Thursday, December 31, 2009

Virtual fragments -- a year's end miscellany

~~~
This is me, being reflective.

The end of the year is usually a time for reflection and assessment: an arbitrary point when we make lists of bests and worsts and most memorable and crap like that, and then others come up with predictions for the coming year.

Well...some people do, anyhow.

I'll be honest. I'm too tired right now to do anything that requires that much forced thought. It hasn't been that great of a year in a lot of ways. There have been some high points, including doing this damn fool blog...and of course getting to know some of you goofballs out there a little better (Headburro and Rhia, if I was going to make that list, you two would be at the top). Actually, I guess I really don't need to make a "best of" or "most memorable list, because an awful lot of that kind of stuff--those people, the things I did that were most enjoyable and rewarding--you can find all that in some form in this blog.

Hey! so that means I can skip the usual "list" crap, right?

Fine. Then if it's ok with you guys, I'm just going to clean out the mental file drawers and share some marginally random stuff--things that I just don't have enough to say about them (or can't find the mental energy to properly evaluate) in order to make a full-blown post. These are in no particular order. They are not about favorites or bests or worsts or anything. They just are.

First off:

I got on twitter and now I find it not only kind of amusing (well, sometimes REALLY amusing thanks to SecondLie), I really like how it has steered me to other people's blogs and commentary that I would not even be aware of, such as the writing of this gentleman, John Carter McKnight:

http://johncartermcknight.wordpress.com/2009/12/24/space-and-virtual-worlds-why-were-not-mainstream/

I really enjoyed the above post about why VW's aren't mainstream. The guy has some interesting things to say, he's really goddamed bright, and he's not afraid to say "Beats the fuck out of me" when that, quite simply, is all that you can say about a subject.

~~~

Next up from the mental filing cabinet:

Take a look at this virtual recreation of the Mayflower that I came across in the search "showcase." It was built by Lora Chadbourne and lies off a small recreation of the original Plymouth settlement.


I just want to say that I think virtual recreations of ships in SL keep getting better and better all the freakin' time.

Miss Chadbourne did a hell of a job on this--unlike on many SL ships you can actually go down below the main deck, and it looks and feels remarkably real. Yeah, there's a lot of odds and ends I could nitpick about this 3-D model: the lack of rigging other than the ratlines (even standing rigging like shrouds and stays is missing--saving prims I imagine); and the fact that there are details like the windlass, but no tiller and whipstaff. If I may digress here, something SL ship builders need to learn is that ships did not have wheels for steering until the early 18h century--but at least Ms. Chadbourne didn't make that mistake--instead there is no steering mechanism at all. I think her higher priority was giving some sense of the living conditions in which the Pilgrims crossed the Atlantic, not educating you about the history of naval technology.

Anyhow, I think this represents a really good step in the evolution of recreated ships in SL Next I want to see something this cool be made to actually sail. And yes, I know Ham Au would tell me right now that I should put a slurl here. You know what? I fucking hate slurls. It's in search; it's in showcase. Geez, just look it up if you want to see this thing.

~~~

Speaking of things getting better in SL, look at these boots that Sheriff Glen Dover is wearing:


They have a realistic shape, they look like they have been worn to Hell's suburbs and back, they have decent spurs with the straps as part of the texture...and Holy Moses in his bathrobe, no bling, no jingly noises, or other distracting, superfluous bushwah that clogs up a sim's pipes. I don't know who made these--if you are curious send me an IM and I'll just ask Glen for you.

~~~

There are a lot of you who really made this year tolerable for me, both out in ye olde meate-space and in-world. One of the people who made a difference for me in-world was Clay Kungler. Here I am sewing up a wound in his arm after he got shot the other night while taking out a troublemaker with a fucking bowie knife:


Whenever I sign on, I get a happy greeting from my pard Clay, and he brings me up to date on what's happening in the sim, or what he's working on. Lately, he has gone just apeshit crazy making a line of great hand-to-hand combat weapons like knives and hatchets and axes and bottles and other stuff--using animation scripts from a number of sources and melee system scripting that the always awesome Estwee Vansant has developed. I just get a real hoot outta the enthusiasm that Clay has for making things to hurt other avatars with. The joyful child-like glee he takes in crafting some new implement of cold steel destruction restores your faith in things like...oh, I don't know...killer clowns and evil Santa, maybe? What is really a hoot is that his girlfriend September throws herself into testing these things out with Clay, and it just does your heart good watching two young people who are very much in love, viciously hacking at each other until one of them crumples up in a little heap. It's goddam endearing, I tell ya.

~~~

Hey, speaking of Clay, take a look at this plaid mackinaw he's wearing in this shot:



It was made by my friend Astolat Dufaux of Montaigne Noir clothiers. Good men's clothing is hard to find in SL--at least stuff that doesn't make a feller look all man-slutty or goofily feminine. Astolat does really nice stuff, and bless her heart, both she and Caed Aldwych are working on authentic gear and uniforms for an 1870's US army look that we'll be using after we re-start the Deadwood sim in March and turn the clock back to the Spring of 1876.

Caed is doing accouterments and weapons, and a very good-looking Civil War-era bummer's cap (of a style that was still worn into the 1870's until stocks were used up), along with an M1854 shell jacket with all the yellow cavalry trim stripped off (a typical field expedient in the economically constrained army of the post war period). Astolat is working on M1872 uniform elements like the low-crowned kepi and the M1874 5-button sack coat. This is great--we're going to try to do this right, and these folks have thrown themselves into working on the project with enthusiasm. I also appreciate how they have been putting up with my ongoing suggestions and undoubtedly irritating attempts at support and encouragement.

Anyhow, you gotta go see Astolat's stuff--just look it up, 'cuz I don't have the slurl for her either. I mean Jeezus christ on a freakin' pogo stick, do I have to do everything?

~~~

Hey speaking of people I appreciate, this is Quinn Porthos, one of my library assistants at Hogwarts United:


I am very thankful for my whole team of assistants in the library, but I especially have a good time with Quinn who is also a member of Hufflepuff, of which I am now co-Head of House (which is sort of like being a dorm mother/security guard/cheerleader/psychoanalyst). Quinn's typist has created this engaging persona of a girl who is 12 going on 40: sarcastic and funny, cynical before her time, whip-smart, and fond of blowing shit up (in fact, in this shot you can see the scorch marks where we "cleaned off" some graffiti from a library table with a spell that was more pyrotechnic than magic).

She and Dio get along incredibly well, and in fact Dio finds Quinn easier to talk to than many of the adults at Hogwarts. I really enjoy rp'ing with Quinn--it's another one of those highlights that has got me through the past year.

The other thing about Quinn, with all her cynicism and slightly hardened edge...both the character and the typist have a heart of gold.

~~~

And another cool thing about SL is that I keep meeting thoughtful, pleasant people who have interesting ideas and who share useful information. For example, just the other night, I met a lady called Serenek Timeless, and Sere has an avid interest--both professional and personal--in the education potential of the platform. We had a really nice chat and she gave me some landmarks to some educational sims that I had not been to, including the NOAA build which actually goes back to 2006. Here's the submarine ride from that sim:


You know...it looks VERY 2006: (the texturing is somewhat crude and the prim work decidedly clunky compared to what is being done today); and the didactic point of the "exhibits" isn't always clear...but it's still a better than average educational build. It's worth going to see, even with being outdated and flawed. There are things like little gizmos that link to interesting web sites so you can learn more, a glacier that melts, a plane that flies into a hurricane, and a tidal wave that washes ashore and destroys everything in its path (I believe the key didactic lesson there was if you hear the tsunami warning, get the fuck away from the beach).

But Beelzebub's backside, I kept thinking "this would work so much better with people here--if periodically this was staffed--I wish I had someone to talk to about all this here junk and what it all is supposed to mean." Maybe they do that on some kind of regular basis, but I'm guessing certainly not recently: there was prim litter in abundance:


It just said to me that they turned the switch on, and then--other than updating bits and pieces occasionally--they walked away from this. And maybe that's not fair, but it sure is what it fucking felt like.

~~~

The other thing that happened was that this year I made more shit in-world than I have ever done before.

Here's some cigar boxes that I made using a scripted basic box provided by my buddy Rod Eun, and cigar box label images from my own collection:


Now you may sneer at this because--yes, as I have freely admitted before--the only SL content creation that I pull off with any success on a consistent basis generally involves right angles and flat sides. You may recall that September and I keep talking about starting our own in-world store called "Rectangles R Us." But it was fun. It gave me something a little bit unique to sell, or more often, something to give to people (besides a hard time).

And if you like, feel free to look me up in-world sometime and I'll give you a box or two o' stogies and we can talk.

~~~

You know what? I think that in between the inevitable nonsense, drama, and angst, next year is gonna have its fun and congenial aspects, just like this year did.

