

Ever notice birds don’t build stairways to their nests? Yet the fully airworthy Second Lifer insists time and time again to include the unnecessary crutch in every build! Perhaps this folly is what the judges of the recent State Of Play competition tried to expose when they gave SL’s finest builders a verbal spanking. The lesson was basically that Second Life is a powerful virtual reality tool that should not be used to simulate real world structures but rather should be used to express creativity in ways nobody understands or can identify with.

I have always considered creativity to be the degree to which creators, morph the information received by their senses into something else based on their core of experiences. Generally speaking, the more complex the morphing, the more creative the idea is deemed … to a point. The spectrum ranges from non-creative to, well, frankly INSANE. At one end you have an automated script that takes your input and echoes it right back to you. You type “Hello World” and it returns “Hello world.” At the other extreme we have output that bares no resemblance to the input. You type “Hello World” it returns a shade of blue between hockey stick and thirteen written entirely in pungent. Now THAT’S creative!

Actually it wasn’t very creative, it was random. Real creativity is generally found at a sweet spot on the spectrum where ideas are morphed and pushed to the limit but never depart from the context in which the audience will receive them. Whether you anguished geniuses like it or not, this context is important.

Many of the freedoms Second Life grants us are savored mostly when placed in a real world context. Flying, for example, is far more gratifying when zooming over the tops of trees and houses than it would be in, say, some abstract upside down room from an M.C. Escher drawing. Without an earthly sense of “UP” it’s impossible to know that you’re flying at all, never mind enjoy it.

This brings me to our little civics contest. Cutting edge ideas understood and appreciated only by academics may very well help to promote civic engagement and strengthen the public sphere … as long as you don’t actually need people. But for most civics projects the perceptual context of the general public is non-negotiable, and right now that means letting people know which way is UP.

My recommendation for next year's State Of Play judges (and I know they are scrambling for a pen to write this down in their Moleskines) would be to hold two contests. One would reward the most creative virtual space least encumbered by the context of our real world experiences. The other would be about bringing people together for civic engagement in a virtual world.

Monday, October 10, 2005

First thoughts on the SLCC

Yesterday’s Second Life convention (which I approached with some trepidation) turned out to be quite enjoyable. There were enough familiar names from in-world and the forums to prevent me from feeling entirely lost at sea and the overall energy was good. A few take-away thoughts…

Cory’s Talk
Cory gave the most enjoyable speech, even for a non-engineer like me. He spoke about scalability needing three things: 1. the better SIM resource allocation we shall see in 1.7; 2. HAVOC 2 (still no ETA, and he dared anybody to say that this was more painful for them than it was for him); and 3. Mono and the accompanying increase in script execution speed. He also spoke about some other enhancements
  • Robin’s focus: group tools and a new reputation system (he stated, and I agree, that DRM does not work and social / reputational pressure may be the only effective protection for creators),
  • the new rendering engine (which he believes will transform how people view SL when their view horizon becomes so much bigger and they realize they are really part of a huge world)
  • enhancements in the use of 3D technology, such as vertex and pixel shaders

Philip gave a fun pep-talk, even if it was a little light on substance. But then, he gets to be the “big picture” man. Both he and Cory talked about open-sourcing parts of SL, and enabling people to host their own sims. They did not detail out this future business/pricing model, but hinted that they have something in mind. Naturally they all loved Jerry Paffendorf’s (Acceleration Studies Foundation) J-curve growth chart (1 million users by 2007). Of course, every venture capital pitch in Silicon Valley shows a J-curve, and few actually achieve it. Can SL?

2007 feels aggressive, but it may be possible if both sides of the boat pull their oars. LL needs to solve technical problems, and users need to create truly great content. If there is one thing that Prokofy and I agree on, it’s the desperate need for better group/collaboration tools. Prok (who I enjoyed speaking with yesterday, even if we go toe to toe on a number of issues) has some excellent land management reasons. For my side, I look around the world and largely see solo productions. Bigger, cross-skill (building, texturing, coding) projects require teams, and teams need to be more than groups of trusted friends like Bedazzle (why? well that model simply won't scale). Residents will also need to create team projects/businesses if they have any chance of competing against the inevitable inroads of RL corporations, who can sell a product at a loss simply to gain the branding benefits.

