Thursday, December 23, 2010

Rod Humble comes to LL: we got a new guy to break in

Linden Lab announced today that they have a new CEO coming on board in January: Rod Humble, who will be leaving a vice president post at Electronic Arts, where he oversaw the Sims brand.

So what does this mean for us, the surviving residents of SL, the unpaid part of the equation that creates the content that makes the platform an attractive and viable product?

Well boils and gurls, I ain't sure. My inclination is to say that it's a good sign, suggesting that LL isn't getting ready to pull the plug on SL anytime soon. And I like the idea that the guy comes from a background that actually involves games and online communal activity (he had a role in Sony's Everquest before going to EA). But I've been wrong before. You're welcome to ask any of my former spouses--I'm sure they'll be happy to tell you in detail exactly how much I have been wrong before. So here's some random evidence I have collected, which I invite you to review and consider, and then we can try to arrive at some conclusions together:

First off, here is a picture of Mr. Humble in his work space:

photo from

You will note that not only is Mr. Humble not a terribly pretentious looking dude, he's got toys on his desk--there's a little tank and some ships, and other crap, not unlike the crap I have in my office. So he's human--that kind of bodes well...maybe.

I also found a blurb from when he was made a VP at EA back in October 2008:

"Humble will be responsible for The Sims Label, which develops and markets life-simulation games and online communities with an emphasis on creativity, community and humor."

I like the fact that when he was moving up the food chain at EA, among the things they mentioned about the brand he would be managing was the emphasis on community and humor. Those are things I value highly, and hopefully he actually has s commitment to both of those ideals.

That said, I must admit I find it mildly disturbing that he worked for EA. I haven't had anything to do with that particular company since the days of The Sims Online, but when I did have some dealings with them, the people I was interacting with were a mixed bag--some were decent, straight-shooting types; others were consistently condescending, manipulative pukes. So it could go either way.

I will admit to having been a bit confused about when Mr. Humble actually joined EA--it turns out he went there in 2004, but it is unclear to me as to how much he was involved with TSO before it was killed off in August '08. He seems to have been more directly associated with the various offline manifestations of "The Sims" franchise, so hopefully he isn't burdened with any of the responsibility for the incandescent three-ring cluster-fuck that was EA's mismanagement of TSO. That is, however, only my impression of the circumstances. I'd love to get to ask him if he had any hand in what happened to TSO, and what kinds of lessons he thinks might have been learned from that particular adventure.

For that matter, it would be fun to talk with him about what kinds of things he discovered overseeing "The Sims" lable from late 2008 until the present. If you read the comments made by "community members" on Sims forums, many of them don't seem to have thought very highly of Mr. Humble. Again that could bode either ill or good--the things that they seemed to have issues with were an alleged interest on the part of Mr. Humble to introduce "rpg" elements into The Sims, and downplay some of the more supernatural aspects of that game brand.

To be honest, I have no idea what the frenchfriedfuck those people are talking about, but hey, maybe it's important. Myself, I could see some real benefit coming the addition of "rpg elements" into "The Sims," even though back when I played it, mostly I just liked to build shit.

The key thing here is that as far as I can tell, Mr. Humble isn't a bean counter like M was supposed to be. That could be a bad thing if he's into the whole hippy-dippy, do what feels good, oh "we don't need things like deadlines" philosophy that made Phil Rosedale such a a mixed blessing. The last thing we need is another CEO who doesn't establish clear goals and standards for his staff and insist that they be responsible and productive.

On the other hand, as a person who apparently comes from the creative side rather than the bean counter clan, maybe...just maybe, there is a chance that Mr. Humble could be the sort of CEO who will listen to and appreciate the customer base that pays the bills. Maybe he won't be afraid of us and embarrassed by us like Philip and his minions seemed to be...maybe he will actually come down from the Linden ivory tower and walk forth among the residents and find out how we could all work together to keep SL healthy and profitable and fun...

...and maybe Santa will finally bring me that fucking pony for Christmas.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Christmas traditions: the morphing of my holiday

It's been a lot of years since I had to travel at Christmastime, other than taking a train down into the City for various reasons, some related to fun and some to profit. And that experience had a curious charm, even with the necessity of riding on the crowded, dirty cars of Metro North's aging collection of rolling stock: sharing the proximity and the holiday spirit of the lumpy mass of my fellow passengers, all piled into the shabby seats; bundled up layers of wool and goose down jackets that made them look like a population of bourgeois Michelin men; and the snowy Connecticut countryside and towns rushing past the windows, holiday lights sprinkled over the passing suburbs like colored sprinkles on some kind of complex confection.

Yeah, I don't get to do that anymore. But that was different from the grim reality of what holiday travel means for most folks: the dreadful Bataan death march that is going by plane anywhere in late December, knowing, just knowing that sooner or later you will be shat upon by the transportation gods, sitting on the floor of some dreary air terminal, listening to harried gate agents making yet another announcement of yet another delay...

And that was precisely the joyous festival of frustration I got to experience this Christmas season for the first time in...oh hell, I don't even know how long...

Yep, this year, I'm on the road from yesterday though Christmas day. I writing this on a borrowed machine accessing a borrowed network, and now, things are ok. Yesterday? well that was another matter. The place in which the transportation gods decided to shit in my chapeau was in my second airport of the day, where I had to change planes for the last leg of my trip.

Things were delayed, people were piling up in the waiting areas, my flight got shifted to a different gate, which, OH JOY OF JOYS, REQUIRED THAT I GO THROUGH SECURITY AGAIN IN ORDER TO GET THERE...

...and as I went through the process of once again partially undressing and disassembling my kit, and lining up the trays with all my personal crap in them to be swallowed into the maw of the magic "personal crap inspection" machine, I observed ahead of me a couple with a toddler who was struggling and looking even more unhappy than all the rest of us combined...and the TSA gal running the new "hold up your hands and show me your goodies" machine looked at them and said,

"Miss, he's too young to have to go through this"

Without any major fuss or unnecessary theatrics, she pulled the barrier tape to close off access to the backscatter rig, politely opened a side gate, and took the mother and the child through the walk-through metal detector. Then she called over the woman's husband to follow through the same machine so he could keep up with his family and help them collect their gear from the baggage x-ray.

He looked pretty surprised.

Anyhow. after I got through security and reassembled myself, I went to wait with about 400 new friends who were packed into a space about the equivalent of modest-sized horse barn, and I noticed something.

Mind you, it had been a long time since I had traveled at the holidays,, but this trip I saw what seemed like a lot more young men and women in uniform than I was used to seeing in the past. In the first airport I had been in earlier that day, there had been dozens of army personnel in their washed-out looking desert pattern BDUs, lugging the old traditional duffel bag and wearing packs. And in the second airport de jour I saw marines in their blues and tans, and numerous sailors in their dress blue crackerjacks, peacoats and dixie cup hats.

It made me think of pictures of train stations in WWII...and it made me happy that these young men and women could be traveling in the uniform of their profession, and unlike a time I remember back when our society was more outwardly and unabashedly anti-military, no one gave them a ration of shit or gave them hostile looks. Instead, they were just fellow travelers, and if they got a look or a comment from anyone, it was a look of admiration and a word of thanks.

But then it struck me...oh, like into the third hour of my sitting there...that there were other uniformed people present who weren't getting the same kind reaction from the general public. I went back over towards the security area, and when the TSA crew supervisor came out to look at the nearby arrival/departure screens to see how the evening's total goat screw was progressing, I went up to her and said, "excuse me, Miss?"

I know what was going through her mind. Here was some crazy old bat in a G-1 jacket and mangy old FDNY ball cap, coming up dragging a dirty old duffel bag...and I think the gal showed great restraint in not instinctively reaching for her pepper spray. But seriously, I know she was expecting some new round of lambasting and idiocy. Nonetheless, she looked me up and down and politely replied, "yes ma'am, can I help you?"

...and I said, "Miss, I just wanted to say thank you. Your people are acting in a very professional and efficient manner, and being very thoughtful of the folks coming through...and well...I imagine you probably get yelled at a lot more than you get I wanted to say, good job, and it is appreciated."

She looked startled for a moment and then smiled.

"Thank you ma'm, I will be sure to tell the rest of my crew that. That is nice to hear."

I did eventually get where I was going, and you know what? I got there in part because the TSA folks are trying their best to do a thankless job.

You might feel like you want to piss and moan about the quality of TSA personnel, you may want to say that the system is not efficient and doesn't deal with the real problems and blah blah blah, and "invasion of privacy" and all that...and as far as I am concerned, you can just shut the fuck up.

Remember, I have personal knowledge of what happened when there wasn't the level of security we have now. I'll take inconvenience and frustration any day, over the alternative. Yes, the people and the system are not perfect, but they sure as hell improve the odds for us. You want a perfect security system that doesn't take up a lot of your time, and doesn't cost a shitload of money? I have a news flash for you, assholes: it ain't happening.

You want a guarantee? Wait for the next life, motherfucker, cuz it sure ain't coming in this one.

So I have decided, now I have a new holiday tradition.

In all honesty, at this point in my life's journey, I don't have a lot of Christmas traditions like some people do: I hate shopping; I haven't put up a tree in a number of years; I left the outdoor lights behind when husband number three's house got foreclosed on; my faith has evolved to the point where mass collective worship with a bunch of so-called Christians just ain't compatible with my personal way of trying to connect to the divine...and I am a fucking diabetic so baking crap made of over-refined flour and sugar is a source of unnecessary what I have to work with is limited.