~~~

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

It's not second life or first life...it's just life.

~~~
RANT ALERT If you don't like it when I cuss, skip this one. The vocabulary got out of control.

Some poor schmuck recently did yet another one of those shallow, whiny blog posts about "I went to Second Life and I couldn't figure it out and it was full of strange pervy folks and it's dying because it's not (choose one):

a. Twitter
b. Facebook
c. World of Warcraft
d. all of the above
e. chocolate

I didn't feel the need to comment there on the actual post, because plenty of other intelligent folks dog-piled on the feckless turd, pointing out that he had not done enough actual exploration of SL to comment on anything other than his own brief experience, and that his comparisons between SL and the most broadly used social media applications are an apples and oranges thing. I was quite pleased to see our friends Fogwoman Grey and Emilly Orr, among others, pretty much make the author their bitch.

And I'm not really going to bother with commenting on his post here either, except to get one thing off my chest. I was really, really, really fucking irritated by the one-panel cartoon the author (or someone) selected to go with his text. It showed this geeky looking clodpoll sitting at a computer while some bitch (his mom? his wife? his dad dressed in drag?) says with a sneering expression:

"Second Life? Please, you don't even have a FIRST life."

First of all, it pissed me off because it had nothing to do with what the author was writing about. I hate lazy assholes, and it was obvious that some lazy asshole had put the cartoon there just because The Idiot's Guide to Blogging says "to succeed as a blogger you have to keep your posts short because your readers are spit-dribbling retards, and you also must have an illustration because they are visually-oriented spit-dribbling retards as well...so go ahead, stick some kind of a picture in there even if it has little or nothing to do with your subject matter."

It would have been so easy for this dumb, cockchafing lackwit to take a fuckin' screenshot while he was in SL (unless of course, he was too goddam dirt-eating stupid to figure out how to take a screenshot). Then at least his illustration would have had something to do with what he was writing about.

But noooooooo...he got this half-assed cartoon from somewhere and plugged it in.

So that was one thing that irritated me. Now on to the other:

The subject matter of the cartoon was the same old, tired, feeble arrogance about people who spend lots of times on their computers--not just in Second Life, but in any virtual context--needing to "get a life."

Ok, boys and girls, here's the fucking deal:

There is no difference between so-called "first life" and the unfortunately named Second Life.

If you are doing something...whatever you are doing and whatever context you do it in: it is life.

Do you enjoy it? Does it help you pass the time when you are not doing shit that someone else is making you do? Then it is valid. No one, and that means NO ONE has the right to tell you that you need to "get a life" or that you "have no life."

Why is it that so many people look at what someone else is doing, and if it is not what they would be doing with their free time, they think that it ain't valid or worthwhile? That is just plain and simple, utter cocktwaddle. Hey, I don't like football. But if you like to play football every chance you get, or you like to watch the sport on TV every goddam weekend, then that is just fucking awesome as far as I am concerned. The fact that I don't give a rat's tookus about football doesn't mean that you guys who like the game and care about it passionately need to cut it the fuck out and "get a life."

Everybody needs something to do...to add something to their lives other than merely existing. Even early Paleolithic people who lived in caves and dressed in furs, and who scrabbled just to survive from day to day...they drew cool pictures on the rocks, invented a calendar of sorts, and probably danced and sang, and more than likely laughed when someone farted.

It doesn't matter what you choose to do beyond just surviving--whether it is playing canasta, ballroom dancing, going to Nascar races, watching old movies, gardening, reenacting Civil War battles, refinishing furniture, brewing your own beer, fixing old trucks, rescuing abandoned cats, writing poetry, feeding slot machines at an Indian casino, singing in the goddam church choir, playing video games, or making stuff and fartin' around with your friends in Second Life...it's valid, it's worthwhile...and it's life. It's part of what makes you a human being.

I was thinking about this issue even before I saw the dumb-ass cartoon. This time of year is always hard on many Second Lifers. You're visiting the relatives and someone asks about that online thing you're doing, and you have to try to explain Second Life to them...and they kind of smile, while their eyes regard you with this mixture of pity, contempt and confusion. And maybe even fear.

Well fuck them. Either people get it or they don't, and if they don't, then they at least should respect what you do.

They may say, "oh but you spend so much time doing it! You're in front of that computer for hours!"

Yeah? So what?

Look--unless something is completely passive, or dumbed down to the most basic level so that even a retarded penguin with the reading comprehension abilities of Glenn Beck can master it--anything we choose to do is going to take a lot of time and practice and effort if we want to get good at it.

You want to play an instrument or a sport? Then you gotta practice--you have to put a lot of time into it.

Fix cars? You gotta sink a lot of time into gettin' greasy and laying underneath big chunks of metal with rust flakes falling in your eyes.

You wanna paint pretty pictures? Then you gotta take classes and practice and keep painting, over and over.

You want to do well at video games? You gotta put in your hours with the controller and get those finger callouses.

Likewise, if you want to get good at doing stuff in Second Life: it's just like all those other things--it's going to take a lot of time. You have to put in the hours, maybe take some classes, do a lot of experimenting, and keep working at it.

That's all there is to it.

Like many things in life, it takes time and effort and practice to get good at SL, to really maximize what you get out it.

Which does kind of bring us to the question about the advisability of re-working SL so that it can accommodate the mega-masses. To survive and flourish, do the Lindens need to make SL so that anyone can come in and there will be things planned out for them to do, and that getting started is simple, with outfits and avatars that can be easily made up, and a house that is easily put in place, and they won't be bothered about making stuff and all that?

Guess what...that platform already existed.

It was called The Sims Online.

And it did work...for a while.

Hey...skiing is generally regarded as a successful past time, right? Lots of people enjoy doing it and lots of businesses make good money off it. But you can't just run up and start doing it without the right equipment, some lessons, some practice, etc. etc. It's not for everyone, and you can't just jump on the slope and instantly do it perfectly, right? Yeah, you can get started, but you won't be able to do it as well as you can after you been doing it for a while.

So why should SL be different from that?

Not everything in life has to be easy for everyone.

But I digress.

My main point is that these arrogant morons need to stop sniveling about Second Lifers needing to get a life. Like this cartoon--it's good for a cheap laugh from people who know nothing about the platform--but it just oozes a smarmy ignorance that is unconscionable. Just remember bucko, whatever you are doing, there is someone else somewhere who will look at what you do and say "you have no life," Mr. cartoonist guy.

And when they do, you have every right to tell them to go crap in their hat and pull it down over their ears and bark at the moon. But then don't turn around and tell me that what I'm doing in Second Life is somehow less valid than what you're doing in your spare time on your blog or video games, or in your garden or in your bathroom. Cuz after all, you have a hat too, and I am about to tell you what you can do with it.
~~~

