Thursday, February 25, 2010

A Deadwood conversation -- breaking bottles

Going hunting in the hills.

Once Lieutenant Wilcox came into town with the welcome news that the Lakota raiding party had been talked into going back to Agency, Dio was looking forward to finding time for huntin' up in the hills. Missed it somethin' terrible she did. So, first chance he had, she put on her buckskins and was about to go out with her Spencer, when she ran into Jasper, the new gunsmith in the gulch. Seeing her goin' huntin' with a short barreled carbine with only fair to middlin' range, he offered to loan her a nice Remington breech-loader he'd been working on. Dio readily agreed and followed him back to his workshop, and wound up leaving the Spencer for him to clean up and check over, taking a fine .50-70 rolling block in its stead as a loaner.

It had a fancy peep sight mounted on the wrist of the stock, which was decorated with checkering...and the receiver was case-hardened steel, the colors o' which seemed to ripple in the sunlight.

Just the kind of shiny piece o' hardware that would make any gal feel right purty and all equipped like a fine lady.

Anyhow, as she worked her way up the hillside behind Main Street, she noted her friend JF Kanto seated upon a stump gazin' off across the gulch into the distance...but not really looking at nothin'... if ya know what I mean. JF had just recently stepped down from his duties as a lawman...of his own volition, it seemed. But nonetheless, as she got closer, Dio caught the glint of a bottle--an empty bottle--in the weeds behind the stump.

She called out in a manner so as to not startle him, and waved. JF stood and smiled at her an' walked over to exchange greetings in a most cordial manner.

JF an' Dio always liked each other. Not in that way o' course. JF was a bit younger than Dio, and he was hitched to Lola, a gal who had been workin' at the Bella when they first met. And Dio was committed in her feelin's for Sepp. No, it was more that they had both grown up in Texas...been through some rough times that were was kinda like they could speak a similar language, that they understood one another in the way that only comes from walking a mile in your neighbor's boots, as they say.

In private conversation, there wasn't much they couldn't say to one another. Though I will admit that there were things in JF's past that Dio was vaguely aware of, but she had too much respect for the man an' his privacy to enquire about. Some things you just don't talk about unless the other feller brings it up.

Anyhow, they got to talking, and being as JF seemed inclined to have some company, Dio said what was on her mind.

"So that yer off from bein' law..."

"Yes?" JF looked at her with an expression that suggested he knew what she a was going to ask.

"What you doin' with yer time?"

The recently retired lawman looked down at his boot toes. "Dio...I been..."

JF sighed and pushed his hat on to the back of his head and then fixed his gaze on his friend.

"Goddamit. I been drinkin' again...a bit," he answered, shaking his head.

"A bit?" asked Dio. "Or more'n a bit?"

JF Kanto smiled slightly. "I...well, shit....yeah, a lot." Then he sighed heavily and frowned. "Lola has had to help me home more'n once."

Dio kicked at a rock on the ground at her feet and then looked up at JF. She commented soflty, "Well, know that is a journey I took m'self for a good many years."

"Damn it all, Dio, I know...and it's a journey I took once before too," he replied.

Dio nodded and continued, "One thing I can tell ye, is if'n ye make it to the end o' the journey an' come out t'other side, back onto another path...yer gonna be stronger fer it. I know it don't make sense in a lotta ways, but I look on it as bein' part o' the fire that tempers yer steel."

The man looked deeply into his friends eyes, his face largely impassive, but there was something about the look in his own eyes that led Dio to ask a more personal question than she would have under normal circumstances with JF.

"Things allright twixt you an' Lola? I ain't seen her about fer quite some time."

JF grimaced a bit. "Would be better if I stopped the drinkin', I reckon. I 'spose it reminds her too much of what she used to have to put up the Bella."

There was a pause while Dio sighed a bit and looked out across the gulch for a moment. Then she turned back to her friend and asked, "Do ye want to stop the drinkin?"

JF nodded. "Yeah, I do."

"Well, one way o' doin so," replied Dio, "is just get away from it an take to hard work. Even before I stopped complete, I managed to dry out quite a goin' onto the grasslands an' makin m' livin as a bufflo runner fer two years. Hell, I couldn't get drunk cuz they was no likker at hand...just hard work."