Well, here's the new tradition: I will make sure that when things are at their shittiest, I will say something kind and positive to someone who is not having a good day, someone whose hard work is not appreciated, or who is getting nothing but one ration of shit after another from six different directions.

And I don't mean the obvious candidates--active military personnel, WWII veterans, firefighters...yeah, of course you should say "thank you" to folks like that, be decent to them. I mean that you should be decent to someone who is really getting excoriated on a regular basis: snow plow drivers, customer service people at Linden lab, taxi drivers, subway conductors, fast food workers...but especially TSA personnel.

In thinking on it, you should be like that all the time. There's no meed to be a mewling, pizzle-sucking douchebag with people who are just trying to do their job. But we should particularly try to do it this time of year when the stress and nonsense is particularly intense. If you want to be crass about it, think what life would be like without these people. If you have to whine and be an asshole to somebody, hey, that's what we have relatives for, right?

Thursday, December 16, 2010

RP lives on in SL

Hey y'all,

Yeah, I know I've been an irresponsible old doxie and haven't written or posted much lately except for the silly little bit about the "Chanuka Cham" at Wally World. And I'm pretty sure that don't really count.

To some extent the lack of productivity on this ridiculous blog has been the result of work and other demands of rl eating my brain, like a Zombie Andrew Zimmern (who, by the way, I have enjoyed the times I have seen his show--not only will he freakin' eat goddam near anything, he does it with considerable gusto and cheerful elan, and what seems to be a genuine respect for the cultures that produce the various bug-and-slug-based cuisines he seems to so thoroughly relish). I just haven't had much mental energy for writing lately.

The other thing is that--believe it or not--I have been really busy in Second Life, because there are exciting things going on in the world of historical rp. Let me give you a little update.

First of all, as you will know from a previous post I recently made, the core team in Deadwood has embarked on a mission to revitalize the sim. The good news is that we are making progress. There are new people showing up, there are nights when there are a substantial number of folks in the sim at once, and things like gunplay, death and dismemberment are flourishing like they did in the old days of the sim. Just the other night I had to patch up Rod Eun's leg, and pull a bullet from C.T. Kungler's shoulder. There are others kinds of fun stuff going on as well: among the folks who have become regulars there is a player whose character is a mute orphan girl whom we have dubbed "Silence" (as we don't know her real name). In order to help Silence communicate better, Dio is teaching indian sign language to the child. I'm doing this by drawing on a wonderful web site that offers a "vocabulary" of native American sign language elements that were commonly used in the latter half of the 19th century. Although "in character" Dio of course knows sign language from the times she has spent among various indian peoples, for her typist this is one of those wonderful self-directed learning opportunities. I was delighted to discover that the standard northern/central plains sign for "friend" is constructed from elements that literally mean "like two brothers who have grown up together."

Is that fuckin' poetic, or what?

Among other projects we have going on, Addison Leigh is building like a maniac, adding some wonderful new structures to the Deadwood streetscape, and sim Owner Caed Aldwych has constructed a new and simplified OOC orientation/Vendor area that will save prims and be easier for new folks to navigate once it goes live. And my friend Serenek, a relatively new member of the Deadwood community, has worked with Addi to create a dandy boarding house, where respectable gals can find decent accommodations and a nice little island of civilization in primitive hogwallow that is our town.

So we are seeing some progress there. The team feels like we probably have a pretty good shot at keeping the sim going for some time, and more importantly that people feel like they are getting something out of the experience provided by the sim. It's not just another dead and empty interesting build.

Speaking of interesting builds, in other news, 1920s Berlin is continuing to make progress. The build recently relocated to a full sim, with more variety (including a super Brandenberg Gate) and more activity. There are more stores, more dwellings, more public spaces, and more businesses in general--there is even an active taxi cab service that will pick you up at the trains station and deliver you to wherever you want to go in the city.

IC, I am still bartending regularly at the Keller, a more-or-less run-down dance hall and bar in a moderately shabby neighborhood...the job augments my income from my day job as an organizer and office worker for the anarcho-syndicalist labor union, the Freie Arbeiters Union-Deutschland (which frankly doesn't pay that well).

Once again, Jo Yardley has done a splendid job of recreating the look and feel of Weimar era Berlin, but on an even grander scale and with more complexity and depth than before. The community is growing, and there is more interest in doing roleplaying in the sim: I have been asked to lead a couple of "intro to RP " discussion and they were well attended.

Finally, I wanted to update you on what is going on in Alsium, the roman sim that that I have been involved with since it opened earlier this year. It has undergone a change in ownership, and is being rebuilt. It was beautiful before, but was clearly more"inspired by" roman culture and architecture, rather than standing as a "recreation" of a roman community from the time of Marcus Aurelius. Now, a new builder, Lexusz Mornington, has been engaged, and the future of the sim looks extremely promising. The new owners are working with that new builder and the community at large to collectively plan and develop a new kind of Roman sim that SL has not seen before--one that represents iconic elements of historical roman life and culture, featuring historically plausible composite buildings, organized into a coherent--and still visually appealing--roman coastal resort city.

I am really getting excited about this project, especially as I have had the chance to see mock-ups of some of the proposed architectural elements, which the designer has based on actual ancient buildings, but adapted to be functional within the context of SL. In my humble opinion, the new build is gonna knock your socks off.

So, you may ask, what's the point here, besides the fact that Dio has kept her saggy ol' ass busy running from one time period to another in her off hours?

The point is, to my delight (and a certain degree of surprise) historical roleplaying and creative sim building continues in SL, and, in fact, is attracting some new adherents (bit by bit). After a long dry spell this fall when activity seemed to be dropping off, I am seeing it come back.

That is, of course, a purely subjective conclusion and based on my limited experience in the fairly restricted sphere of places I wander around in. And I don't have a good explanation for it--are people finding they have more time on their hands to fill now that it gets dark earlier (and let's face it, what television has to offer blows beyond belief)? Is the economy actually getting a little better and people have the confidence and spare cash to buy some clothing and build or buy some new structures in a virtual world?

Yes there are a lot of sims that remain empty and lifeless--some of them wonderful builds, and others that deserve to go the way of the dodo--but in places where people are refusing to give up and keep trying to make the sims evolve and activity happen, people are showing up and having fun.

Maybe the sky still isn't ready to fall, just yet.

Monday, December 6, 2010

I fear for the future of the republic...

The above was seen in the food section of certain big box retailer...

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Saving a sim

Part of my effort to help save a sim: Kuhr's Wholesale Liquor and Fine Tobacco

I don't know, maybe it's the phase of the moon or something like that, but lately I've found myself wandering from one sim to another that needs some help.

Things do tend to go in cycles, and everything has a life span, but that doesn't mean we have to just roll over and just say, "oh well, natural selection is inevitable--the herd must be thinned!" I admire the people who try to do what they can to revitalize a project that they care about.

One place where this process is underway is in Deadwood. Traffic dropped off and people found themselves struggling to maintain the sense of shared narrative that makes a place like Deadwood so special. I will confess that I was part of the problem: between the demands of real life and getting caught up in splitting my time between Deadwood and other sims such as Alsium and 1920s Berlin, I wasn't contributing much to life in the 1870s. We can only stretch ourselves so far, and we have to make choices.

So when the folks in Deadwood decided to not give up and to look at how they could work collectively to breathe some life back into the project, I became determined to do what I could. I have made my choice, and I will just have to spend less time with my Roman and Weimar era friends.

At present a significant effort is being made: sim owner Caed Aldwych has given a carefully selected group of die-hards and oldtimers permission to add new structures to the build and to provide "set dressing" to various environments within the rp area. The roleplay timeframe is moving into 1877, when the town had more complexity and socio-economic depth, and that should help make things more interesting. Rents have been reduced (at least temporarily) to encourage more activity. This enabled me to make my first contribution to the revitalization process: a wholesale liquor and tobacco store on Main Street.

My next production will be a blacksmith and farrier's shop located back off one of the secondary alleys, and I am looking forward to playing around with that (my friend Clay and I built a dandy smith's forge back during our time in Deadwood 1.0, and I intend to dig that out). Other people are working on projects such as the Gem and Bella Union saloons, a jail, a bank, and other diverse businesses providing goods and services that fit within the context of 1877-78.

To bump up interest--and traffic-some of us have been doing what folks in many rp sims do these days: setting certain times where people will concentrate on coming into the sim, so there will be more likelihood of having someone to interact with. Likewise, people like Clay (now known as C.T. Kungler) and the Leitners are hosting regularly reoccurring events each week, such as boxing matches and talent shows, which give people a reminder that the sim exists, and provide an opportunity to come together and see what can happen.

So far we have seen improvement in traffic, the sim looks good, and we've been having some fun. A few of us have been trying to encourage folks we know from other sims (and time periods) to stop by and try it out.

Is it going to work?

I've got no goddam idea.

But the important things is that we are having a good time trying. It kinda brings us back to an idea that gets trotted out periodically: that ultimately the quality of the experience we have in SL is shaped by our own actions and choices. If you sort of slouch around, expecting other people to entertain you or to keep things fixed and running smoothly, you're probably going to be disappointed.