Jeska spoke for a few minutes on the volunteer program, and how it needs to expand as SL grows. I am skeptical that this will scale adequately if SL starts to grow exponentially. I think Robin and Jeska still need to put more effort into getting “how-to” tools and exercises in the hands of new players. The wiki and the forums are not enough because few new players know about those resources. LL needs to build self-education tools into the client.

That’s all the time I have for immediate comment… more later.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

I can see your pores.

Welcome to the SL Uncanny Valley. Land of hyper realistic avatars and photo referenced everything.

The idea of the "uncanny valley" was thought up by Japanese roboticist Doctor Masahiro Mori. Mori came to the realization that people respond better to the images of a non human Robot, than one that attempts to be as human as possible. People would respond better to a 6 legged non humanoid robot than this slightly more human robot (I saw an early prototype of this at NASA, nifty!), and they may respond negatively to a robot like this. We are human, one of the best things we know is eachother. We may not realize it but we are all experts on people. So Final Fantasy may be less appealing to you than say Monsters Inc. (ok maybe that image isn't the best to pick...) What about something looking slightly "more human than human" gives us the willies?

So how does this fit into Second Life? Are our avatars too real? When I played There many people spoke of how "ugly" the avatars were in Second Life. I think if you are coming from a spoon fed cartoon world to a world with as much detail as Second Life offers it can be a bit jarring and people may need a while to get used to it.

We have the ability to make our avatars look near photo realistic if we wish. But how real is too real? I have a good friend that is very sensitive to an avatars appearance. And skins can make someone look a little TOO real for him. Some people don't care for Mo-Cap. But still others want Second Life as real as possible.

I think that's what separates Second Life from other virtual worlds, MMOS, and chat environments. Tailor your experience to yourself. Theres room for everyone.

Friday, October 07, 2005

To Criticize a Critic

Today’s write-only exploration will cover the subject of criticism, particularly the elegant and courtly means by which Second Life residents guide each other to betterment. What? Ya … SCREW YOU TOO BUDDY! Every exhibition or competition, from Burning Life to State of Play inevitably features some variation on the following dialog:

Aristotle Omega: Your build sucks!

Plato Midnight: What? Who asked you? Your ATTITUDE sucks!

Aristotle Omega: *GASP* You DARE criticize the critic?! If you don’t want unsolicited critiques, you should hide your build from the public eye and become a critic! Good DAY to you SIR!

Besides the fundamental right to free speech, Aristotle does have a valid point. We are all being judged for everything we do, either silently or in the public forum. If we aren’t ready to accept this, then we should just hide under the blankets. Most of us are painfully conscious of the judging eyes upon us, even if only on a subconscious level. When we expose some part of ourselves (like our work) we are secretly asking for public approval. We also feel extraordinarily hurt when our efforts are ripped apart like a dog’s chew toy. But hey, that’s the risk we take when we put our efforts “out there.”

But what about criticism? When critics critique, are THEY putting their efforts “out there” and opening themselves up to counter criticism? Or should they enjoy some sort of de facto immunity from having their comments critiqued? It seems most critics, particularly the unsolicited variety, are incredulous when their animadversion is condemned! The problem is that any argument supporting one’s moral right to criticize also supports the right of others to criticize them right back.

So the question is ... can we criticize our critics? Think about that while I go hide under my blankets.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Stick it where the sun does shine!

I was out and about, snapzing some new pics. As I often do. (And gosh darnit, why can't Blogger retain the exact original image dimensions?) It just so happened the sun was rising—although it looked more to me like a sunset as I flew up, and I summoned up memories of all the risings and settings of the SLestial bodies I'd recorded over time. And then, this, in the process, got me thinking about missing the obvious.