"Yeah, that would be one way," said JF lookin' thoughtful.

"But," Dio went on, "the real thing is ye gotta figger out why yer drinkin'' goddam well go do somethin' about that root cause. With me it was m' grief bein' outta hand. T'wasn't the drinkin' what had me in its was my grief that had' m' m'self. An' hellfire, I was also angry at Jack fer goin off like that an' gettin kilt, truth be told. He din't have to got a different perspective on all that now. An' gainin' that perspective was the only way to climb outta the bottle fer good."

The former lawman nodded in understanding.

They stood in companionable silence for another moment, looking off over the town. Then Dio asked another question.

"You angry, JF?"

JF Kanto briefly pondered that and answered, "No, not like before...when I was drinkin' heavy the first time it was 'cause of havin' lost someone...Nancy...but now...I just feel lost..."

Dio considered this statement, trying to understand. "So...before, when ye was dealin' with yer hurt by means o' drinkin', twas because ye lost yer feelin' a empty space inside again...but because ye have lost yerself?"

JF gave a small sardonic laugh. "Dio, I only ever been good at one thing. I was doin' it before I got here, and then was doin' it here in Deadwood...and now I've gone and resigned from it...."

Suddenly, JF whipped around, his Colt leaping from holster to hand as if by magic, and he snapped off a round that shattered the empty bottle behind the stump. Dio noted that he returned the pistol to its holster without bothering to eject the empty casing and reload. That really struck Dio. It wasn't like the JF Kanto she knew.

JF seemed to be considering his words carefully. Finally, he spoke .

"Dio, do you know what I was before I came to Deadwood?"

Dio's face was fairly impassive--but not unsympathetic--as she answered, "Not fer sure...but I reckon most likely ye made yer livin' with yer irons..." She paused for a moment before adding, "one way or t'other."

JF's face had turned hard, and he nodded. "Yeah, my guns were for hire to the highest bidder...I killed for pay...and sometimes, just out of pure cussedness. An' bein' drunk most of the time, to boot."

Finally, Dio asked the question that you only asked a real friend. "How many men have ye kilt, JF?"

JF answered softly, "Not counting the war.....17 men...also not counting women and children."

Dio's faced betrayed no trace of either condemnation or approbation regarding her friend's reply. She just nodded. It simply was what it was, and she was not about to say anything judgmental. Her reply was phrased as nothing more than plain acknowledgment of the reality of both their histories:

"Yes, pard, that's more'n enough. I only have kilt 11 by my reckonin'...not countin' Comanches, bein' as the rascals always took their dead an' wounded with 'em, so's I cain't really say as to that number. But an' me we have both done our share."

She realized that JF was looking at her with widened eyes.

"Goddamn Dio," he muttered. "I knew you were handy with the irons, but...."

Dio shrugged. "Look, JF...I jus' hope to Providence I ain't never gotta kill another man so long as I live...mebbe yer at that particular fork in the road yerself."

"Maybe, " JF replied pensively. "I dont...I can't be what I was before...but what to do?"

" cain't go back." Dio agreed. "An' not jus cuz yer still wishin' to save yer soul an' make it to the happy huntin' groun'...but also cuz...well, JF, the West is changin' old coots what grew up on the hard edge o' the frontier...they ain't gonna be no place at'all fer us soon if'n we don't change with the times."

JF looked at Dio. He knew she was right about how things were different from even just a few years before.

"Yes." he said dryly. "It is a world that keeps changing....I just ain't sure what's next though."

Dio's eyes sparkled and a faint smile crossed her lips. "You 'n Lola got some land outside town don't ye?"

" a little place in the hills," JF replied.

"You done much with it yet?"

"No, been too much in town."

"Well, ye got some time on yer hands now, don't ye?" said Dio.

JF Kanto chuckled a bit, "Yeah, too much."

Dio nodded. "Well sir, let me make ye a proposal here, what ye might ponder as a possibility. Let's consider what else yer good at--besides work with a gun....I know that yer a helluva spent some time nursemaidin' cows er hosses?"