So if any of y'all have other thoughts of how a community might try to keep their sim lively and interesting, I would appreciate hearing your thoughts.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Jack of the Lantern -- a story for the season


A retelling of a traditional Irish story....

Long ago in the old country

in days when the Gael were just startin' to follow in the path of Good Patrick

there lived the meanest man in Christendom...

well...truth be told, the meanest man of any land

and his name was Jack

he was so mean his neighbors all feared him

he kicked wee dogs, he yelled at the young'uns

he played dreadful jokes on everyone

once he even snuck up on the divil himself and tied a knot in his tail

he was so wicked it seemed he would live forever

... as pricks tend to do

but sure enough along came the day when even he died

so there he was

"well this is bloody lovely, here I am dead and all"

"I guess I'll be takin' me self off to hell then...I know they won't want me upstairs"

so he trudges off to the gates of Hades

But the divil bars the door an waves a pitchfork at him

says he

"where do ye think yer goin?"

Jack replies

"in there, Scratch, tis where I belong ain't it?"

but the divil shakes his head no

"you're too mean for even in here!...and don't ye go thinkin I don't know who put that kink in me tail!"

says Jack in reply,

"well, where shall I go?"

The divil sneered and waved his hand,

"pah, ye can go to heaven for all I care!"

so Jack sets off fer the pearly gates and is still a half mile off, when up comes a runnin' ol Peter himself, his sandals flappin', his long beard trialin behind him in the wind and his holy bathrobe floppin'

says the blessed Saint,

"where do ye think yer a goin', Bucko?"

Jack looked perplexed,

"The divil wouldna let me in downstairs so I came here and..."

But Good Peter holds up his hand and scowls

"OH NO yer NOT, laddie! If they wouldna let ye in down below, yer certainly not a-passin' though these gates!""

and Jack, he looked about...he couldna go to Hell he couldna go to heaven

so he set down to ...

...well... he took to weepin'

...for the first time, in his sorry existence, live or dead, he wept

an' the ol Saint's heart softened, and says he,

"Arright, laddie me buck...chin up... I tell ye what...I'll send ye back to earth as a spirit"

"and ye can wander an think upon yer wicked deeds and maybe in a few thousand years, I'll look at the tick sheet and see if we can let you in, eh?"

So off Jack goes... and he wanders the earth, and he was so lonely as the centuries went by...

thus, he took a turnip and hollowed it out...and carved a wee face on it

and put a candle inside, to make a little lantern, to carry and to keep him company

and people would see his light comin' o'er the hills at night, especially on the nights when the spirits come forth, like all hallows eve...

and the livin' folk still feared him. so beastly was his reputation

and they would say

"look out! for here comes Jack of the lantern"

So they took to making their own hollowed out turnip lanterns, with wee grimacing faces on them to scare Jack away from their doors

And when the folk came to amerikay...

they found the Indian squash..the big round poompkins

those were far easier to hollow out and cut a face into it

and they began the makin' o' their lanterns for the nights when the spirits all walk about in the land

an' they call em jack o' lanterns

for among the spirits that wander abroad on those nights like all hallows eve..they know that Jack is among the shades that walk

and they fear his evil tricks still

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Evolve or die

Just the other day, I received a message from my friend Betty Doyle who runs an in-world business called Ingenue. She is a merchant/content creator, specializing in hair, clothing and shoes that are inspired by (but not necessarily direct copies of) vintage fashion from the 1930s-60s. She wanted to inform me that she had a clearance sale going on.

That's no big newsflash these days: lots of merchant/content creators seem to be looking to blow stuff out to get attention, to make some quick jack to pay the rent, that sort of thing. On a purely apocryphal level, I think we are all aware that many merchants are not doing well. It has even become a sad reality that every one of has a friend or knows someone that given up and pulled the plug on their business, or is pretty much ready to.

Getting the news about a clearance sale, I would have thought this was the case with Betty as well, except that her message also informed me that she had just re-done her main store, and had taken on a space in an additional space in a major shopping mall. that many of them are even at the point of pulling the plug and giving up.

You don't do stuff like that when you're on the verge of going tits up.

In fact, it turned out that the clearance sale was of older items--including some of Betty's great retro hair--for crazy low prices, because she is making room for newer items that she considers better made and better looking than her earlier efforts. Betty is one of those people who keeps continually extending her own reach, learning and working with the content creation tools as they evolve, getting new software, always trying to improve her products. So she is giving people a chance to get some of her older items at a deep discount before she retires them.

Having an epiphany while shopping back in Ingenue's clearance shed

And she also tries very hard to keep introducing new items--despite having to deal with the challenge of having a rl toddler in her house, who I understand has mastered the art of rearranging her furniture and playing Edmund Hillary on the dining room table.

So she keeps adopting improved technology, she invests in regularly fixing up and remodeling her retail spaces to keep them fresh, she tries new ideas on how to sell and where to sell, and she works very hard to keep developing new and better content, which continually amazes me because her earlier stuff was nothing to sneeze at. I think her work has always been exquisite and fun (and so I highly recommend you go check out her clearance sale stuff--it's in a little shed behind her main store building at ). Nonetheless, she keeps trying to evolve as a content creator and look to the future.

And it has results. When I talked to Betty about it, she says yes, things aren't as wild-ass profitable as they were back in the wacky-hypey days of 2006-7, but she is doing alright--pretty darn good in fact.

Of course there are other factors that enter into the reasons that she is doing better than many other merchant/content creators. One is that she has found a niche product that is not being cranked out by everyone and his brother. Making a line like hers requires knowledge of vintage fashion, hard work and a good bit of skill to produce. I know Betty also fights the temptation to participate in every hunt, freebie deal, discount day, and special fashion event that comes down the pike. A lot of people seem to be catching on to this reality--that it pays to choose carefully which give-aways and dog-and-pony shows you'll take part in, which is evidenced in a blog post by Grazia Horwitz and the ensuing discussion. As folks point out in that discussion, there is so much of that kind of stuff going on that it becomes a huge distraction for the content creators, as well as diluting the perceived value of their work.

But I digress.

My point is that there are certainly a number of factors that enable a merchant/content creator like Betty to keep on going, but that ultimately it comes down to churning out good new stuff, adopting the new technology as it comes along, and trying to keep thing fresh.

And that has me wondering if there is a valuable lesson in this for the rest of us who have tried to contribute to life on the platform. For those of us who don't create content like buildings and clothing and hair and machine guns--but who try to foster a sense of community, to encourage social and intellectual interaction, to promote the participatory improv theater that is role playing in SL, to facilitate the sharing of stories and ideas--how can we move forward and not end up getting thinned from the herd?

Obviously we have to evolve in the same ways that the successful merchant /content creators are: we need to keep trying new things; we need to find new ways of using the platform, and we need to find a field that isn't is over-grazed. Just because something didn't work in the past, doesn't mean a different approach wouldn't work now. But this is also true with regards to things that DID work...just because they used to work doesn't mean we can keep the old machine running. We need to be willing to look at the experiments that succeeded as a foundation to build on--or sometimes even as something that we need to throw out completely and move on.

Now what does that mean in practical terms for educators, musicians, storytellers, roleplayers, non-profit message makers, etc. etc?

I'm not really sure, as the answer is different for each category of social and intellectual content creation...

....but as long as LL isn't yet ready to pull the plug on the platform, I think it behooves us to keep seeing how our uses of it can evolve.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

I thought Spartans were tougher than that...


SL continues to be filled with different kinds of learning opportunities, even with the serious issues educators are facing. Some are very informal. I would like to offer up the following as an excellent example of an informal learning situation in-world:

Allow me to set the stage--Elegia the tavern mistress and I are in Alsium, relaxing in the central pool of the public baths. Along comes a "noblewoman," whom we shall call XXXX LADY, and a musclebound male attendant, whom we shall refer to as XYZ MAN. We greeted them pleasantly, with the standard chorus of "Aves"