Let's go for a jiggly jaunt now. First, keep in mind I edited this pic to add additional saturation: you won't find this vivid a sunset in SL au naturel. What we do have is beautiful, but I want so much more. Second, consider the case of Michio Kaku's rhapsodizing on civilization types. It got me thinking in a very metaway, curled up into a ball and then explodey like popcorn. How advanced can our SLivilization become? We are capable of some truely great feats with prims, but we have not yet mastered control on the very small (i.e. physics imprecision) and very large levels—sun, moon, stars! For the latter, there are some rudimentary utilities like Force Sunset—which really means Force Daylight—but why is it the Mr. Sun & Mrs. Moon only get swapped out during holidays like an upcoming Halloween, and Valentine's Day? Furthermore, stroll along this thoughtline with me, and ponder: why can island estate owners change textures on the ground, but not alter the appearance of the sky, or even the water? This is a frustrating conundrum.

Let's examine several things. First, we know that sun & moon can be changed. This is a part of our established canon, and keeping that framework in mind, I don't know whether the changing process is automated on holidays like some computer game easter eggs (think of Santa in Sim Tower), or if a Linden activates it accordingly like a god in the machine. We also know the scope of the sky is much grander—and seemingly infinite—compared to explorable ground terrain. Furthermore, there exists a related variety of scattered factors: different types of terrain get "crossfaded" as to appear seamless, water is pretty uniform and doesn't change in that respect, it might be disconcerting to see suns switch as you travel between regions, etc.

To elaborate on that last point, if you've been on privately-owned continents, you may have seen a sudden switch in "time of day" when walking from one sim to the next. It's not the smoothest of processes either. There is a certain fade with the sky gradient, but all too often, you'll see the sun or moon not display correctly for several moments more. (I have this tendency of seeing a black sun that suddenly turns red when I force daylight.) It can be a minor cosmetic annoyance, but can also be a big boon for some very unique effects. AS SEEN HERE... CAPTURE THE MOMENT!

Narrow it down to integral simplicity: if we could change the cosmic textures more flexibly, this would open up a new chapter in artistic expression! Have you seen the green grasses of Taco? The pink what-the-heck of Nomine? Imagine even how better they'd feel, they'd be with skies that actually complimented the earth. Taco could have a freakin' happy face smiling back atcha, baby! If you've been to other online worlds and games, you've surely seen others. Stared at Lineage II's lunar body? It looks like it could hit your eye like a big pizza pie! I'll even say we're currently a FarCry from what I'd like to see. Hopefully you have ideas of your own.

All that said, I find it bizarre we can customize so many aspects of our world (our imagination), but for now, the outer limits remain untouched by Residents's particle pointers. Some things:
  1. This seems relatively straightforward and easy to do. For simple color changes of the sky, some additional UI controls for those parameters would suffice. Beyond that, a texture picker much like any other, and that's a good base.

  2. Consider how much of your screen what I'm referring to takes up. It's above the horizon for a reason. If you don't think it would have much impact, close your eyes and try to visualize SL's skybox replaced with a solid white. How would this affect your emotions?

  3. Greater immersion, enhanced realism. I'm not kidding. We have a Japanese grid expansion on the way. Why's Japan called "the land of the rising sun"?

  4. Connections: a proposal for weather has been accepted.
Now, it's time for a Torleytangent! Earlier, I mentioned water. I'm going to take this thoughtline and ride it down a different tram. If you've been in Second Life for a goodly time, you've prolly already noticed a certain, telltale water loop that's been pitched up about an octave or so, and is used in a number of inworld fountains. It sounds like a wet load of squealing hydro, and it's been perpetuated from one Resident to another. Not to criticize it (apart from being glaringly inaccurate), but rather, it made me notice the lack of diversity when it comes to the environmental audio aspects of SL. This coming from someone who often has mute on, too. The same nature sounds are used by many people, which is mechanical and unnatural in the bigger picture. And the wind? The wind is a nice touch, but how can it sound similar all around the gridverse? A Pocahontas song, "The colors of the wind", says it all!