Saturday, December 26, 2009

A Deadwood story -- Christmas on the trail

~~~
Fort Sully, without snow.

Well, hell's britches, it coulda been worse.

Snowing to beat the goddam band, but at least it wasn't bitter deadly cold. Just cold enough to snow like they ain't no tomorrow. And the trail wasn't bad...some rough spots, but even with leading a pack horse with the extra camp gear and supplies for the trip, I was still makin' calvry troop time, maybe better.

Sure was glad I got that telegram from Sepp a'fore I left. Woulda felt like a dirt-eatin' fool to have gone all the way to see him in St. Louis, only to find he'd been sent to take a set a green troopers up to Fort Sully, 'bout 23 miles north o' Ft. Pierre. So Sepp an' me figgered we'd meet at Ft. Pierre. Actually was mighty damn pleased about that, lot's less of a trip to go there.

So I din't have all that much further to go--I'd got on to the trail that the stagecoach follows on its way between Yankton 'n Ft. Pierre, when I rounded a turn an' saw up ahead one o' the Fort Pierre line mail coaches. Twas right by the trail, settin' there all forlorn, buttoned up with neither mule team nor teamsters to be seen, and well trimmed with snow, lookin' for all the world like one o Willi's choklit cakes dusted with powder sugar. I come up on 'er real careful-like, full well expectin' at any moment somthin' of a decidedly unpleasant nature to impose itself on m' attention, but all I found was a very cold lil' family inside the stagecoach.

The young gent interduced hisself in a mix o' english an some kind o' what sort o' sounded like dutchman's talk--which from years of dealin with Sepp an' his kin, I got some reckonin' thereof--he was called Izreal Abrammowitz (I think somethin like that). The gal was his missus, by name o' Rebekka, an' they had their lil boy with 'em, a fine bright -eyed young'un about five years old who was called Itzak (as far as I could tell). Seems the driver had got off the road, losin' the track in the snow, got 'er stuck, AND cracked some spokes on one o' the front wheels to boot. The driver 'n the guard, 'long with four o' the other passengers had unhitched the mule team an took off, tellin' Izyy to set tight an they would send help to fetch 'em.

Yeah. Right. My granmother's balls, they was gonna send help.

So anyhow, them heartless cockchafers all done took off in the direction o' Ft. Pierre, and was purty much outta sight...tho' I think Izzy an his lil' famly hadn't been a-settin' for too long before I found 'em, bein' as they warn't in too bad a shape as of yet.

Well, I figgered it made more sense to take 'em back to the last coach station which was about 6 miles back, rather than pushin' on to Ft. Pierre like the other folks had, as that twas the greater distance, an night would set on a'fore too turrible long. So I put Becky an lil' Zak on the pack horse, an' set off back down the trail with me 'n Izzy takin' it by turns to ride m' saddle horse or walk an' lead the pack horse with the gal an' young'un. O' course first off, I took my belt knife an carved a direction arrow an' other signs onto the side o' the coach (the goddam Ft. Pierre mail line can send me a sonofabitchin' bill if'n they wants to) to show which way we went, just in case anyone should come seekin after 'em (me bein the wild-eyed goddam optimist that I am).

So walkin' an' talkin' I larned that Izzy was from way off in Proosia or Roosia or some such goddam place, an' he had him an Uncle who was runnin' a sutlery out of Fort Sully. Seems that ol' Unk o' his had sent him the funds to make the journey to America, as for some reason or t'other, Proosia or Roosia or wherever the hell it was warn't safe for 'em, bein' they was "chillun o' Abraham" as grandad used to say, an' back in their homeland they was some kind of goddam pograms or "progroms" or some such goin' on. Warn't too sure what Izzy meant by this, but it din't sound like it was anythin' too good fer folks like them.

We made our way to the stagecoach station well enough--I shan't bore y'all with the details, but I been thru worse. Took me a wee bit o' my well-known elequent vocabalary to convince the mis'able tightfisted ol' mud-eatin bastard what run the station to put Izzy an his family up fer a spell, but I showed 'im the error o' his viewpoint...'nuff said on that.

Well, I got the gal an the chile bedded down to warm up, an' we all passed the night an' part o' the next day comfortable enough. I wanted to put on a good feed a'fore I set out agin--not willin' to go forth on a empty stomach, as I am gettin' way too old for this shit--so I had talked that ol' rascal of a station keeper into lettin' me make use o' the farplace to be cookin' up some venison stew, an all of a sudden I hear a poundin' at the door! But just as I'm a layin' hands on m' Spencer, I hear Sepp's voice callin' out. An' God bless that thickheaded ol' one-eyed dutchman, if'n he din't then come a stompin' in with two other fellers--army scouts, in fact, a colored gent by the name o' Moses Williams, an' a Crow warrior called Clouds on Big Mountain. Seems when the stage hadn't showed at Ft. Pierre--I gather it had already been considerable behind when it finally got broke down--and Sepp (who was o' course waitin' for to meet me there) an' these two army scouts had volunteered to set out an look for it. They hadn't found the other folks an' the teamsters an' the mules (got no goddam idear where THEY wandered off to), but they did find the coach an' m' signs I'd carved into it. So they come up, found us at the station, and decided to pass Christmas there, rather than settin' back out. I think after hearin' how the other folks from the stagecoach had abandonned Izzy an his lil' family they kinda determined to leave the outcome o' things for them folks to Providence.

And we done had us a tol'able good time! We sung all kinds o' songs--Izzy an his young missus knowin' some right nice ones we had'nt none o the rest of us heard a'fore, and the station master proved a right decent sort once he was properly inebriated, and them two scouts was right grand fellers. Finding out that lil' Zak was havin' him a birthday whilst we was there, Sepp done made him a present of a five dollar gold piece, an Moses done give him a steel-case pocket watch he said he din't have no need fer, an Clouds on Big Mountain give the boy a fine lil' knife with a nice beaded sheath.

And o' course Sepp an' me had some fine nights there, takin' the loft fer ourselves, and sort o' settlin' ourselves into a nest o' buff'lo robes an puttin' our spare duds into Sepp's mattress cover he had with him fer somethin soft to have under us...an well...let's just say we had a us a right ol' goddam merry holiday.

Well, finally the snow let up, an' time come to have us a partin' o the ways. An' Sepp had to set off back fer St. Louis, an' Moses 'n Clouds on Big Mountain took on the task o' committin' to convey Izzy and Becky and Zak up to meet the Uncle who was a sutler...

An' when we was wavin' faretheewell to 'em all as they set off back up the trail, Sepp kinda laughed 'n tol' me that Izzy had said I was some kind o' goddam angel o the Lord. An' I laughed 'n said where did he git such fool notions, and Sepp said well, he had asked Izzy about what had he done when them feckless turds had up an left him an' his famly in that coach...and Izzy tol' Sepp that he had set to prayin to his Lord God o Hosts fer to preserve his lil' family from starvin' or freezin'.... an' lo 'n behold, ere too turrible long, I done showed up...an' damn if Izzy's first thought wasn't that I was a angel sent to their aid.

I tol' Sepp that I found it mighty funny fer an ol' freethinker like hisself, who hadn't believed in no religion since ..well, ever... to repeat such piffle. An Sepp jus smiled, an' said if'n there was such a thing as angels, he hoped they was a bit like me, 'cept mebbe not quite so foulmouthed.

Ain't that just the damndest thing you ever heard?
~~~

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Sentiments of the season, y'all

~~~

Christmas comes but Once a Year

God grant ye joy this Christmas day,
May every heart be jolly;
Love kiss ye now beneath the bough
Of mistletoe and holly.
The long, hard year of toil is done;
Today the bells are ringing,
Put down your burdens everyone,
And share the carol singing.

For Christmas comes but once a year,
When harvesting is ended;
With merry din the day comes in,
By love and mirth attended;
The children dance and shout with glee,
The eyes of all are beaming;
And high above the Christmas tree,
The star of Hope is gleaming.

- Edgar A. Guest


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Heigh Ho, The Holly

Blow, blow, thou winter wind,
Thou art not so unkind
As man's ingratitude;
Thy tooth is not so keen,
Because thou art not seen,
Although thy breath be rude.
Heigh ho, sing heigh ho, unto the green holly;
most friendship is feigning, most loving mere folly:
Then, heigh ho, the holly!
This life is most jolly.

Freeze, freeze, thou bitter sky,
That dost not bite so nigh
As benefits forgot:
Though thou the waters warp,
Thy sting is not so sharp
As friend remember'd not.
Heigh ho, sing heigh ho, unto the green holly:
most friendship is feigning, most loving mere folly:
Then, heigh ho, the holly!
This life is most jolly.

- William Shakespeare

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Bounce buckram, velvets dear,
Christmas comes but once a year,
When it comes it brings good cheer,
And when it's gone it's never near.

- English traditional Christmas poem


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

I sometimes think we expect too much of Christmas Day. We try to crowd into it the long arrears of kindliness and humanity of the whole year. As for me, I like to take my Christmas a little at a time, all through the year. And thus I drift along into the holidays - let them overtake me unexpectedly - waking up some fine morning and suddenly saying to myself: "Why, this is Christmas Day!"

- David Grayson

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Merry freakin' Christmas from the entire staff at
The Ephemeral Frontier


~~~

Holiday images -- a spirit that transcends the circumstances.

~~~
A staged patriotic postcard, showing a young German soldier of the Great War, with Christmas gifts from the homeland, probably around 1915.

In a lot of ways, this hasn't been a good year for many of us. But now here it is Christmas--the year is almost done, which is a relief in itself. But it is also a time of year when we reflect on what we have; we feel hope that the darkness will end; and we enjoy each other's company and fellowship.

Despite the circumstances, we celebrate.

I wanted to share some images with you I collected over the years that I think nicely illustrate this hopeful reality. The following are postcards recording or representing celebrations of the holiday by German and Austrian soldiers in the very midst of an incredible, terrible event that had engulfed the world: the Great War of 1914-1918.

Above, some Austrian soldiers in a front line dugout celebrate Christmas in this lithographed patriotic postcard of 1916. An imagined scene, you say? Look at the below "real photo" postcard, showing Austrian soldiers in the field in 1916, with their Christmas tree.

Note the little sign that says this is their third Christmas in the field, and the guy with the accordion, no doubt accompanying his comrades as they sing carols.

Here are German soldiers in a lithographed post card showing them celebrating Christmas in their crude dugout in 1914. One man is playing a harmonica, while others sing.


An original photograph of German soldiers in a rear area billet later in the war, drinking beer and gathered around their rather spindly tree with tiny candles. Judging by the uniforms, I think this most likely is 1917.

So don't give up. The human spirit is incredibly resilient. Find joy and hope and fellowship where you can, and embrace it for all it is worth. Have the best holiday that you possibly can.
Opening gifts from home, probably 1914
~~~