[17:02] XXXX LADY looks to the women in the water - "ave, I am XXXX, a visitor to the city"
[17:03] Diogenes Kuhr: welcome XXXX
[17:03] XXXX LADY: Gratitude. This is my thane, XYZ
[17:03] Diogenes Kuhr: I am Dio, widow of the wine merchant Sinuhe of Alexandria
[17:04] Diogenes Kuhr: and this lovely one is Elegia, tavern mistress
[17:04] Elegia Icenia bows her head at Dio's introduction.
[17:04] Diogenes Kuhr: you would be quite welcome to join us, should you wish
[17:04] Elegia Icenia nods at the newcomers.
[17:04] XYZ MAN: χαίρομαι που σας γνωρίζω
[17:04] Diogenes Kuhr: ah, you are greeks?
[17:05] XYZ MAN: you can say greek but i rather be called by my birth place
[17:05] XYZ MAN: i am a spartan
[17:06] Diogenes Kuhr:, my lady XXXX, do you also come from there?
[17:07] XXXX LADY: I am Roman
[17:07] Elegia Icenia is fascinated by the colour & cut of the new woman's hair. She stares unabashedly.
[17:07] Diogenes Kuhr: ah...I see
[17:07] XXXX LADY removes her robes to enter the water
[17:07] XXXX LADY: help me, XYZ?
[17:07] Diogenes Kuhr: is this your first visit to the this pleasant resort town of Alsium?
[17:08] XYZ MAN smiles and helps her removes her clothes starting from her top
[17:08] XXXX LADY: it is
[17:08] Diogenes Kuhr: we pray that you may find it agreeable
[17:08] XYZ MAN smiles my hands running down her body to her silk bottem and slowly remove it along with her panties
[17:08] Diogenes Kuhr: it is much more informal here than in the Mother City
[17:09] XXXX LADY: Indeed
[17:09] Diogenes Kuhr: not all "traditional" Romans find it to their liking....
[17:09] XXXX LADY leans into XYZ MAN and kisses his neck softly - Gratitude"
[17:09] Elegia Icenia lifts an eyebrow at the man's gestures, smiling to herself.
[17:09] Diogenes Kuhr: but in turn there are many who find it a suitable place to escape from the demands of life in the capitol
[17:09] XYZ MAN smiles as i remove my outfit
[17:10] XXXX LADY: I do enjoy getting away from Rome
[17:10] Diogenes Kuhr: the well loved Emperor Marcus Aurelius himself has a villa not far from Alsium...
[17:10] Diogenes Kuhr: though I fear he has not had time to visit in a great while..busy as he is in the wars on the northern borders
[17:11] XXXX LADY: ah, I did not know that
[17:11] XYZ MAN lays my kilt off to the side and strechs
[17:11] Elegia Icenia looks at the man as he disrobes.
[17:11] XXXX LADY looks upon XYZ MAN with great admiration

the man and the lady have now undressed and are in the bathing pool with me and Elegia

[17:12] XYZ MAN: nice and cool water
[17:12] XXXX LADY: indeed it is XYZ
[17:12] XXXX LADY: Have you resided in the city for long, Diogenes?
[17:13] Diogenes Kuhr: I have been here for nearly half a year....
[17:13] Diogenes Kuhr: I found myself somewhat stranded when my husband was taken by a fever
[17:13] XXXX LADY moves back to stand between XYZ MAN's legs
[17:13] Diogenes Kuhr: we were traveling for his business, which is the buying and selling of wine
[17:14] XXXX LADY: ah
[17:14] XXXX LADY: I do enjoy good wine
[17:14] Diogenes Kuhr: and I found it necessary to take over direction of his enterprise
[17:14] Diogenes Kuhr: ..*smiles* I have found that I enjoy the trade..
[17:14] Diogenes Kuhr: and I enjoy Alsium and so have made this my second home
[17:14] XXXX LADY: That is good to hear
[17:15] Diogenes Kuhr: if you have cause to stay in Alsium and perhaps take a villa here, I will be happy to send you samples of our better varieties
[17:16] Diogenes Kuhr: I do not deal in cheap mulsum or the sour wine of the plebs--it is only the finer pressings I offer
[17:16] XXXX LADY: I would enjoy that
[17:16] XXXX LADY: I am considering looking around Alsium and see what she has available
[17:16] XXXX LADY: The Champion and Zak wee showing me around earlier
[17:17] XYZ MAN feels her between my legs her ass rubs on my cock and it grows even larger
[17:17] Diogenes Kuhr: *sighs* that is good of them, but I wish Crito would rest and not be running up and down the hills
[17:17] Diogenes Kuhr: he was dreadfully injured and it was only the other night I tended to his wounds...
[17:18] Diogenes Kuhr: but that is so like him to be showing kindness to guests
[17:18] XXXX LADY: he told me of his horrible tale
[17:18] XXXX LADY: i do hope he will be okay
[17:19] Elegia Icenia watches the newcomers, a slight smile on her face. It would be difficult to say what sort of smile it was. She dabbles her feet as Dio speaks.
[17:19] Diogenes Kuhr: *laughs* he will be well I am sure...he has a will of iron and his gods look kindly upon him
[17:20] Elegia Icenia murmurs, "May they continue to do so," as if it were a chant.
[17:21] XXXX LADY: The city is quite beautiful
[17:21] XXXX LADY: from what I have seen
[17:21] Diogenes Kuhr: I know there are some fine villas that are to be had...residents come and go from this place with regularity, depending on their fortunes in politics war and love
[17:21] Diogenes Kuhr: it is indeed quite beautiful
[17:21] XXXX LADY: that is understandable
[17:22] Diogenes Kuhr: in following my husband, traveling with him all around the empire and even beyond as he sought the best wines and the best places to sell them...I have been in many places...
[17:22] Diogenes Kuhr: a few have been wondrous, including my own home city of Alexandria...but no place I have found is as beautiful as this
[17:23] Elegia Icenia: Alsium is most pleasing... like a glade amongst the woods of heaven.
[17:24] XYZ MAN slowly adjusts himself a little my cock wobbles around in the air
[17:24] XXXX LADY nods
[17:24] Diogenes Kuhr: and you my you have a large household that will require much space?
[17:25] Elegia Icenia snorts & then covers her mouth, looking down.
[17:25] XXXX LADY: no, i would be looking for a get away from Rome, not a permanent migration. WHile Rome does become too much at times, she is my home and I do love here
[17:25] Elegia Icenia mumbles, "Forgive me, I think I swallowed a bug."
[17:26] XXXX LADY: I would love to have a place to get away and not be bothered with Roman matters
[17:26] XXXX LADY smiles
[17:26] Diogenes Kuhr: of course
[17:26] Diogenes Kuhr: that is why this place exists
[17:27] XXXX LADY: indeed
[17:27] Elegia Icenia smiles amiably. "I believe that Alsium is a haven for many of its inhabitants."
[17:28] Diogenes Kuhr: you will no doubt find that many of the handsome young men are here I said it is not so formal a place as Rome...they may freely exercise their affections...with someone other than a wife
[17:29] Elegia Icenia snickers & then looks ingenuously up to the heavens, begging forgiveness from Jupiter.
[17:29] Diogenes Kuhr: may I be so bold to ask if there is a husband who will accompany you when you come to spend time in Alsium?
[17:30] XXXX LADY: yes, I am hoping so
[17:30] XXXX LADY: He is greek as well
[17:31] Diogenes Kuhr: indeed
[17:31] XXXX LADY whispers: I have a thing for greek men
[17:31] XXXX LADY smiles
[17:31] XYZ MAN smirks
[17:31] Diogenes Kuhr: I shall have to brush up on my skills with that language
[17:32] Diogenes Kuhr: it has been a while since I spoke greek, even though my family in Alexandria was formed from a melding of greek and egyptian blood
[17:32] XXXX LADY nods - "Interesting"
[17:33] Diogenes Kuhr: on my father's side, we are descended from one of Great Alexander's soldiers who took Egypt from the Persians long ago
[17:33] Elegia Icenia: May I ask a question, my lady?
[17:33] Elegia Icenia: When you arrived, you said that your companion was 'your thane'. That is a word of the northern barbarians, I believe. May I ask the nature of your relationship? Are you, then, 'enthralled' to him? *grins* Other than in the obvious way?
[17:35] XXXX LADY: He is my personal bodyguard
[17:36] XXXX LADY: My husband wants me to be protected so XYZ is charged with protecting me
[17:36] Elegia Icenia blinks once & smiles. "It appears then that he is a bit like the fox among the hens, neh?" She giggles but her eyes show that she means no harm. She merely teases.
[17:37] Diogenes Kuhr: *smiles, impressed* a spartan for a bodyguard--well chosen...the men of that city are still well known for their skills and fierce loyalty
[17:38] XYZ MAN smiles
[17:38] XXXX LADY: indeed and XYZ is both
[17:38] XXXX LADY: among other things
[17:38] XXXX LADY smiles
[17:39] XYZ MAN smirks
[17:39] Elegia Icenia nods. "I would feel fortunate if I were able to find a guard of such worth, though... " She hesitates, then chuckles & shakes her head, obviously stifling what she was going to say.
[17:39] Diogenes Kuhr: in my household I am blessed to include a Scythian...
[17:39] Diogenes Kuhr: he was betrayed and sold into slavery by his husband bought him long ago, and he not only served well in the wine business. but has made an admirable body he still does today for me
[17:40] Diogenes Kuhr: it is a reassuring thing to have one who you know would gladly give his life for you
[17:40] Diogenes Kuhr: as I assume would be the case with your XYZ
[17:41] XYZ MAN: would give my life for my lady if needed, but i rather live in the process so thinking comes first on how to live and keep her alive
[17:41] XYZ smiles
[17:41] Diogenes Kuhr: well said Spartan
[17:42] XXXX LADY leans back and kisses XYZ on the neck - "gratitude, XYZ"
[17:42] Elegia Icenia quirks her head, also smiling. "But of course... a dead bodyguard is no bodyguard at all, if he cannot bring his charge to the safety of others before he expires."
[17:42] XYZ MAN grins feeling my ladys lips my hands go down her body at the time she does
[17:43] Diogenes Kuhr: *grins* that is why it is well considered to have TWO bodyguards...and the second one not so obvious as the first
[17:43] XXXX LADY: He is a fierce warrior, chosen by my husband for just those qualities
[17:43] Elegia Icenia nods. "So it is! I must consider that when I seek guards from the lanista."
[17:43] Diogenes Kuhr: *frowns* in fact, I really do need to find another...Aldo , my Scythian, is advancing in age
[17:44] Diogenes Kuhr: I wish to manumit him before he is too advanced in years that he cannot return to his homeland and wash his sandals in the blood of those who betrayed him
[17:44] Elegia Icenia: That is good of you, amica. It is hard to be born free & die a slave, unavenged.
[17:44] Diogenes Kuhr: he has served us well, and I would not wish to keep him from going back to kill his enemies
[17:45] XXXX LADY: I am fortunate that XYZ is ofo nibble age, both on the field of battle and off
[17:45] XXX MAN smiles
[17:47] XXXX LADY: excuse us - i wish to take a dip in the lake
[17:47] Diogenes Kuhr: of course
[17:47] XYZ: see you soon ladies

the man and the lady climb out of the bathing pool and slip into the adjoining lake--but they remain well within chat range of us