Right now, in Second Life, there are gaping holes. And one of those is ample room for sonic experts to come on in, set up shop, and start selling their original sounds (especially tailored for this medium—and not just copied from public domain archives on Internet). Resis who understand working with the technical constraints (like a 10-sec. max length), who can participate in sculpting better atmospheric experiences, and essentially, compensate for what is a very underrated audio market in the world. Someone with heart who takes their portarecorder down to a creek, slices up samples and performs the requisite EQing and enhancements, then loops them into the ideal wife for a silent waterfall. Fresh exclusives available nowhere else.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Its a GAME! Its a WORLD! Who friggin' cares, its WORK

It pops up about once every few months like forum acne. Is SL a world? Is it a game? Why or why not? And so the thread goes for anywhere from 5 to 97 pages with people insulting parentage and lineage until Jeska shuts it down, probably out of self-preservation of sanity.

I usually at least skim about 80% of what's in the forums. But not those god-forsaken GAME v. WORLD threads. I avoid those like I also avoid targeting myself repeatedly in the eyes with a nail gun, which is to say, upon pain of death.

The main reason - which also, happily enough, is the same reason I don't do 99% of what I don't do in this life, or any other - is because I just don't care. Really! I could give two proverbial shits about how SL is quantified or categorized by any random individual, up to and including Phillip Linden. (Don't cry Phillip, we're still on for Saturday.)

The reason I don't care is because first and foremost in my mind, SL is entertainment. Sure, my idea of being entertained is to build crazy ridiculous stuff on my computer, but everyone has their dirty secrets. Funny thing is, its still just as entertaining as it was when I first logged onto SL in November of 2004. However, I've discovered the devious true nature of SL - the alchemy that turns excitement and imagination into "why the hell aren't I doing something better with my time".

The devious true nature of SL is to turn FUN into WORK.

I thought I had it under control when I dropped my first SL account. I had just gotten too wrapped up in being nice to people. I had the bad misfortune of befriending every mooch and talentless whiny hack in the metaverse. I'd start fresh, set limits for myself, concentrate on doing what I enjoyed doing in SL (building), and my entertainment dollars would once again be well spent.

And it did work, for a while. But then. Then I had the bright idea to make some $L on the side. Which in itself was fine, but then there were people to talk to. (I don't like people.) Then some people wanted super custom builds. Right there, that churning feeling started in my stomach again. Sure, they were willing to pay, but honestly, there isn't a salary in the world that will make me spend my free time building something I don't want to build in SL.

And, because I hate people, I dropped my SECOND account. I had a good line about it being the start of the summer and all that - but for all intents and purposes, I knew I had blown another life. Screw it! You get 5 accounts to a credit card, and where else can you start over with a clean slate for only $10? Onto alt number 3!

Which is how you know me as Cory Edo. Cory Edo who will never be FIC because I don't produce SHIT, which is exactly how I like it. I don't box, I don't market, I don't promote. I do that crap at my day job, thank you, and its sucking the life out of my very soul just fine without help from my nifty little computer game.

I don't desire to create empires. I don't care if I make a bloody red cent off of SL. (Of course if you want to send me money, knock yourself out.) I want to be able to log in and build whatever I feel like building. Or, if you're Eboni Khan, I'll build whatever you have a vague idea about on your sim, because I like you and you let me make whatever I want and LOVE it.

So here's my only words of wisdom about SL, the only thing I really feel like I know inside and out about this crazy jazz riff: when it stops being fun, quit. Don't start again until it's regained that lustre of excitement. That's the real beauty of the concept of a second life.

Competition from Above?

I wanted to touch on a slightly controversial topic this morning, and discuss the prospect of Linden Lab competing with resident-built products and services. Those familiar with the Second Life economic scene know that the recent announcement of Linden Lab’s currency exchange system (now released), and the subsequent closing of Gaming Open Market, created quite a stir. The question du jour: “is LL my next competitor?”

Linden Lab’s slogan “your world, your imagination” obviously only goes so far, but this should not be an upsetting surprise for anyone. They have granted residents intellectual property rights and provided a hazy promise that they will not compete with in-world content, but they have not explicitly defined the boundaries of what they will and will not compete with. This latter point is hardly surprising. As a technology company, LL has the right to innovate and extend/improve their functionality as they see fit. A smart company would never needlessly limit development options, and Philip will probably avoid setting boundaries unless: 1. he feels significant customer pressure, or 2. he feels the uncertainty is constraining growth.