The ex-lawman laughed. "Yeah...but damn, I always hated farm work. You know...I got some book learnin'....I've read most of the mother insisted I learn to read and write...I don't like to let on, as some gets put off by it"

Dio arched an eyebrow at this information. "Well, pard, I'm seein a side to ye which ye have hidden well...but here's what I am gonna the end o' the year, Sepp is gonna be comin' back...his hitch...his last just about up. I'm gonna sell all my shares in Hearst's company what Al left me, an' take that cash, an' we's gonna buy some land not too far from here. Sepp 'n me was thinkin' upon raisin draft hosses...."

"You could make a tidy profit off'n the sale of them critters," observed JF.

"True enough," replied Dio. "But they's more to it than that...we was also considerin' makin' it a ranch where folks from the east could come an' pay fer us to take 'em ridin' an huntin'...hell's britches, raisin' heavy hosses don't take all that much time...ain't like with cattle." Dio spat and grumbled, "Stupid goddam animals."

JF laughed. "Ain't gonna disagree with ya on that point. But how does this have anything to do with me?""

Dio grinned. "What I was thinkin' was mebbe if'n we could find land next to yer'n...or...hell, if we kin find some place big enough, you could sell yer tract an' come in on the deal with us. Together we could buy a much bigger place together than the twain of us kin separately. An' we would make it a workin concern with belgians 'n percherons to sell...and maybe a few head o' goddam cows...but we also bring folks out, show 'em a workin' ranch, and mebbe you 'n Sepp, mebbe even some o' our friends from amongst the army injun scouts, could take the gents on long hunts 'n rides..."

JF was obviously giving the concept serious consideration. "Well...hmm I suppose it would be a way for me to keep too busy for the whisky. Would need to discuss it with Lola, but I reckon she would like the idea."

Dio looked pleased. "I'm guessin' you an Sepp would get on know he's well-read hisself...he studied medicine, an' read all them classics as well, before he give it up an' came back to' wound up a captain o' rangers." Dio laughed a bit to herself. "Ye know, he used to read Shakespeare to the Tonkawa 'n Lipan Apaches in his company...they quite liked the stories what was about revenge 'n death, 'n honor..."

JF grinned. "Yep, I reckon they woulda...he sounds like a fine fellow. And the idea...I think it has merit..."

Dio returned the grin. "Well, ponder on it, m' friend."

"I will," answered JF. Then his face darkened slightly. "Dio, can I ask ya a question?"

"Sure ye kin, pard. Ask away."

"Did Lola ask ya to talk to me...or have I been acting the fool big enough for all to see?"

Dio shook her head. "No,, she has not. An' I cain't say as ye been actin' a turrible fool so as to stand out from a crowd o' fellers who truly fit the description. No...I could tell ye mebbe been strugglin' a bit, but then 'tis only as I have walked that path myself."

JF Kanto sighed. "It pains me o' think o' what I been putting Lola through of late. I would not have blamed her if she had said somethin' to ya."

Dio gave a reassuring smile. "No, pard, she has not said any words to me regardin' yer state o' mind, nor anythin' else...when I have seen her it's been nothin' but howdeedo's an' a smile. She ain't the sort to display her concerns like a circus parade fer all to marvel at..."

"No, she ain't," agreed JF.

Dio coughed. "Not like some folk hereabouts," she muttered.

JF laughed and then looked very serious again. "Yeah, I have been a fool..."

Dio shook her head. "No sir, not a fool. Jus' strugglin' a bit. An' with folks like us...we keep our own counsel an' try to fix things on our own. Mind ye, I ain't sayin ye NEED any hep with addressin' yer troubles...but sometimes it's just a bit easier if a couple o' fren's is workin' on their lives side by side...kinda like mules in a team..."

"Yeah...good comparison...I am a bit mule-headed," JF chuckled.

"JF, I will be deeply gratified if ye will consider this plan I have proposed. I mean lordy, think about it...they's all these books 'n articles about the Black Hills fer folks back east to read...Neil is always goin' on about what people think about it's this land o' magic an' myth...we already see folks drawn to it..not by gold...but just wantin' to live a part of it fer a see it, taste it, 'fore it's' I expect that's gonna happen more 'n more..."