[17:47] Elegia Icenia stares into the water. "Ideally, one of my guards would be a eunuch, so as not to ... spoil my reputation." She winks at Dio & turns to smile warmly at the others.
[17:47] Diogenes Kuhr: *rolls her eyes at her friend* if you were to find a eunuch, I would think he would make a poor bodyguard...with no stones would he have the wherewithal to defend you well?
[17:47] Elegia Icenia shrugs. "I have heard that some, their stones removed after they had reached manhood, make excellent guards." ...
[17:48] Elegia Icenia: It has always been difficult for me regarding guards. If I have one who is large & manly & obviously well equipped... as is XYZ here... then my clients complain. And the idea of exclusivity is tainted.
[17:48] Diogenes Kuhr: But what sufficiently prideful man would deal well with having his eggs clipped after he has reached maturity? Would that not break his spirit?
[17:49] Diogenes Kuhr: why not take one as a guard one of these men who has the passion and will to live and die well, but has no desire for sheathing his gladius in a lady's flowering?
[17:49] Elegia Icenia nods. "Yes, that would be acceptable... if I could find one who would settle to guarding me in such ways. So many of the cinaedi & lovers of cinaedi... they like... " She shrugs helplessly.
[17:50] Elegia Icenia: You are right. I will look among the lovers of men. Surely my clients would settle for that, if the guard were known for that fact.
[17:50] XXXX LADY leans in and kisses XYZ softly on the lips as the cool water splashes against our bodies
[17:50] XYZ grins i kiss back, our bodys close in the water and our lips locked
[17:50] Diogenes Kuhr: Alas poor eunuchs *sighs* I am curious..what do they do with the family jewels once the treasury has been robbed?
[17:50] Diogenes Kuhr: do they bury them?
[17:50] Diogenes Kuhr: offer them up at a temple?
[17:51] Elegia Icenia: I am sure that must depend on the context, neh? If they mean to demean the man, then they might be crushed & fed to the vultures.
[17:51] Diogenes Kuhr: it would be far worse to simply toss them to the pigs
[17:52] Diogenes Kuhr: that would be insult added to the injury
[17:53] Elegia Icenia shakes her head. "There were many such in the palaces of the rich where I received my training. Their stones were removed when they were very young. Some dried them & wore them all their lives in a pouch around their necks, so that they might have them when they passed into the afterlife."
[17:53] Diogenes Kuhr: the honorable thing to do would be to offer them at a temple...probably to be burnt
[17:54] Diogenes Kuhr: that is what the Egyptians do with the piece that is taken when the men are circumcised
[17:54] Diogenes Kuhr: the skin from the member that has been cut off is taken to the temple and burned in a ceremony
[17:54] Elegia Icenia: But it seems to make sense, neh? If possible, one should pass into the other world with all one's bits.
[17:54] Elegia Icenia chuckles.
[17:54] Diogenes Kuhr: I am not sure what the Judeans do with their foreskins when they have cut them off...
[17:55] XYZ MAN: ill see you all later, gonna log feel sick )
[17:55] Diogenes Kuhr: Vale, Spartan!

the man and the lady have both disappeared -- they did not rp taking their clothing with them and we briefly consider rp'ing that we are stealing the clothes and other items they left behind....but we ultimately reject this notion for a number of reasons

[17:57] Diogenes Kuhr: well I think you should look for a bodyguard who has all his parts intact
[17:57] Diogenes Kuhr: I hope that Zak will remember to ask at the ludus on your behalf

Yes, even if the educators all leave, learning will go on....

Sunday, October 10, 2010

That education thing in SL

Sooner or later I was going to need to write about the total goat screw on ice that is the current situation regarding the future of education and non-profit activity in Second Life. Most of you know that I have a great deal of enthusiasm for the various manifestations of learning that take place in SL, but I have never been impressed by the "Education" that goes on in-world. And I am not alone in that holding that point of view. For example, one of my academic friends who has been heavily involved in virtual educational projects--and wound up being extremely frustrated in the process--recently summed up her perspective on things with the statement "education in Second Life has not lived up to its potential."

She puts it so much more politely than I tend to, but I think we have a similar degree of dissatisfaction with the quality and outcomes we're seeing from many education projects in SL.

Nonetheless, I initially was somewhat disappointed when Linden lab made its recent announcement that they would be ending the 50% discount for education and non-profit customers. Even though I hold the personal opinion that the majority of educational projects in SL are mediocrities at best and dismal failures at worst, I still felt that it was important for the Labsters to continue to provide some kind of encouragement to people who are trying to use the platform for something more than pixel pokin'. Why? Well, mostly because I have really enjoyed learning things in Second Life, and I hope that other people will be open to the idea of making that happen. As my frustrated professor friend was pointing out, the educational potential of the platform is in fact immense and still largely unrealized.

Simply put, it didn't make a great deal of sense to me that LL had made this decision. I really hoped there was some kind of rational reasoning behind it...because that's just the kind of spit-dribbling, wild-eyed optimist that I am. So, I very much wanted to talk to someone about what had happened, but unfortunately, the people I used to talk to--such as Tom Hale and Claudia Linden--ain't around no more. By the way, if you will indulge me in going off on a tangent, I would like to state for the record right now that when I think about the fact that hard-working, intelligent people like Claudia have been let go, and a feckless, slack-jawed, incompetent like Wallace Linden is still there, I am utterly fucking gobsmacked. Do they somehow think that this brainless donkey turd of a wally has some special kind of understanding of how to communicate with the social user segment of SL's customer base, or is he simply blowing somebody in HR?

And please don't tell me that I might gain some insight into what is going on by looking at what the former Pathfinder Linden has to say. Totally aside from the fact that I have yet to meet any serious educator who actually derived any real practical benefit from trying to work with Pathfinder (please let me know if you have a verifiable example of something that would help me revise my view of that self absorbed, self-promoting douche), I can only conclude that Pathfinder was a naive simpleton who didn't realize that something like this was going to happen to the customers he brought in, OR he was aware and just conveniently neglected to mention that SL was likely to change it's policies towards educators. Consequently, I don't put much stock in his self-righteous pronouncements at this stage and wish he would just pretty much shut the fuck up.

But I digress.

The fact was, I hoped I could talk to someone and get a reasonable explanation from LL, but that wasn't going to happen. So all I can offer is some speculation based on what I have seen, especially now that Linden lab has kinda sorta backtracked and is going to phase out the discount over a little longer period of time.

Here's my thought: I wonder if the labsters had initially thought of the education/non-profit discount as a temporary incentive--get the teachy, feel-good folks in up front on the cheap so they could learn first-hand what the platform could be used for. It could also have been an opportunity for the creative educators to get something started that they could then show doubtful administrators, and be able to justify continuing their experiments.

Hey, if that was the case, I could really understand the whole thing. It would make sense to me. Plenty of companies give you an introductory rate to get you hooked on using their product: it is a standard rational type of business strategy. It's just that if this was what LL was doing, they didn't do a terribly good job of communicating about it with their customers, or their own staff people in certain areas for that matter. And they're still not communicating very well about it. But hey that's what they do--it's not like we should expect them to suddenly start doing communication right--not when they have a wally like Wally "managing conversations." let's assume that this was the strategy: get the educators in and doing cool stuff, and then eventually phase out the discount that encouraged them to start. Unfortunately, what happened was that the discount seems in many cases to have become something that enabled mediocre and failed projects to live on well beyond the point at which plugs should have been pulled. So maybe that's one of the silver linings in this particular ongoing chimp-and-weasel clusterfuck. People who should have looked at cutting back on their sim expenditures or moving to alternate grids long before this, will now be motivated to think more carefully about where they are going and what the hell they are doing. Plenty of very bright people have already made their moves (Heritage Key being one of the highest quality and possibly most successful examples)...

So boys and girls, now there's no excuse for other groups and institutions to not do the same. And yes, in many cases, when some of these institutions start asking themselves the hard question, the answer is going to be "screw it--the virtual world isn't ready for us and/or we're not ready for it." But that's not necessarily a bad thing. Sometimes the best thing you learn from an experiment is what doesn't work.

The ironic thing to me, as I reflected on this, was that this whole mess doesn't affect many great places in SL because the non-profit discount didn't apply to some of the best learning/teaching environments I have experienced in SL. Lots of places have done great stuff, but because the people putting the project together didn't happen to be associated with a school or have a 501(c)(3) letter from Uncle Sugar, they had to pay full price all along.