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

A response to Headburro Antfarm's questions about writing

~~~
Headburro tagged me with this meme thing about writing. I'm only doing this because I like HB a whole lot. So if you send me something like this, or tag me in a meme and I don't respond, please don't take it personally. I doesn't mean I don't like you. It just means I don't like you enough to take the time to answer the questions...


1)What’s the last thing you wrote?

My virtual shotgun review.
What’s the first thing you wrote that you still have?
I still have a sort of fable thing called "Toulouse Mouse," that I wrote and illustrated in High School or early college.

2) Write poetry?
No

3) Angsty poetry?
Hell No

4) Favorite genre of writing?
Currently? Rp-based historical fiction

5) Most evil character you’ve ever created?
About ten years ago, I wrote a science fiction novel that had this slave-trader character who was about as despicable and loathsome as a character can be. He was pretty bad, but the really evil character in the story was the wife of the protagonist's mentor, who murdered her husband and framed the protagonist for the killing. I've since misplaced the manuscript so I can't say for sure how things ended up, but I think something ate the woman if I recall correctly.

6) Best plot you’ve ever created?
The murder of Al Husar

7) Coolest plot twist you’ve ever created?
I really like what happens with Al Husar's murderer.


8) How often do you get writer’s block?
Maybe once a week.

9) Write fan fiction?
Not if I can help it.

10) Do you type or write by hand?
I have to type it. My handwriting has really deteriorated over the years.

11) Do you save everything you write?
I try. But when you move as much as I do, shit gets misplaced.

12) Do you ever go back to an idea after you’ve abandoned it?
Yeah. I like to keep refining things. I think they get better with work.

13) What’s your favourite thing you’ve ever written?
My part of the scene where Sepp and Dio find one another again.

14) What’s everyone else’s favourite story you’ve written?
Fuck if I know. Ask them.

15) Ever written romance or angsty teen drama?
Yes and no.

16) What’s your favourite setting for your characters?
19th century US.

17) How many writing projects are you working on right now?
one.

18) Have you ever won an award for your writing?
other than some good people saying now and then that they like reading the shit that I write, no.

19) What are your five favourite words?
Feckless. Perspicacity. Goddam. Egregious. Fuck (I have lived places where it ain't a verb or a noun it's a fuckin' punctuation mark).

20) What character have you created that is most like yourself?
Dio, of course. Except that she's smarter, funnier and a better shot than I am.

21) Where do you get your ideas for your characters?
Life. People I know or have known, or have seen.

22) Do you ever write based on your dreams?
Christ No.

23) Do you favour happy endings?
Define happy. If you mean "happily ever after" type endings, then no, I don't. There is no happily ever after. Everything is transitory and cyclic. But if by happy ending you mean a point in time where there is a triumph of survival, or a worthwhile sacrifice, or where someone either loses or wins with dignity, then yes, I like those. I also like it when at the end, the most egregiously asshat-ish antagonist in the story gets the kick in the balls they so richly deserve.

24) Are you concerned with spelling and grammar as you write?
Depends on what I'm writing. if it's a training manual or a serious article, yeah. otherwise, I am more concerned about the voice than the structural bits.

25) Does music help you write?
No. I need quiet to concentrate.

26) Quote something you’ve written. Whatever pops in your head.
"I could shoot ye betwixt yer goddam eyes. But I ain't gonna. Just like I ain't gonna fix this election."

27) Now, who should I tag?
Marrant. And Rhia if no one has got her yet.
~~~

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

A tale of two shotguns -- the ongoing evolution of craftsmanship in Second Life

~~~
Clay Kungler with the new Albion Importers Ltd. G.E. Mason
hammerless
shotgun, designed and built by Ernst Osterham

I've now been a participant in Second life since the fall of 2004. I have always found things in-world that astonish and amaze me, and lately, the thing that continually impresses itself upon me is how the stuff that people make in-world just keeps getting better and better. There are objects that showed up in SL a couple years ago, that at the time, I looked at and said, "wow that is downright cool--who would have thought somebody could make one of those things and have it turn out that well?" But now, just a couple of years later, I look at a new version of that same type of artifact, and my jaw hits the ground and eyes bugout, and I make noises that are largely incomprehensible.

Let me give you an example of this phenomenon, illustrated with an examination of an everyday artifact that no home should be without and which everyone finds highly useful a wide variety of social situations: the double-barreled, breech-loading shotgun.


Here is an illustration of me holding a shotgun that I believe has been in production for a number of years. It was created by a skilled and well-respected gun maker and is a good representation of a typical double-barreled shotgun of the type with exposed hammers, and which breaks open at the breech for reloading.

Historically, this style of gun was very popular from the latter part of the 19th century into the early 20th century, and certainly is appropriate for use in Old West sims like Deadwood and Tombstone. The maker of this particular gun always strove to make his guns as authentically styled as possible. His representations of percussion "cap and ball" revolvers are particularly well-crafted. And this shotgun is a good example of his efforts as well: it has the proper elements that such a gun should have; its scale and proportions are good (especially for larger avatars); and it is technically authentic in that it fires just two shots before requiring reloading (so it's not one of those idiotic Old West fantasy guns that keeps firing all week without reloading). And by golly, she makes a hell of a lot of noise when fired. This is a fine gun for use in Old West rp--it is a well-executed representation of a popular type of frontier weapon. But it is an example of an earlier generation of historical weapons in Second Life.

What does the new generation of historical guns in SL look like? Well, y'all, take a gander at this here:


Above is the new G.E. Mason "Boxlock" hammerless-style double-barreled shotgun that has recently been offered for sale by Ernst Osterham through his "Albion Importers Ltd." shop. Ernst makes a variety of objects, ranging from 19the century music boxes and wax cylinder recording players, to furniture, to excellent and unique firearms. This particular piece is an example of a style of shotgun that was invented by English gunsmiths in the 1870s and which became increasingly popular over time. While it is historically plausible for use in the Deadwood sim, it was a fairly new style at that time and there would not have been many of them around in the 1870s Black Hills. They would however, be extremely appropriate (and far more numerous) in the time-frame represented by the Tombstone sims.

With the qualification that such guns as this would be few and far between on the American West of the 1870s, I just outright love this firearm and pretty much carry it with me everywhere I go these days.

Yep it's one them "gonna have to pry it outta mah cold, dead hand" situations.

Not only is the gun a beautifully made 3-D model (crafted using sculpties to get the hard parts like the stock just right), its operation is controlled by an attractive HUD that allows you to fire either standing or kneeling, to sling the firearm over your back, and utilize various options such as changing from firing slugs to buckshot.

Here is my friend Clay Kungler firing his Albion Importers shotgun from the standing position:

And here he is firing the same gun from the kneeling position, while Deputy Bram Ansar looks on:

You also have the option of setting the gun's animations so that the actual process of opening and closing the breech for reloading takes place (if you are in a high lag environment, you can forgo this animation in order to keep things running more smoothly).


And as I said, you have the choice of carrying the gun slung on your back, carried in one hand ("at the trail" for those of you who know those things), or at the ready (which is my favorite):


The gun works in an authentic way from a technical standpoint as well. You fire both barrels and then need to reload. If you choose the buckshot rather than the slug option for your rounds, multiple projectiles will come out of each barrel, but they spread out the further they go, so that type of load works best for relatively close work--just like a real shotgun.

Now mind you, I mean in no way to denigrate the older example of a shotgun I mentioned. Nor do I wish to dismiss the amount of effort and skill that its maker put into creating it. Like I said, its maker offers great weapons, including that double-barreled shotgun--it's a really good weapon and remains an excellent choice for use in any Western rp environment. It also has an advantage in price--if there is a drawback to the Albion Importers gun, it is that it is relatively expensive compared to many of the historical weapons you can find in-world. The older version of a shotgun costs considerably less.

Nonetheless, when I look at something like Ernst's hammerless shotgun, I feel like I can once again believe that there really is such as thing as progress...and yes, I even begin to think that maybe there really is a Santa Claus.
~~~