"Yeah. Makes sense," commented JF

"Well, pard," Dio contined, "We could kinda hep some o' them folks...fer a reasonable price o' course. Look, how much o' what we done fer the last year was straightening out some feckless greenhorns an' steerin' 'em aroun' the pits an beartraps?"

"Quite a bit, I reckon,"

Dio looked quite pleased with herself and her reasoning. "Well, there ye go! There's somethin' yer good at...somethin' besides usin' yer irons. Yer good at helpin' folks an' showin' 'em what's what. Ye could do that, an get compensated fer it for a change."

The discussion seemed to be having some effect. JF Kanto looked like a new man. Dio could see the wheels turning in his head.

"Stand back a tad," he said softly.

Dio did so, and after she had moved back a few steps, JF drew his pistol once again with his right hand, and cocked the weapon. With his left hand, he pulled a small, flat bottle filled with an amber liquid from his jacket pocket. He tossed it a good distance in the air and fired, breaking the bottle as it descended. He opened the loading gate on his Colt, and after punching out the two empty casings from the cylinder, he took two fresh cartridges from the loops on his belt and carefully replaced the rounds that had been fired. Then he turned to Dio and smiled.

"I gotta go find Lola and talk to her. Thank ya Dio. Oh..and by the way...right fine looking rifle ya got there. Looks like it would be a dandy for doin' some huntin' with."

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The Lindens plan to become art patrons

Lorenzo de Medici, Italian merchant prince and patron of the arts

Evidently, someone at the Lab has been reading Aristotle and Machiavelli. Today, Niko Linden made an announcement that LL would be starting "a Linden Endowment for the Arts (LEA) program which will help support, encourage, and highlight Second Life artists and their work."

So....the Lab is taking on the role of Renaissance prince: who knew that "M" stood for "Medici" Linden? Here's a key bit from Niko's blog post:

"The Linden Endowment for the Arts (LEA) program's goal is twofold:

To create an immersive space for artists to share their art, build connections, and prosper in the Second Life community

To provide a new way for artwork to live on within our ever-changing virtual world.

While still under design, this program will be a partnership between Linden Lab and Second Life artists, with the additional objective of gathering, displaying, and maintaining art at an inworld Arts Hub. We are currently building the LEA organizing committee, which will include members of the Second Life artist community and Linden Lab employees, to guide the program's management. Under the creative direction, organization and guidance of the LEA committee, we will hold biannual art exhibitions, highlighting the most creative artwork happening inworld."

It seems that the Lab is looking at two key strategies: to create a "hub" or concentration of Linden-supported artistic endeavor; and to have its employees--including M--take a direct role in managing the program.

Niko's blog has already generated some interesting comments (as well as the usual banalities). One of my favorites so far was posted by a resident named Escape Unplugged:

"Live music. Dance. Drama. Storytelling. Performance art. Machinima.

All arts that are happening in SL. Quite possibly they're all happening right now. The endowment HAS to include these other artistic expressions in SL if it truly to "create an immersive space for artists to share their art, build connections, and prosper in the Second Life community"

I'm fortunate enough to have an involvement in most of those creative and artistic mediums in SL (including rezable art) but to think that friends and/or artists I admire would be excluded simply because they don't create the "right type" of art is concerning.

Please can you clarify this Niko?"

Here's my own response, which builds on Escape's comment:

" Escape: Glad to see that you included storytelling in the list of art forms. As for your including "drama" in the list, my initial reaction was, "ah yes, we do have a number of residents who have raised their drama-making to the level of an art form."

But seriously, yes, I know what you meant, I just couldn't help but think of it the other way.

Niko, I do think this is an intriguing possibility, but your piece immediately brings up a couple questions:

What precisely is meant by creating "
an immersive space for artists to share their art, build connections, and prosper in the Second Life community?"

Are you proposing a Linden-controlled arts venue that will in essence concentrate the Linden supported artistic endeavor in a ghetto? What about those artists and arts groups who wish to continue to carry out their activities in environments and venues over which they have more control, and which function in an organic way that is interconnected with one of the diverse communities that already are thriving on the grid?