So does that mean that with the change in pricing, it is going to make things more of a level playing field for educational, informational and cultural projects regardless of who is behind the effort? No, it's just going to mean that life is going to be equally unfair. But--and I think this is the good part--it may also mean that schools and non-profits that do still see the potential in experimenting on SL will think really goddamn carefully about what they are doing, who will be doing it, and what outcomes they hope to achieve, before they move ahead or continue with a project.

While that is probably not the pay-off that LL was expecting or looking for with this pricing change, I think you can argue that it'll be a good thing if it does work out this way with fewer--but potentially better--education projects taking place on the platform. Hey, like Papaw used to say, even a blind squirrel finds a nut now and then.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Who's minding the store? -- exploring SL and wishing I could talk to someone

So the other might I was tending bar in 1920s Berlin (been having a good time there and interesting things are going on--I will tell you more about that soon), and this gent came in whose titler was "Doktor" something. Before long, it became evident that he was roleplaying as the lead character of the BBC's long-running sci-fi dinosaur, "Doctor Who."

Once I caught on to this, I played along (I watched the show pretty regularly back in the 70s-80s, so I knew the basic premise and a good bit of the standard details). We actually had a good little rp session, maybe going on about 20 or 30 minutes, and then I had to close the bar for the night and I suppose he wandered off to some other time period.

I could see how a guy could have fun doing this in SL, visiting various historic and futuristic sims and just having nice little conversations within the context of the Whovian canon. Not big adventures per se, but just casual chats, like the one this fellow and I had: we talked about how WWI got started, positive aspects of human nature, and the universal power of love--no big deal, just silly crap like that.

I could also see how this guy could get himself into some uncomfortable spots, where either people wouldn't understand the Doctor Who shtick and wouldn't know how to respond, or where they'd find the intrusion of this other fictional reality into their own fictional reality to be kind of irritating. So that got me thinking about what other actual Whovian environments might exist in-world...and the one I found to go look at was the "The Doctor Who Experience and Museum," at Katrina 225.217.34.

The gallery about the different Doctors--just look at that smile! I always thought Tom Baker rocked.

It's a splendid build with a big vendor area featuring all sorts of sci-fi and related creative stuff, a sand box, and a museum. I of course, went to the museum, as I always like to see how people make the idea of a "museum" work in SL.

And I tell you what, the folks who did this one didn't do too badly!

You enter the museum space through a recreation of a Tardis interior, and there were galleries with villains and one with all the different doctors, and another about the evolution of the Tardis--the key prop in the show. I had never really thought about how it had changed over time, but there were links to web pages that went into astonishing detail. In other parts of the exhibit you could do things like rez various versions of Daleks and see how they had evolved, and you could get notecarded info as well as links, and it all worked really well--much better than many "serious" museums in SL do, in fact. They didn't try to put a lot of text and small pictures on wall panels or make it simply a prim version of a meatspace exhibition. I actually learned shit I didn't know, and for the most part I had fun.

The exhibit about the evolution of the prop Tardis in the course of the show. I had no fucking idea...

An interesting aspect of this project is that it is not just an in-world effort, but has been done in cooperation with other Doctor Who fan groups that have an online presence. There also seemed to be some kind of connections to various Doctor Who rp activities in-world.

The only thing was...and I guess this is just me, but I really wanted to talk with someone. A long time ago, in a different part of my life, I knew this museum director who used to say things like "I'd rather have an exhibit with one live interpreter in it than a hundred computers." I really understand where he was coming from. When I recently visited the SL Battle of Britain memorial sim, part of what made it work for me was that the sim owner happened to be online and was very gracious about talking with me.

The Doctor Who experience sim owner also happened to be on while I was visiting, but he was busy working on a project, and didn't respond to my polite inquiry. And hey, I'm not being critical--the guy was deeply wrapped up in working on something, and probably didn't even see my IM come in....but the fact is, I guess what I'm looking for in SL isn't just cool shit to look at--it's interaction with other people I'm after.

There is a freakin' boatload of very cool, beautifully-crafted stuff to look at in this Doctor Who sim. It's even a subject that I kinda have an interest in. But after a little bit of looking, I moseyed off, without really being engaged by more than maybe 20% of what was there.

Maybe this goes back to our recent discussion of how it's us, not SL that has really changed. In my old days as a wandering madwoman (2005-07), exploring the virtual was enough: it was "ooh, ah, holyfuck, look at that!" Back in the day, I would have spent hours poring over a build like this, sifting through and examining every prim bit and link and notecard until my fucking brain was bleeding.

I think many of us are just so used to remarkable stuff now, that the stuff isn't enough anymore. The only thing in-world that still has the power to consistently amaze, engage, and surprise us is each other.

Sad to say, here was this great Tardis control panel, the product of hours and hours of someone's hard work and creative thinking and research...and I spent maybe 15 seconds with it. Yeah, I know, I suck.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

The Battle of Britain in SL -- a "grass roots" commemoration

The Avro Lancaster at Biggin Hill

Seventy years ago this month, Germany's air campaign over England, popularly known as the “Battle of Britain,” took a major turn. The Germans, suffering significant losses, changed their strategy and it became clear that Hitler was abandoning any ideas he had of invading the United Kingdom with his ground forces.

With that in mind, I was pleased to discover in one of my periodic searches of SL places--using key words such as “history” and “authentic”--that there is “The Battle of Britain Airfield” in Second Life at Gurla (53, 239, 64). So I put on my Betty Page hair and a vintage-inspired outfit from Ingenue, and headed over to take a look.

This is an interesting concept: it has been assembled as a “living museum” that incorporates your usual SL vendor area with an immersion environment based upon the actual historic RAF airfield at Biggin Hill, displays of recreated aircraft and vehicles by a number of different builders, and a role-playing group that seeks to honor the men and women of the RAF by recreating a British “unit” from the RAF, much in the same way that military reenactors recreate various organizations from various time periods in real life. It’s just that this living history unit is operating in virtual space.

Inside the control tower--nice detail!

Let’s talk first about the environment: it includes are some great structures that are based upon actual buildings (many of which are still standing) at the Biggin Hill field. These were crafted by a number of different content makers, including Synge Michalak, Punky Pugilist, and sim owner Gaius Luminos, among others. There are quonset huts, shanty-like barracks, hangars of multiple types, and blast bays for the aircraft, as well as a control tower and the dispersal hut (complete with details like the “scramble bell” by the door, and a mish-mash of furniture out front) where the pilots waited for their orders to take off. There are some “off-the-shelf” hangars as well, mostly containing the vendors, but the plan seems to be to eventually replace these with custom historical builds.

There are also a few historical compromises--but the only one that really made me cringe was that the field’s anti-aircraft gun emplacements have German 88 flak guns instead of Allied models such as the British 3.7 inch AA gun or the ubiquitous 40MM Bofors. The 88’s are extremely well-made examples by Rael Ellison, but they are German, after all. But hey, I’m probably one of only a very small number of people who gets her knickers in a twist over such things.

Yeah. It's an 88. It shouldn't have been there. Did that stop me from being a good little Flakhilferin and getting on it to take a few test shots? No, of course not. Don't be silly. And the thing is very well made. Shoots beautifully too.

The only other issue I had was that in a few certain areas the build felt just a smidge crowded. They really need more space to do the environment justice, but then I fully understand that people have financial realities to deal with. One really good decision that the builders made was to place the larger part of the non-period signage, displays and historical interpretation elements inside closed hangars, so they would not detract from the environment. I think they could actually take this a bit further and get almost all of the non-1940s bits and bobs out of the primary historical immersion environment. For example, there is a lovely memorial with pictures and a ring of candles, but it is outside next to the Lancaster bomber. Some of the recreated buildings are actually empty--perhaps the memorial could be moved inside one of them? Just a thought.

The memorial at the Biggin Hill build.

Oh speaking of that Lanc--by god it is perhaps the most spectacular recreation of an historic airplane I have ever set eyes on in SL. Built by Bancos Milestone, it is complete inside and out. There is even ordnance in the bomb bay. There are other fine looking aircraft as well, including flyable Spitfires and a Mosquito by Shana Carpool, and a beautiful static model of a MK I Spit by Julianna Holmer.

To learn more about the build, I contacted the owner and manager of the sim, Gaius Luminos, who very kindly agreed to answer my questions:

Diogenes Kuhr: Your Biggin Hill project is very nice I like the theme...what made you decide to do it?

Gaius Luminos: Thank you very much-it’s 85% historically accurate build of the RL Biggin Hill RAF Station in 1940. I built it as a 'Living Museum' to commemorate the participants of The Battle of Britain...both those in The Royal Air Force, and the Citizens of London who were there during The Blitz, from June thru September 1940, which would include my own family.

Diogenes Kuhr: So members of your family went through the Blitz?

Gaius Luminos: Yes, my Grandparents had the roof of their house blown off, and my Mum was attacked by a Luftwaffe fighter pilot on the ground, whilst she and a group of kids were playing in a Children’s Playground in was a very intense time...and a very historically significant time.

Diogenes Kuhr: You call your build 85% accurate--it looks like a lot of the structures are based on buildings that are still there or pictures--am I correct that a lot of research went into this?

Gaius Luminos: Yes definitely, we were lucky in that we had a staff member of Biggin Hil RL as a design consultant, he is a recently retired Aircraft Mechanic, so was present on the station for years, and obviously has it all he was a big help. And yes, although Biggin Hill is now a commercial airfield, most of the original site is unchanged from its RAF period. The RAF's nickname for Biggin is 'The Strongest Link'..being close to London, it was pivotal during the battle, and was in fact attacked 16 times during 1940.