Sunday, December 20, 2009

A Deadwood story -- is that any way to raise a child? conclusion

~~~
Roku had taken Elizabeth to the Number 10 to dry her out by the stove. By the time Dio had run down there to the No. 10, with Carrie Anne close at her heels, something of a small crowd had formed there, including JF and his wife Lola, Miss Sal from the Bella, They had Elizabeth wrapped in a blanket, laying across some benches that had been pushed together right by the little iron stove. Someone had stoked up the stove to the point that it was making the air around it shimmer with the heat.

Roku was standing behind the bar in a sizable puddle of water that was still growin’ from the water that continued to drip from her sodden dress. She had appropriated the only bottle of hard liquor that was to be found at the No. 10, a bottle of cheap red mule that Dio kept under the bar with her medical supplies for washing wounds and cleaning suture needles and such. At that moment, Roku was not employing the whisky for medicinal purposes in the strictest sense of the term. But I imagine that in a way, you could argue that the liberal dose of the stuff she had poured into a beer mug--and which she was working on applying internally--probably was having a useful therapeutic effect.

Elizabeth’s eyes were closed. Her breathin’ was shallow, and her usual pallid complexion was distinctly predominatin’ to a kinda inerestin' shade o’ pale blue.

Lola looked up as Dio came in.

“Dio, she’s like a block of ice. Her clothes are wet through--have you got anything dry we can put on her?”

Dio knelt by the benches that Elizabeth was laying across, and took one of her small, damp hands in hers. It felt lifeless, like a fish you’d caught earlier in the day, and which had long since ceased flippin’ about. She turned to Carrie Anne.

“Hon, would ye be so kind as to go look through yer things in the trunk under the bed--get out a full set o' duds fer Elizabeth as well as some clean things fer yerself.”

“Yes’m.”

Sal had just filled up a kettle of water to heat on the stove. It made a sizzling nose as soon as she set it upon the well-warmed metal. “I think that child will need some hot tea in her as soon as possible, don’t you?”

“Yeah,” agreed JF. “I believe she’s chilled inside ‘n out.”

I tried to reach for her when I saw her jump in,” said Carrie Anne, who was just then emerging from the back room with a armful of dry clothing. “But she... she was being swept and tumbled along. Then I saw Miss Roku comin’ from the Church and I hollered for her an’ she jumped right in to get Elizabeth....” Carrie Anne’s face had been very serious...almost expressionless, but now it sort of crumpled up a little bit and her voice got very small. “I...I tried to reach her...really I did...”

Sherrif JF Kanto looked down at Carrie Anne and smiled in a gentle sort o’ way. “It’s all right Carrie Anne,” he said. “ You did well. You are a good friend to Elizabeth. And you are to be commended for thinkin’ quick and actin’ just as fast, grabbing that rope and throwin’ it to Roku so she could get back out with your friend...”

“I was awful afraid it was going to work,” said Carrie Anne. I was sure if I tried to just hold on to the rope I was just gonna get pulled in too, so I wrapped the end of it around the tongue of that wagon that is sittin’ back there by the creek.

“Ah’m mighty glad ya did that.” Roku did not look at Carrie Anne as she spoke. She was focussed on pouring herself another liberal dose of amber-colored “medicine” from the bottle of red mule. “Ah was beginnin’ to have m’ doubts as to the wisdom o’ not jus’ lettin’ Elizabeth float away.”

JF put one o’ those massive hands o’ his on her shoulder in a way that was remarkably tender for such a big man, and one who...well...some other time, I probably should tell you about JF’s history before he came to Deadwood, but that will have to wait for now. Suffice to say, his history was not one that would incline you to believe him to be a man given to tender sentiments and consideration. “You did real well,” he repeated in a reassuring tone.

Lola was working on peeling off Elizabeth’s wet clothing, while Dio chafed her skin with a big towel and worked the girl’s arms and legs to get her circulation going. Elizabeth’s teeth chattered slightly, and she shook a bit, but her eyes remained closed. Carrie Anne sighed and bit her lower lip to keep from crying.

As they got more of the child’s clothing off, JF discreetly turned while they changed her into the dry things. His eyes met Roku’s for a moment. “Roku...you allright?”

Roku’s habitually hard expression softened briefly...and then returned almost as quickly to its normal state.

“Aw fuck it, JF...course ah’m allright. When am ah evah not allright?”

“Hey Roku,” Dio called out as she continued working on drying off Elizabeth and helping with getting her re-dressed. “If’n ye want, yer more’n welcome to look through my stuff an’ find some dry duds. O’ course none of it is likely to fit ye worth a tinker’s dam. Lanky, big-titted critter like you would most likely look mighty silly wearin’ an outfit sized fer a mite like m’self.

The mental image conjured up by Dio’s offer of clothing caused most of those present to smile in spite of the seriousness of the situation. Sal in particular got the giggles as she pictured Roku tryin’ to fit into one of the smaller woman’s shirts and a skirt.

They had finished changing Elizabeth and wrapped her in a big trade blanket, with another folded up and placed under her head as a pillow. Carrie Anne went into the back room to change out of her muddy, wet dress and stockings. Meanwhile, the water in the kettle was starting to boil. Sal grabbed the hot handle with a rag and took it off to make up some willow bark ea.

As Dio stroked Elizabeth’s still damp hair, she muttered, “Oh Lizabeth, chile, what was ye thinkin?”

“It’s my fault.” the sheriff stated flatly.

“No it ain't, JF,” answered Dio “Don't talk like that.”

“I shouldn’t have been so hard on her about Alonzo.”

*Dio shrugged. It ain't like you were one who tossed her tossed her in the crik, JF.”

The big man just shook his head. The he turned, so that no one could see the tear that that was running down his cheek. Lola watched him and sighed, “Oh, JF, it ain't your fault.”

Dio gently lifted Elizabeth’s head. “Ok gals, lets see if'n she kin have a sip or two o’ that hot tea.”

The girl’s eyes fluttered open...she was starting to respond to the warmth of the stove and the dry clothing and was coming around.

“Am I dead yet?” she asked in a very small voice.

Sal was puzzled by Elizabeth’s question. “What did she say?”

Elizabeth opened her eyes wider and looked around. Upon seeing Dio, Lola and JF, she appeared to be very disappointed. “Oh.. nooooooooooooooo, “ she moaned and pushed the cut of tea away.

“Are you all dead too?” she inquired plaintively.

Lola sighed. “Nobody's dead, ‘Lizabeth. Not you nor us, nor Roku, nor even Alonzo.”

Elizabeth sniffled a bit. “We nearly killed him...”

“Naw Hon,” Dio smiled. “That boy is fine as kin be--I am told he has been wanderin’ around, bein’ the usual goddam pest he always is.”

Elizabeth’s expression evidenced a certain degree of doubt. “We nearly drowned him for certain. He must be at death’s door...”

Dio shook her head. “Nope, no worse fer wear...”

“Everything is just fine now, little one,” said JF.

Elizabeth suddenly looked around in alarm. “Where is Carrie Anne? Did Carrie Anne have to go to jail?!” She started to cry.

“NO, o’ course she ain’t in jail.” replied Dio, a reassuring smile plastered on her face, though a hint of irritation had crept into her voice. “And I ain’t turned her out...she’s in the back room puttin’ on some clean clothes....an’ I want you ‘n Carrie Anne to keep bein’ friends.”

A voice from direction of the bar chimed in at this point. “Evahbody needs ta have a goddamn frend.”

They all turned to look at Roku, surprised by her sudden contribution to the conversation. The all waited for a moment to see if she was going to elaborate further on her statement about friendship. Instead. she looked back at them in a curious way, then shrugged and took another big sip of red mule. JF noticed at that point that well more than two-thirds of the bottle’s contents seemed to have evaporated.

“So we didn’t hurt Alonzo any?” asked Elizabeth uncertainly.

JF shook his head. “Not a whit.” agreed Dio. “ You din't do the lil’ peckerhead no harm in the least! Now do I gotta go find the silly lil turd to show ye? Please say no, as I'd druther not...that boy gets on my last goddam nerve.”