Personally, I prefer competitive risk to technological stagnation. For example, I would rather see a more advanced avatar mesh – and have to redo all of my clothes – than feel like SL is permanently stuck in 2002. Second Life is in its technological and functional infancy, and its progress and growth benefits us all. Every Linden Lab change will negatively affect someone, somewhere, even if this is entirely due to unintended consequences. If LL handcuffs their development effort to protect the status quo, SL will either die on the vine or be overtaken by competition.

This type of partner/compete conflict is common in business, and is defined by the balance of power between the various parties. Microsoft is a classic example of a company who aggressively partners and competes at the same time (controversial example, I know, but let’s put aside their anti-trust violations for a moment). Every startup who buys Microsoft’s programming tools and databases knows that there is a risk that Microsoft might end up being a competitor. Every startup who tries to improve Microsoft’s technical limitations with an add-on product knows that their original business might evaporate with the next Microsoft product release. The smart, agile ones stay alive by staying ahead of Microsoft’s technology, diversifying, or competing through a superior sales and marketing program. Why do people continue to create businesses in and around Microsoft technologies? Easy answer – the opportunity balances out the risk.

Within the Microsoft ecosystem, there are obvious lessons for both LL and Second Life residents. For LL, an important one is the dampening effect that excessive competitive risk has on complementary innovation. For example, few businesses will attempt add-ons and improvements to Microsoft Office or Internet Explorer because the risk is too high. If competitive risk is too high, then SL’s improvement will only be as fast as Linden Lab’s development team. Since LL’s very business model is an acknowledgement that they cannot do everything themselves, I would bet that Philip knows that he has to chart a compromise path through these waters. Second Life is NOT yet an open source project, and no one should be confused on that issue. It is in Philip’s interest to continue to communicate with SL creators on this issue, not only to build developer confidence, but also to spread a realistic understanding of the dynamics at work here.

A smart SL entrepreneur weighs the market opportunity and the competitive risk (including Linden Lab in that picture) for any business idea. A smart entrepreneur is also aware that market windows open and close for many reasons. New functionality or a policy change by LL could very well be one of the reasons your market window closes. There is no status quo, and there should be no entitlements. (Side note: if you happen to be one of the many people who simply make things for fun, rather than trying to create a virtual business, then there really shouldn’t be any controversy here for you anyway.)

So if competition with LL in certain areas is inevitable, what are those areas? Here are a few of my guesses, and let me be clear that I have no inside information -- this is purely my own conjecture.

Vulnerable Areas:
  • Extensions of system functionality: LL provides basic functionality for communication, transportation, prim editing, scripting, etc. The products and services that improve on the base functionality or create workarounds for current limitations (for example, movie players in pre-quicktime days, security/privacy products, ROAM, Cadoe’s free ShapeMaker, and various information-network systems) are highly vulnerable to functionality changes/improvements.
  • Advertising tools: I pulled this one out of “extensions” because it is more complex. I can see LL eventually adding functionality to make in-world advertising more efficient, including enabling an advertiser to pay a resident for showing an ad on his/her land (I would still categorize this as “enhancing the tools”). If LL also decided to sell the advertisements themselves, then would they be infringing on the “your content” promise?
  • Services which bring SL to the Internet (Web-based storefronts, photo sites, blogging networks, landmark sharing tools, etc): these are not “in-world” content and so do not fall under any sort of protective promise.

Less Vulnerable Areas:
  • In-world content: avatars, animations/gestures, buildings, clothing, particle settings, textures, vehicles, weapons, etc. While buildings and textures do face some competition in the form of new Library releases (for example, when the Atoll territories were released the huts and textures were made public), this competitive threat is really minor.
  • Content services: custom services for the above categories
  • Entertainment services: clubs, activities, games, and other social events

This issue is going to evolve as Second Life evolves. I hope that Linden Lab tries to over-communicate on this topic, because too much uncertainty can stifle innovation. At the end of the day, both sides of this equation are dependent on each other.

(P.S. only blog members can post comments, so if you have a comment you would like me to consider sharing on this blog, please send me a forum private message or an inworld IM/notecard.)