Diogenes Kuhr: Ah, very cool! So most of the structures in your build are custom, with just a few off-the-shelf bits and pieces?

Gaius Luminos: Yes, everything is custom, with the exception of the aircraft and gear vendor hangers...which we will also shortly be replacing with period custom built ones. There is a historical expo installation on the Sim, which visitors can view, basically a 5 to 8 minute tour of the Battle of includes an aerial photo recon map of Biggin in 1940, so visitors can compare for themselves.

Historicial interpretive exhibit situated inside one of the hangars so as to not distract from the immersion environment.

Diogenes Kuhr: I think it's helpful that you have historical information like that but you don't beat people over the head with it

Gaius Luminos: I totally agree...and that was a big part of the decision to recreate Biggin Hill- yes its an archival source, but it also has a completely active Squadron, that flies Operations in the combat theatre, and functions according to the ethos, protocols and command structure of The Royal Air Force it is history, yes, but history 'come to life' in a sense, rather than being presented like the dry pages of a textbook in a class.

Diogenes Kuhr: I noticed the planes are from a number of different builders...that Lanc that Bancos Milestone did is downright extraordinary--do you have a favorite?

The interior of Bancos Milesotne's amazing Lancaster heavy bomber, looking aft from the cockpit.

Gaius Luminos: I love Milestone’s in RL, it is the centerpiece, which it will also be when we do our in-world memorial fly-bys for the 70th anniversary....but, as far as having a favourite, I can't say that I do. They are all excellent builds, and in fact have many of the in-flight characteristics of their RL counterparts. The Spitfire is an iconic plane of course, and I am as enamoured by that as anyone else, but they're all symbolic of machines that helped prevent Europe, and by default The United States, from becoming an extension of The Nazi Empire, in the Summer of 1940.

Diogenes Kuhr: Are you the owner of the sim as well as the project leader? And when did you open up the build to visitors?

Gaius Luminos: Yes I own the Sim also. It opened approximately 5 months ago. To be honest, i started it as personal project more or less, but we started getting inundated with visitors and group-joins, so it 'took off' (no pun intended) in a way that I hadn't originally envisioned. It seems that there are a lot of people in SL, for whom this subject is close to their hearts....Which has been very gratifying, if unexpected.

Diogenes Kuhr: I think it is interesting that the sim feels alive, not just in the sense that you have the group flying from here, but that also you seem to be continually improving it--adding things, fixing things and making them more accurate over time...what kinds of things do you hope to do in the near future to make it better beside replacing the off-the-shelf buildings?

Gaius Luminos: Well, that's a pretty big laundry list....besides continuing to dial in the build toward a 100% accuracy figure, our mission is to also continue to sync procedures of our in-world group RP to be as close as is possible to those of The RAF in RL, which would include as I mentioned, also conducting the same schedule of Commemorative and other events in SL, that The RAF is doing currently in RL....That and to continue as best we are able, to keep the memory of what was accomplished, and the gift of freedom, that 'The Few' gave to us at their own sacrifice, in 1940.

Diogenes Kuhr: And you are doing this on your own, just as interested individuals--there is no connection with any museum or historical organization, right?

Gaius Luminos: Not at’s all happened quite fast as I mentioned. However, yes, the idea has been broached, and its an excellent idea, to reach out to such organizations in RL, notably The Battle of Britain Society, and some others.

Diogenes Kuhr: do you feel like you learned a lot doing this?

Gaius Luminos: has been and is an amazing learning experience for me personally, both in terms of how to effectively lead in context of a Military Hierarchy, both day to day and Combat Operations, both of which are responsibilities i take very seriously, and externally, from the great font of knowledge we are privileged to have here, from RL Air Force Veterans, Combat Pilots from different Conflicts, who generously give their time and considerable expertise to keeping the Biggin Hill Project as faithful a representation of what it is here to honor, as we possibly can.

Diogenes Kuhr: One last one of the things you're going to have done replacing the 88's with british 3.7 inch AA guns and/or 40MM Bofors?

Gaius Luminos: Yes..we are having some built...when we first started, there was a JG (Luftwaffe Base next door to us, so there was an immediate need for an effective defense here: which the 88's definitely provided. However now that Base is defunct, so yes, are now in position to have them replaced with period Allied builds, which we are having made.

Diogenes Kuhr: Cool--yeah they're well made, and I assumed it was just no one was making the 3.7 inch when you started...

Gaius Luminos: No there aren’t as far as I we're having customs made.

Diogenes Kuhr: 88’s do kind of look like a 3.7 in. gun...sort of...

Gaius Luminos: “Sort of” doesn't cut it around here lol...but yes they worked in a situation where we needed something with throw, right away

Diogenes Kuhr: heheh...So...I'm not the only person who has mentioned it, am I?

Gaius Luminos: you are the second!

Gaius Luminos: Also of course, Biggin obviously didn't have a Pub..but we do. However, inside, it has been redecorated as a photo tribute to the aircrew who were in Biggin in 1939..their pictures are all on the walls. I figured that since they no longer have a home to go to in RL (Biggin is no longer an RAF-owned property), that they could feel at home in SL, in the Village Pub...

I encourage you to go see what these folks have put together, for a couple of reasons. The big one, of course, is that whole thing about doing our best to remember and take inspiration from the folks--our parents and grandparents--who fucking saved civilization.

But I think you might also want to go see this build for what it represents in terms of an experiment involving a combination of living history ideas and the work of people who are embracing the sheer joy of building cool shit, mixed into an immersion-style “museum” exhibit...but done by interested individuals rather than meatspace institutions. You don’t have to be the Imperial War Museum or the University of East Dogfart to create an innovative museum experience in a virtual world. Anyone who cares passionately about something can run with it, and often times, have a livelier and more interesting and effective outcome than the institutions seem to.

Holy crap, there are people making gorgeous stuff in SL these days! Look at the texturing on this static model of a MkI Spit by Julianna Holmer.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Dear Philip: It's ok, I've changed my mind...

...I have decided that if I ever meet you in person I am not going to kick you square in the balls.

Sincerely yours,

Diogenes Aurelia Kuhr


Having read the above statement, you regular readers of this blog are probably asking, "Why?"

Well, I've been catching up on reading other people's stuff and I came across a piece about a fairly recent interview that Mitch Wagner did with LL founder and newly reappointed CEO Philip Rosedale. You can find the first part of the piece here:

Additional commentary on their conversation may be found here:

Lots of people seem to think of Philip Rosedale as some kind of grand combined muse, guardian, benevolent father figure and guild leader who represents the creative spirit in SL. But I've always seen him as a flawed genius who had a great idea, and then to execute it, created a corporate culture in which the larger part of the customer base was not respected and the workers were allowed to fecklessly fart around doing what they wanted to instead of focusing on the hard work of customer service and making the product run reliably and smoothly. That's why some time ago I issued the warning that should I ever get to meet Philip in real life, first, I would shake his hand to thank him for creating the SL platform, and then I would firmly and enthusiastically plant a size 10 Corcoran boot right in his grocery sack to thank him for how he has mismanaged his creation.

For the most part, the interview with Mr. Wagner suggests that Mr. Rosedale still doesn't entirely get his own product and/or the people who use it.

Nonetheless, based on some things he has done and said since returning, I have elected to issue a reprieve to Philip's junk. If nothing else, I think he deserves it for the following statement he made in his conversation with Wagner:

"I'm back, and the company is going through a change of direction. We're really regarding the situation as serious....We've got a lot more work to do....That work isn't enjoyable in many cases, or fun. It consists of a lot of debugging and quality control that's tedious and unglamorous, but necessary."

Which brings me back to what I would like to say to Mr. Rosedale:

Thank you, Philip for the above statement. You sound like a goddamn adult and an actual leader when you talk like that. Now just translate the words into more actions. Listen to the fucking customers. Keep your staff focused on clear, practical goals; keep them on track and on schedule, and appropriately reward responsible behavior and productivity. Make this thing profitable and stable--even though, as you quite sensibly point out, doing so is a task that isn't always going to be "fun."

And hey, things could be worse. You know, SL may not be the cool thing anymore, but you've still got a hard core of engaged customers who find interesting, useful and entertaining ways to use your product. Yeah, we might not represent a massive Facebook-style audience that interacts with the product in a very superficial way. But everything doesn't have to be the subject of mass adoption--look at Playel, the great French piano maker. They only make 25 really goddam good pianos each year, instead of trying to compete with cheap Chinese piano makers who crank out thousands of OK instruments annually. Look at the whole skiing industry--it's based on a sport that only a limited audience can take on due to the necessary learning curve and the cost. Even so, lots of people make lots of money off this sport.

Please just keep these things in mind. And then you can completely forget about wearing the protective cup.


Sunday, September 12, 2010

Looking for signs of ancient life in SL, part II

In my first house in Alsium.
I've been putting this one off for a while, for no discernible reason other than laziness and a temporary preoccupation with so-called real life. But I guess it's time.