Just then Carrie Anne emerged from the backroom wearing the other set of clothing that she owned, and some clean, if slightly shabby-looking stockings. The mud had been wiped off her bootees, and she had retied the ribbon in her hair which was now properly combed.

Elizabeth saw her friend come out and a huge smile erupted across her pale features. “Carrie Anne! We dint hurt Alonzo any, an we’re not goin’ to jail... and Miss Dio wants you to stay with her ‘n we can still be friends! Even Miss Roku says so...um..I think!”

Carrie Anne knelt by the benches and took Elizabeth’s small hand in hers. She was squeezing it so hard that after a moment she wondered if she was hurting Elizabeth any, but her friend didn’t seem to mind.

Dio looked very happy, perhaps out of relief that she did not have to go find Alonzo to convince Elizabeth that he was allright. It was in fact, a dismal truth that few creatures dwelling within the realm of God’s green earth irritated the livin’ piss outta Dio as much as that boy did.

But something else was on her mind as well.

“Say gals, I gotta tell you somthin’....earlier when you all fessed up...I noted that the both o’ ye tried to take the blame, din't ye?”

The girls both nodded. “Yes ma'am.” said Elizabeth meekly.

“Ye din't want the other to be punished, did ye?”

“NO ma'am,” Elizabeth said fiercely. “I started it, I pushed him first!”

Carrie Anne glaredat her friend. “No! It was my fault!”

Lola shook her head and looked at JF, who was grinning. Dio held up a hand for silence.

“Well let’s leave off that argument about fault...it ain't no matter...ain’t of any importance at’all right now. What is important is that ye showed me you two is true pards...ye know what that means?”

Elizabeth looked uncertain and pulled the blanket tighter around herself. She looked at Miss Dio, and then to Carrie Anne, and then back at Miss Dio.

“You know what it means fer you ‘n Carrie to be pards?” asked Dio again.

“uh-uh,” responded Elizabeth quietly. “I don’t think I never had one of those before...”

Dio smiled. “Well, Hon, ye goddam well got one now. And it means you two are the best kind o' friends..the kind who got one another's back, who ain't afeared o’ sufferin’ an' sacrificin’ on behalf o’ the other

JF reached out and softly stroked Elizabeth's head and Carrie Anne squeezed her hand even more tightly. Elizabeth blinked away some tears, and relished the warmth of Carrie Anne’s hand on her cold, cold fingers. Sal was still kind of gobsmacked by the realization that this child had wanted to harm herself. But Dio was a roll, God bless ‘er. and she went on with her discussion of what it meant to be someone’s “pard.”

I want you two gals to understand that the kind o' friends that you are to each other--it’s a kind o’ friend is real goddam hard to find...an’ I was so dammed proud o' you two..fessin’ up, an each tryin’ to take the blame. Elizabeth...yer real lucky to have a pard like Carrie Anne...an’ she's real fortunate to have one like you. You understand that Hon?”

Elizabeth looked downcast still. “I think so...but I...I am a bad influence on her, everybody knows it...and...”

Elizabeth’s voice became very faint. “And people....the people I care ‘bout...they all die. I don’t want Carrie Anne to die. I would rather die myself than that happen...”

Carrie Anne leaned in closer to Elizabeth and whispered. "Ya can't die. I told the undertaker 'bout you, he says you can work for 'im when yer bigger"

Dio came over and sat on the bench next to Elizabeth. “Now Hon...I don't know all the details about why ye's wishin’ yerself dead...but I got a big favor to ask ye...”

Elizabeth looked at Miss Dio curiously. No one had asked a ‘favor” of her before. No adult anyway. She had always been told what to do and when and where to do it. In a tiny voice she answered, "Yes ma'am?"

“Lizzie..I need ye to keep on a stayin’ with us in this goddam vale o’ tears fer a spell...an’ it's real selfish o’ me that I do so, but I am gonna ask you anyhow...”

“What's a vale of tears?” interrupted Elizabeth. She looked over at Carrie Anne to see if she knew what the hell Miss Dio was talking about.

Dio sighed. “Hon...I am referrin’ to this world.,,the world o’ the livin’ as opposed to the next...to the Happy Huntin’ Ground, or what some o’ the tribes call the Other Side Camps. I kin understand ye wantin’ to go to the Happy Huntin’ Ground..they's probly folks ye love a-waitin’ there for ye...like I got m' Papaw an m' husban’ Jack there, waitin’ fer me.

Elizabeth thought she had a pretty good idea what Dio was talking about. She decided the woman must mean heaven, but she just didn’t know enough about religion to call it that. She then started to wonder if there was a thing such as the Unhappy Hunting Ground, where bad people would go. She tried to shake off that thought, so she could keep concentrating on what Dio was asking her.

“So you don’t want me to die and go to heaven?” she asked.

Once again, Dio found herself sighing. “Well...just not right now Hon. I have every confidence yer gonna get there some day. And we do all have to die sooner or later. I am just askin’ ye that if ye kin help it, try to make it later. Look...you know how much I love Carrie Anne don't ye?

Elizabeth nodded. “I think so...‘cause you gave her a horse.”

“Well, they's some things I cain't give Carrie. I kin give her a home, a pony, an shootin’ lessons an grub an all that...an’ I kin love her...but I cain't really be her pard. She needs you fer that.”

“I could try that...” Elizabeth looked at Carrie Anne. “You just gotta be careful around me 'cause... people tend to die around me.”

Carrie Anne shrugged "I'll risk it."

“Aw hell,” Dio laughed, “folks here in Deadwood, we don't die easy...right Carrie Anne?

“Goddamn right.” answered Roku, who was staring at a now empty whiskey bottle in a rather morose and slightly puzzled fashion. “Hey Dio, ya need to get another bottle of hootch for yer medical supplies. This’n seems about out.”

She then carefully placed the empty bottle on the back bar and headed for the door, betraying no indication of the unsteadiness most folks usually display after having finished off the better part of a pint of coffin varnish. At the door, she turned and fixed her stare on Carrie Anne.

“Hey, kid!”

Carrie Anne looked up, her face impassive.

“Ya know how ah said ya was gonna hav’ta earn m’ friendship back?”

Carrie Anne nodded.

“Well, ah figured ya were gonna be able to do it...I jus’ didin’t ‘spect ya was gonna be able to do it so goddamn quick. Thanks fer the rope.”

Without another word, Roku stalked out of the Number 10, hopefully off to find some dry garments.

Dio watched her go and then turned back to Elizabeth.

“Now Lizzie I know ye want to be gettin' on t' the Happy Huntin’ Ground so as to be with yer loved ones who are awaitin’ ye there...but best way to get there is to live well ‘n die well...and as fer livin’ well..one thing ye could do that would count nicely fer that is stayin’ here to be Carrie Anne’s pard. Please don’t don’t try to harm yerself again, Hon.”

Elizabeth smiled at Carrie Anne. “If she'll take the chance that I might accidentally cause her to die, then I will be her pard.” She thought for a moment. “And I won't try to hurt myself. Also, I won't ever try to drown Alonzo again...but I still don't like him.”

Dio handed Elizabeth her cup of tea. “That's ok I don' care fer the dirt eatin’ lump of a chile neither...an’ hell, yer allowed t’ not like folks. It's like Jesus tol’ his holy apostles, ‘Boys, remember that ye gotta love thy neighbor...but it don't mean ye gotta like the sonofabitch’...them are good words to live by.”

The two girls both seemed to drinking in this wisdom. “You know, I did go to church, like Miss Roku told me to,” said Elizabeth. “But God weren't there...” her voice trailed off.

Dio nodded, seemingly unsurprised by this news. Then she gently laid her hand on Elizabeth and Carrie Anne’s tightly clasped hands.

“And Lizzie?”

“Yes ma'am?”

“Thank you.”

Elizabeth looks surprised at this. “For what?” she asked.

“Fer stickin' around to be Carrie Anne's pard...it means the world to me...an’ I reckon it does to Carrie Anne as well."

Elizabeth blinked, and smiled an odd little smile. “Um... thank you ma'am for not shouting at me and looking after me just now...”

She looked shyly around the room at JF and Lola and Sal. “And thank you all too.”

Dio chuckled slightly. “Beelzebub's bunghole, Hon! Why in the name o’ Saint Pete's outhouse door would I yell at ye? I'm findin’ m'self right fond o’ ye.”
~~~