Will the artists or groups who don't wish to confine themselves within the official Linden-supported arts "immersive space" still be eligible to apply for support of their projects and programming that they present in the independent, resident-controlled spaces?

Somewhat related to that, you also talk about
"highlighting the most creative artwork happening inworld." That makes me really curious. So who will decide what qualifies as "the most creative artwork?"

There certainly have been serious disagreements in the past between Lindens and residents as to what constitutes "creative" as well as what is considered "quality" in the arts.
I trust that you do realize that you are entering sensitive territory and that there will be issues that require careful consideration with genuine participation from a wide range of interested resident stakeholders, and not just the "usual suspects."

I am curious about what the larger goal is here: to keep artists from leaving SL for other platforms? To ensure that the diversity of artistic activity? To make more of the residents--and potential residents--aware of this aspect of life on the grid, and to encourage them to appreciate and support what is going on...or maybe even to encourage more residents to take their own shot at expressing themselves through art?

I sincerely hope it will take a more inclusive approach, rather than overly selective and elitist. After all, one of the beauties of the platform has always been that anyone and everyone can try to use it as a tool of artistic self-expression.

I really do wonder what the ultimate goal is here, because what Niko describes as "goals" arguably qualify more as "strategies" than underlying reasons for executing this plan.

They want to "create an immersive space to facilitate artists sharing their work (getting people to see it), building connections (With other artists? Or a broader audience? Not sure about that one), and prospering. They also want a way for "artwork to live on within our ever-changing virtual world. I assume what they mean by that is LL wants to develop a system to preserve Cool Stuff and make it so that someone's artwork doesn't just disappear when they can't afford to pay their rent or tier, or they decide to go to Blue Mars.

So why would do the Labsters want to do these things--to help artists build audiences and prosper and for their art to have more permanence?

One real good possibility is that they want to create greater awareness of the arts in SL as part of their new marketing efforts. A lot of folks do a lot of way cool creative stuff in-world, and one of the frustrations with all the half-assed articles that drip with the "SL is dead" meme is that they focus on the lurid, sexy stuff and not much else. That has got to be driving the Lab folks foam-at-the-mouth, whacko crazy as much as it pisses off those of us who are trying to do creative non-salacious things with the platform. Supporting--and highlighting--arts activities in-world would go a long way towards polishing up the image of SL as something that has more purpose than facilitating masturbatory fantasies.

Preserving in-world artisitic works would also help head off the embarrassment that happens when you tell some new guy, "hey you gotta see this artistically awesome amalgamation of utter awesomeness"...

...and they go to see it and it's gone because the artist/resident pulled up stakes and got the fuck out of Dodge. And then Disappointed New Guy thinks you're a eye-rolling idiot.

So yeah, if that is one of the goals, to make more people aware that we got something besides pixel-poking going on, and give some longevity to Cool Stuff in order to reinforce that positive impression, I'm on board.

And myabe I'm just a spit dribbling idealist, but I also hope another goal for this is to foster the idea that SL can enable artistic self-expression by everyone and anyone who wants to do so, then this becomes a powerful marketing tool for the lab. Promote the idea of SL as a place where anyone can make art happen, and it could conceivably draw in folks who haven't tried SL yet, but who will want to give it a shot when they realize what they do with it.

That is another goal that I heartily endorse. Unfortuantley I'm not so sure that is what the Labsters have in mind--people who want to actively create, rather than passivley consume, are not the massive Facebook-type demographic that the Lab seems to be hoping to attract. But hey, if the strategy draws in new creative blood as an unintended consequence of larger marketing plans, I won't be unhappy.

So, yes, I hope this works. And yeah, I do have a lot of concerns about the idea. I do worry that it could be an elitist clusterfuck with the usual suspects and sycophants getting all the benefits and the accolades--and the Linden largess--while other hard-working people get dissed or ignored. It isn't like it hasn't happened before--one example that leaps to mind was the situation when "Shakespeare in SL" was looked upon by certain Lindens as not sufficiently hip, or forward-thinking, or innovative or something, in order for it to be included in one of those SL birthday things.