I had promised that I would follow up with you all both on the subject of "looking for signs of ancient life" in SL, as well as providing a bit more detail about what I've been doing with myself during the last three months or so. Not that it really matters what I've been up to, but perhaps talking about my ongoing journey can shine a bit of light on some interesting aspects of what is taking place in certain corners of the historically-themed sims in-world.

As I have noted elsewhere, I have been spending less time than I used to in Deadwood--not because there is anything wrong with it, but just because I was in a weird place emotionally and mentally, and not enjoying it as much as I used to. Similarly I have completely dropped out of Hogwarts United, mostly because I found that I couldn't bring myself to make the kind of mental effort, and fulfill the necessary time commitment to do it well.

So where did I go?

Well, you might recall that back in May, I was exploring the ancient-themed sims. In part this was because I was just looking for something new to experience, but also because I had been inspired by the ancient environments in Heritage Key. It made me wonder, so what's available in SL? The builds in Heritage Key are beautifully done, but not consistently populated, and not really designed for role-playing. They are much more like immersive museum exhibits than a place where you form a community and interact on an ongoing basis with other interesting people. Heritage Key is about teaching, not learning; it's about visiting, not building a set of relationships; nor is it about enabling the creation of your own content--and I have come to realize that those are the elements that do the most to keep me in Second Life, rather than wandering off to places like Blue Mars (which also hasn't made the effort to accommodate Mac users, so fuck 'em).

Anyway, back in May, at the time I wrote the ancient life article part I, I found that there seemed to be a number of historical Egyptian, Roman and Greek-themed builds in Second Life, but generally speaking they were largely devoid of any humanity (at least when I visited), or were mediocre builds, or both. And when I say "mediocre," in some cases, I am being extremely generous.

Not long after I wrote the article, I stumbled across two new places, Alsium and The City of Hydra, and by golly I found myself being drawn in.

When I first saw it, Alsium was literally a brand-new build. It is a representation (or perhaps an "interpretation") of an ancient Roman resort town that actually existed, but for which there is relatively little historical information or physical remains to draw upon for guidance in doing a recreation. While there are things that I would have done differently if it was my build--some improbable statuary, a superfluity of banners, and some other things like limited seating at the arena and a lack of certain public structures that most Roman towns had--it's freakin' gorgeous, and it's a fun place to explore and to play. And hey, it's not my build, not my sim, so at this point I will just shut the fuck up regarding what is or isn't there. Cuz after all, if I really wanted to have an ancient build that met all the criteria I would like for one to meet, then I need to cough up the jack and build one myself someday, right? Well maybe I just will, because the experience of being a part of the Alsium community has been very positive.

Alsium--a pretty resort town on the coast, about 35 km from Rome. This is in the suburbs, away from the town center with its arena, baths and forum. The multi-story structure with the private dock is my current domus.

And in many ways, I was pleasantly surprised at how positive the experience has been. The vast majority of Alsium's players--and characters--are gay males. I have no issues with gay folks, but you could argue that I didn't really fit in. Also, many of the guys are players who have migrated from Gorean sims (and my only previous contact with Goreans had been somewhat ridiculous...I'll have to tell you the story sometime). Initially, I was the only female player and/or character present. So in a lot of ways, on the surface, it seemed like it should not have worked for me being there. But somehow it did, in large part because of some key decisions that were made by sim owner Noah Shepherd: he gave the sim a particular time period to work with--its timeframe is during the latter part of the reign of Marcus Aurelius, roughly in the era from 170 to 175 AD, so there was an historical context; he quickly opened up an adjoining sim that offered a variety of rental properties (a bit pricey, but with huge prim limits), so that residents could do exciting and interesting things in terms of not just decorating but structurally adapting the interior spaces they rented; and he made it clear that what he wanted was not a particular type or style of roleplaying to take place--he just wanted good roleplaying.

The character I created was a Greco-Egyptian lady from Alexandria, the widow of a wine merchant who died of a fever while I was accompanying him on a buying trip. My premise was that I was sort of stranded in Italy, and needed to keep the business going in order to meet his obligations and settle our debts. And as time went on, with the help of his "servus" who had helped him run the business, the enterprise was becoming profitable and my character was finding that she enjoyed being a wine merchant.

Keeping the business going: the cellar of my first house in Alsium, filled with casks and amphorae.

I soon discovered that this character and her little storylines did fit in pretty well with what was going on, and that the guys all treated her with the greatest respect and consideration. Yeah, I kind of made it a point to not be around when they would get into their...well...being a bit randy, enjoying their "boys will be boys" grab-ass, slightly Fellini-esque fun and games. But there were plenty of times that we collectively had storylines going in which that I could be a contributing player.

I decided to rent one of the houses that came available, and put considerable work into researching Roman life, business, society and decorative arts. I had a wonderfully good time learning new things purely on my own, inspired by the roleplay, and then, as time went on, I found other people in the sim who were very interested in sharing information as well. Members of the growing Alsium community (which is gradually becoming more diverse) put on classes for each other, discussing matters such as food, daily life, the Roman client system, classes, and slavery.

Ah yes...slavery. A very touchy issue. But you can't represent Roman life without incorporating that element. It would be like trying to do "Spartacus" and claiming that it was just a labor dispute that got out of hand. I'll be honest, I am not terribly comfortable in dealing with the subject in rp--even though there are aspects of ancient slavery that are very different from how we understand slavery in the context of American history. I even have a hard time calling someone a slave, in the same way that I simply cannot bring myself to use the "N" word when playing a 19th century rebel widow. And I am not going to treat my servi badly. Historical authenticity be damned, there simply are things I am not willing to do. Oddly enough I have two very good friends who have decided to come in and play the servi in my household now and then. Sometimes, I may refer to them as "servus," but more often, I will say "this is my man, Serenek," or I will describe them as "members of my household."

Not everyone is so careful--but then that in itself is historically authentic: even in the ancient world, various people in different circumstances saw slavery in multiple ways and treated enslaved people differently than their contemporaries did. And in the roleplay we do, different people who play slaves are obviously exploring historical and personal issues in wildly divergent ways--I'm not entirely sure what all is going on, but I do know that in this sim (as well as the next place I am going discuss) there is an on-going effort to help the residents to distinguish between the historical form of slavery that is part of the ancient Roman story, and the largely BDSM-based style of fantasy slavery that is part of the Gorean canon.

By the way, that is one of the really interesting things that I have heard from some of the guys who came to Alsium from Gorean rp--they say a big part of what they found frustrating in Gor was the restrictive nature of Gorean canon and community life. They actually find this historical context to be more flexible. I'm still pondering the significance of that one.

Hard at work in my new house in Alsium.

So I have been having a great time being a part of this community, learning new stuff, going to the arena and cheering on the guys who have been working so very hard to master the combat system...and I have really had a great time building and decorating, rebuilding and redecorating, making textures of actual ancient mosaics, wall art, frescoes, etc....

...and not having responsibility. I just come and go, fiddle around with my "domus" and have fun.

Oh yes, and I also periodically go over to the City of Hydra. The folks there have established a grittier environment for ancient Roman rp--a representation (again, not a completely historically authentic recreation) of a generic Roman-occupied commercial port city out in the conquered territories somewhere (I think it's supposed to be on the Greek coast or something like that).

It is sort of a classical dystopia--urban, ugly, corrupt, crowded and crime-ridden. Hydra is an unplanned jumble of check-by-jowl town houses, apartments and stores that is hard to find your way around.

If I was the Roman governor of the city I think I would have simply sold the inhabitants, razed the buildings, and started over. But that's just me.

The City of Hydra.

Seriously though, I don't play here too often, not because of the stories or the build or anything like that--it's just that it seems to be mostly populated at times when I have to be at work. Nonetheless, it is interesting to see a place that is so completely different from Alsium.

Alsium is a beautiful place where the corruption, the penchant for violence, the tension between competing interests and factions is all under the surface, bubbling forth into visible form only periodically, not unlike some fictional Steven King New England resort town.

In Hydra, the unpleasant realities of life are pretty much all out there to be seen and savored, if that is how you like to spend your vacations. It reminds me a lot of New Jersey.

I will say that one thing that has kind of turned me off on Hydra (which by the way, should not be confused with a "Hydra" that apparently exists on a Gorean sim), is that they make a point in describing themselves as offering "Excellent, immersive Roman roleplay -- only the Best."


OK. I've met some really good people there. And yes, I've experienced some very good rp in Hydra. But I have also experienced some very good rp in Alsium.

A place like Alsium admittedly has a number of folks who exhibit a wide variety of rp styles and levels of experience. Some people are just starting out and some of what people do could be described as "RP lite." But you know, I find that Alsium's residents generally try to accommodate one another and adjust to make it work. That's about all you can ask for. In fact, I think you can make a pretty good argument that the variety of styles and skills and levels of experience is actually a strength.

Look, I think it's good to aspire to providing a quality experience. But when you give yourself labels like "only the Best" (as Hydra does on their landmark card), I find it just a tad off-putting, especially when there are so many interpretations of what constitutes "good rp," let alone what might be considered "the best."

Still, it's an interesting build and I encourage you to go look at it.

So that's the bottom line. In the end, I did manage to find some entertaining, engaging places for ancient rp in SL. There's even informal, self directed learning going on in these places. There's some great people to interact with. And I think, most interestingly, you might find yourself reconsidering how you look at certain groups of people, as your assumptions about the members of various communities are challenged.