Friday, December 18, 2009

"A womb with a view" -- exploring the new Linden Homes

~~~
Inside a Japanese themed house in the Linden Homes. This one seems to have already been occupied and furnished somewhat.

Yeah, I know. Sorry about the title. But somebody had to say it, and I figured I might as well get at the head of the line.

Soooo, anyhow....there has been a good bit of discussion lately about the goals and perceived benefits--both for certain groups of residents and for LL--of the newly announced “Linden Homes” program. The idea of this project is to provide ready-made housing as a part of the benefits given to Premium Subscribers for their princely $9.95 per month.. It is currently in Beta, with the houses being offered to a limited number of Premium account holders, and if it goes well, they plan to make this a perk for all the Premies.

The "Japanese" area of the Linden Homes housing developments.

You can find out more about it here:

https://blogs.secondlife.com/community/land/blog/2009/12/04/home-is-where-you-hang-your-avatars-hat

And you can see where Hamlet Au has posted about it, asking for people’s reactions:

http://nwn.blogs.com/nwn/2009/12/new-linden-homes.html#comments

Is it a good idea? Is it something that will really help facilitate new residents’ acclimation to life on the grid? Or is it just another way for the Labsters to try to squeeze some more blood from the turnips, by boosting the number of premium accounts? Is it maybe a little bit of all of that?

Some commentators have suggested that if LL really wants to make this program something that will help newcomers to SL, they should make it available to all newcomers for something like their first three months in-world, and not just run it as a perk for the Premium account folks. They do have a point there, though conceivably, that could require an awful lot of little prefab homes.

Many people so far do seem to agree with the idea that new folks would be helped by having a ready-made place of their own, to decompress, to talk to friends, to suddenly realize that you don’t have to completely undress before you put on a different outfit...

But what are these places like?

Well, let's just set aside the larger issues of whether this will work as intended, or will be another one o those experiments where in about 6 months everyone will be standing around a large, smoking hole in the ground, staring into the ashes and going, “My...that was interesting...”

What I wanted to do for this first post on the subject was to simply go and look at the actual builds. I wasn't planning on making any big judgments on the idea or its merits, I just felt a desire to see what the builds themselves felt like.

On the public lands by the Elderglen infohub.

So I took the trip the other night, using map numbers gleaned from Prok's blog, and by golly, I had a real interesting time. I found myself starting out at the Elderglen infohub:

http://slurl.com/secondlife/Elderglen/121/167/31

It’s a nice, rambling elven-esque sort of visitor center, surrounded by some public park land with big colorful trees and huge toadstools, and just beyond the trees, the first in a series of themed housing tracts. The area closest to Eldgerglen has a “fantasy” theme, featuring what some of us in an unkind moment (and making a judgment based only on pictures rather than a live in-person visit) labeled as “Hobbit McMansions.”

Inside one of the Hobbit-style fantasy themed houses--kinda cozy!

In fact some of these are kind of cute. There are about four different models, some with grassy roofs, some like mini-castles, some with roof decks and some that are sort of stump-like. Scale is a bit odd, but they are not unpleasant. The way they are randomly distributed through the woodsy/toad-stooly environment makes it feel like it may have sorta happened in an organic way, rather than being built all at once like a Elven Levittown. But you know...I kept thinking, I bet a certain kind of new resident is gonna like this, and be happy for a few weeks or so until they figure out how to become a land owner or renter of something really cool. Or maybe they’ll just end up being enslaved by Goreans or Panther Women. Either way, it’s a place to start.

Fantasy themed home with a roof deck.
Obviously made for larger critters than me.


Surrounding the huge tracts of fantasy homes are three other themed housing developments. First I went to a modernist woodsy type place with about four different variations of big A-frames.

The forest of A-frames.

I think I liked these least of what I saw. They have a lot of wasted space, though I suspect it might encourage some of the new folk to begin learning how to play with prims as they find themselves driven to make wall partitions and lofts for these things.

Interior of an A-frame. Yeah. Kinda bleak.

Next, I went to the modernist suburban area, with lots of flat-roofed, large-windowed structures that are a paean to the rectangle.

In the suburban area, waiting for John Cheever.

I actually kind of liked this area, partly because the houses had these big plate windows which made them kind of less claustrophobic feeling, and also there were lofts or second floors in some of them. They just felt more interesting...and frankly, my affinity for these builds may also be a reflection of my innate affection for the square prim. You see, my most successful building efforts in SL have happened in the course of my exploration of the square and rectangular genre--rugs, windows, doors, chimneys, tables, benches, bunks, fireplaces and forges, cigar boxes and pictures, posters and dry sinks, etc. In fact, my friend September Blaisdale and I have been thinking about starting an in-world store called “Rectangles R Us.”

Inside one of the modernist suburban homes. Note this is on the second floor. In retrospect I am not sure if this second level was done by the Linden builder, or by the homeowner. I should check.

Anyhow, there again seemed to be about four different models, landscaped with rocks and trees in between them.

The last development is the “Japanese”-style housing tract. This was kinda fun, though I was struck that the houses were a lot less interesting on the inside than they were on the outside. Again a lack of second floors, no windows opening to the outside, and porches that had no access points--just a little odd. As a matter of fact, I came across a house that someone had furnished, and they seem to have done exactly what I thought people would want to do inside the A frames, which is to add their own loft or second floor.

The other thing about the Japanese area was that the trees in this development struck me as rather garish and cartoony.

Wandering the Japanese area and its bilious-hued foliage.

But still..it was kinda fun. I could see someone new coming into SL, and going “wow, this is cool..I can LIVE in one of these?” And then later on, they will see some of the kickass Asian builds, and this will no longer stir their souls. But like the other forms of Linden Homes, it is a place to start.

Interior of a Japanese themed house--not bad really...well, other than the tree bits sticking through the back wall.

Yep, that is what these all felt like--starter homes, an environment to get your feet wet. A place to try to develop a certain level of comfort with functioning in-world, in an environment where most everybody is in the same boat, or perhaps just recently graduated from a dinghy to a Sunfish.

I just hope that part of the deal is that the Lab will make sure that this environment is not overrun by the egregious neck-biters, and griefers and griefing recruiters, and all those chinless bum-biters who seem to frequent many of the new folks areas, giving them a hostile and negative initial impression.

Signs saying don't be naughty. Everyone obeys signs, don't they?

I did see signage at the info hub that stated what was not permitted in this part of the grid, but I hope the lab takes a more pro-active stance in this matter, perhaps with some regular patrolling by Lindens or maybe even a sting op with ringers posing as newcomers, and then crushing and banning anyone who harasses them.

I would enjoy seeing that.

The only thing I am not too sure about is how long a Premium account holder would wish to hold on to this kind of property. Yes, if they decide after a while to use their 512 allotment to apply to something better, then their Linden Home would automatically go into the pot to once again be redistributed. But would some people hang on to it for sentimental reasons after they no longer need or use it regularly, provided they don't want to to use their tier for another property? I really have no idea how likely it is that someone might get this and stay just because they liked it. I would be surprised if they did so, because these builds do have such a starter home feel to them. Most people in all likelihood will not want them forever. And that would be good as it would be nice to maintain a sense that people in these areas are predominately a community of new folks, who can be mutually supportive of one another.

I hope the Labbites think that one through, rather than letting an unused stockpile of these build up as people move on, but don't necessarily cut loose of them.
~~~

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Do you love me? do you loathe me? do you even know I exist? -- our dichotomous relationship with Linden Lab

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I go back and forth between sometimes being incredibly disappointed with Linden Lab, and other times feelin’ kinda sorta positive about those folks: feeling like...well, at least they’re trying to get things right. So, in between saying mean and snarky things, and threatening to kick poor old Phillip Linden square in the balls if I ever meet him, I do make an effort to give them credit when I think it is due, and say encouraging things when they seem to be giving it the old college try.

Happily wallowing in Caledon's "courtesy and old-world charm"

Like this recent development in which the Lab is trying to come up with a means to address the problem of misappropriation of creative content in world.

I won’t go into the whole explanation of the process that they are experimenting with--suffice to say that as I understand it, the idea is that when it becomes established that someone’s texture or object design has been misappropriated and used to create other stuff in-world, LL will pretty much nuke the offending material, turning objects into plywood spheres, and textures into monochromatic disappointments.

Is this a perfect solution? No of course not. I am well past thinking there are perfect solutions to any issue, whether in SL or real life.

Does it have a lot of potential for things to go wrong and make people unhappy?.

Oh, you bet. I call your attention to Emilly Orr’s well thought-out post on this subject. Emilly is a hell of a lot smarter than I am, and has a mind that focuses in ways that I always find intriguing. And I think she has a lot of really good points in her post. But are the negative outcomes she envisions inevitable, rather than simply being possible?

Hecate’s drawers, y'all, I got no freakin’ idea.

It is entirely possible that things will turn out with the results Emilly suggests...or it could be something entirely different. One thing we do know for sure about the grid is that it is a festival of unintended consequences. Hell, it is even possible that this plan the Lab is working on could actually discourage the misappropriation of other people's content. There is a good chance that the nuking of content which is based on misappropriated materials would not happen all that often, so the collateral damage to unsuspecting buyers might not be all that dreadful. It’s hard to say. After all, I can never shake the sensation that we are in an extended beta phase here, and anything we customers or the folks at Lab do is still in the realm of mad scientist experimentation.

Hey, pretty much, both us and them, we’re all just making this shit up as we go along.

But whatever the outcome...whether it’s more positive than negative, or wallows somewhere in the vast range in between, I gotta hand it to the Lab with regards to one key aspect of this: they caught on that this issue is important to a lot of folks and they are trying to do something about it.

Look at this quote from Pink Linden’s Dec. 9 announcement about this concept:

“As we said in our recent Content Management Roadmap blog post, we believe that Resident-created content is the heart and soul of Second Life, and we want to help everyone continue to benefit from the amazing creativity that has been displayed by our Residents inworld. When content creators are successful, Second Life is a better world for all of us--more inspiring, more spontaneous, and more fun!

Today we are pleased to announce continued forward progress along this roadmap: a pilot program to test some early improvements to our intellectual property complaint process. The goal of this program is to make the process more convenient and streamlined for Residents, and to empower content creators to better control their content.”

Yeah, to some extent, she is saying “the content-making population is necessary for our product to remain appealing to the customers and is therefore necessary for us labbies to continue getting our paychecks.” But it is also a recognition that there is an issue here that makes residents’ stomachs churn and their angst to increase. "Content theft" as it is commonly known, is something that matters to a lot of us who create, who have friends who create, or who rely on the continued productivity and happiness of the creators in order to be able to do all the wacky nonsense we love to do in-world.

In the past, the Lab has been known to turn away from big issues like this, or even to cheerfully embrace the perpetrators who were making the trouble, rather than responding to the wishes and interests of the majority of residents. The Lab has been known to say when something was fucked up, “hey, it’s up to you residents to fix things that have gotten fucked up--remember, “your world, your imagination...your problem.” Linden Lab in the past has given many of us the impression of being laissez faire, lazy, and uninterested--they often used the excuse, “well, there just isn’t any way of making a technical fix for that problem," or "we just can't keep everybody happy, so we just can’t--or won’t--do anything at all...Have a nice Second Life, fuckers.”

But this time, they are actually trying to do something.

Yeah, it may blow up in the their faces, it may do bizarre things we’ll all regret. But it’s something. It suggests to us that, hey, maybe there is someone on the other side of the equation that actually cares enough to try.

And I think they deserve some credit for that.

Because, after all, one of the other things many of us have felt for a long time is that the Labsters doesn't really understand us or really want to know who we are and what we want and need. It has seemed to many of us that who we are and what we do makes them...uncomfortable.

It has been a long time since they used the old tag line, “Your World, Your Imagination.” But it often seemed that if your imagination wasn’t focused on some largely human-centric, shiny futurist utopia or standard post-apocalyptic dystopia, sexy-youthful contemporary shopaholicism, or hippy-dippy Burning Man-style artistic range of visions, they just didn’t fucking get it. And more to the point, they didn’t seem to want to. If what you were doing was focused on something like exploring the historical past (or an imagined alternative past), or pursuing neo-traditional literary and artistic interests, or something that was non-human-centric or that they found embarrassing like furries, tinies, Gor, elves and so on--they seemed to try to ignore it as much as possible.

This impression was reinforced by situations like what happened back at the time of SL6B, when Ina Centaur’s Shakespeare in SL project was rejected for inclusion in the SL birthday exhibits as not fitting in with the theme of “the future of the Metaverse.” I know that whole situation was incredibly complex and confusing, but at the heart of it, it simply seems that there was a major difference of opinion within the Lab about what should be seen as representative of the “future,” as Ina’s Skin Encyclopedia was accepted, but Shakespeare was not.

Well, dammit, the “future” is not just about new stuff: it also can be about continuity with the past and the present, and a re-imagining of the framework in which we explore our existing cultural, artistic and intellectual heritage. It can be about sharing our diverse histories with each other in new and creative ways though the medium of the continually evolving technology.

And--again, trying to be fair to the Lab--maybe there ARE some people in the organization who do get it...who in effect, get us. I found it interesting that yes, Shakespeare in SL wasn’t deemed appropriate for SL6B, but does show up in the new SL promos about “what is SL?"

In the slideshow, under the category "Start Exploring," there is a screen entitled "Get Cultured" which features this text:

"Looking for culture? Second Life is full of museums, art exhibits, book clubs and theater. A virtual Shakespeare acting troop routinely presents the best of the Bard, while the Smithsonian recently launched the Latino Virtual Museum." (my bolding)

Actually I think looking through this whole new promotional explanation of SL is quite illuminating. I believe it can be seen as being suggestive of how the company generally understands it's customer base and their interests--as well as how they perhaps would like it to be.

The presentation is still primarily human-centric. In the machinama portion of "What is SL?" the avatars shown are primarily young, contemporary-looking humans. There's even a guy in a suit with a briefcase (he really doesn't look like he's much fun to hang around with, and if I was going to be really coarse about it, I would suggest that he appears to desperately need to get laid). At the very end, you see some tinies and some furries, but damn, you better look fast or you'll miss em. Some people are shown in period clothing, but they obviously are just going to dress-up costume parties--not roleplaying.

In fact, nowhere in all of this is there anything about combat-oriented sims, or roleplaying of any sort, or storytelling or the virtual literature movement in any of its manifestations. Well...maybe there is something implied by captions such as "free yourself" and "free your mind," while other captions suggest you can "change your look" and "change your mind." But it's hard to say. And I certainly don't think the casual touron looking at this promotional peice is going to say, "Change my look? Free my mind? Whoa! dude! I could develop a persona as a lady cop in working-class Berlin of the Weimar Republic era, and interact with other people who are interested in that!"

It's like how in the "Showcase" category for "places" they include Caledon. And you go, "Wow, hey! Cool!" But here's the description:

"Step back in time to the 19th Century. Caledon is a vibrant Victorian-themed community within Second Life. If it’s courtesy and old world charm you’re seeking, look no further. Put on your best Victorian suit or dress, and join Caledonians at their annual Harvest Festival- or become a member of this ever-growing online community."

I don't think that really helps you understand the opportunities for roleplay...and yes, I know Caledon is not specifically an "rp community" but rp certainly does happen there. And no mention of steampunk...

It's great they highlight Caledon. But at the same time, you get the feeling that their understanding of that complex arrangement of communities is extremely superficial. Oh, I suppose if they really tried to explain it with any degree of accuracy, it might just confound and possibly frighten the average casual visitor, but it it does feel rather...weak.

But, still, I have to give them some credit..because it feels like they are trying. Another example is when Blue Linden's SL travel blog featured a post about the ironclad battles that are organized by Hotspur O'Toole and his fellow proponents of nautical mayhem. That suggests a certain open-mindedness. I thought it was pretty cool that a Linden seems to have actually gone and watched a battle and talked to the folks involved to get a sense of what the fuck was going on. Likewise, I have also seen a post in which Blue visited the tinies of Raglan Shire, AND put on a tiny av to fit in. Those kinds of things are really encouraging.

But you know...I have been in SL since late 2004. Dio has existed since May 2005. And the only time I ever met a Linden (that I knew was a Linden, anyway) was when a number of years ago I applied for a liaison job and got an interview. It didn't go all that well. Nothing really wrong with how they approached it--it just was obvious that they were looking for someone different from me...someone focused more on the technical side of helping people, rather than the social aspects. At the time I knew relatively little about building or trouble-shooting, and if that was what they wanted, then they were right not to hire me.

But otherwise, I really haven't experienced much contact with people from the company. And yes, I will freely admit that the lack of contact was a two-way street. Yeah, they never wander through the kinds of places that I live in, but it's also true that I have only gone to a few of their office hour things, and then I gave up on it after getting frustrated with the challenges of communication in that kind of situation. Nor have I posted on the SL forums (as is true for about 80% of the SL user base). I guess I got burned out on company sounding boards after dealing with the Electronic Arts TSO forums, which were dominated by the obnoxious, condescending lumptards who represented EA, and their witless sycophants.

Yeah...I know, I know, I just need to fuckin' get over that.

So anyhow, people like me probably could do a better job of trying to get our perspective across to LL. That's one thing that really struck me as I looked at the current "What is SL" promo. It can't ALL be LL's fault that they don't understand us, that they don't know who we are.

Maybe a lot of us have been too insular. For so long, I never bothered to connect with anyone from the Lab because they simply seemed irrelevant within the context of what I was doing. And the other thing that struck me, looking at the subtle hints and sub-texts within the promotional blurbs and the showcase: the people within LL must be a good bit less homogeneous in background and point of view than some of us have thought. Just like they seem to have not done a good job of comprehending the true diversity of the resident population, we haven't really understood how diverse they probably are as well.

I don't know if any of them will read this. The only time I know for sure that Linden Lab people have read this blog was when I did the spoof on their "economic model," comparing their leadership to the ancient Easter Islanders who committed the island population to building hundreds of giant stone heads. Statcounter data indicated that in fact a fair number of people from Linden Lab looked at that one...which I find a little frustrating as there certainly have been other things I have written that were not nearly so goddamn silly and self-indulgent. Sometimes I think I have written some stuff that might actually be of interest or value to the labbites, but... oh well, that's how life works sometimes.

When some of us were heavily involved in The Sims Online (TSO), Will Wright used to regularly wander around in the game (using an alt, of course) and he interacted directly with a lot of the people who were doing unexpected, wild and woolly things with his creation. Maybe the Lab could do well to have some more folks wandering in the same way, and not just to generate a "travel guide" like Blue's, but to actually develop a first-hand awareness of what is going on and what people want and need to do what they are doing. And on the other side of the equation, maybe I'll try again with going to some office hours.
~~~