I find it intriguing that they call this new initiative the "Linden Endowment for the Arts." I assume they will not literally establish an "endowment" (a fund that is invested to generate income to be disbursed in the form of grants or to support a non-profit endeavor). I suspect why they picked the name was because they hope to emulate a system like the National Endowment for the Arts in which arts organizations and some individuals (in very restricted, specific categories) compete for grants and the applications are evaluated by peer review. It's supposed to fair and democratic, and ideally the LEA should be as well. To work in that fashion, it definitely will require participation by a diverse sampling of the grid's creative types. I think I'm going to encourage some of my artsy SL friends to apply for membership as resident representatives on the LEA committee.

There have to be some DaVincis on the team to balance out the Medicis if this thing is gonna fly.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Prim Presents -- cool stuff I got after my Second Life Wedding

A romantic moment, enjoying our wedding gifts.

I intended to do this for a while but got distracted by some other things. (Yeah, I know it sucks how often my posts start out with some statement like that. Deal. I do.) I want to thank a couple friends who gave me and Sepp some wedding presents back when we jumped the broom in January.

First of all, Ernst Osterham gave us our very own fish-can target set to plink at.

The fish can target set consists of three cans that rez on a railing (included with the set). You shoot them and they fly off. After a short pause (plenty of time to take out all three cans on the rail) replacements automatically rez on the rail for the next round.

I've written about these before. They look great (note the awesome vintage label on the can) and they do cool things as you shoot them, making a plink or clank noise and flying into the air when struck properly. They then lay around on the ground for a little while until they self-delete. By the way, Ernst now has these can targets available for sale at his Albion Importers shops (New Babbage, Deadwood, among other locations, I think). When he first introduced them, they were not up for sale at first. But now they are. Go get some. They're hours of fun. And I really got to hand it to Ernst--he knew that Sepp and I would find this an incredibly romantic gift. The family that plinks together, thinks together....or something like that.

Oh, and speaking of the social aspects of firearms in a conjugal context, the other wedding present we got was a pair of Remington-Rider "rolling block" rifles made by our friend Jasper Kiergarten. Sepp hadn't been around much since the wedding, but last night we managed to get together and go running around in the hills above Deadwood trying these out.

So we spent some time shooting the paper targets up by the old miners' cabin, and did a bit of hunting and chasing around after critters.

The guns themselves are of course the kind of work you expect from Jasper: museum quality 3-D modeling, with proper proportions and carefully sculpted pieces that are shaped to look like what they are supposed to look like. This weapon--which is offered for sale at a very reasonable price in the Kiergarten Amoury shop in New Babbage--features a vernier tang sight (as used at Creedmore and other target ranges), a "slung over the shoulder" pose for carrying, and a receiver that is textured to look like it is case hardened steel.

Another thing I really like: there is a version of the gun available in which the firing pose is adjusted for smaller female avies like mine, so you don't look like a bug-eatin' fool with the butt stock of your weapon sticking out the back of your shoulder blades.

Historically, the Remington-Rider "rolling block" rifle was second only to the Sharps in popularity among professional buffalo hunters. First introduced in 1866, this family of firearms featured an extremely strong action that eventually was able to make the transition from black powder to smokeless cartridges. Ultimately, the rolling block would be produced in a wide variety of calibers, including .50-70, .45-70, 7mm Mauser, .43 Spanish, .43 Egyptian, .43 Turkish, .303 British, .30-40 Krag, 7.62 Russian, 8x56R Danish, and even .22 rimfire, among others. As you might guess from that list of different rounds, it was made in a range of variants for military as well as civilian use, and target rifles built on rolling block actions frequently showed up in competitive shooting.

To load a Remington rolling block irl, you cock the hammer, then pull back on a small lever that protrudes on the right side of the block. This unlocks the block and allows it to "roll" back, permitting you to slide a round into the chamber. After you have placed the cartridge in the chamber, you push the protruding lever on the block forward, which closes the action, leaving the hammer cocked. When you pull the trigger and the hammer falls on the block, it not only drives the firing pin into the round, it also ensures that the action is very tightly closed, preventing any escape of gas. When you open the block again, the fired casing is extracted.

Naturally it takes much longer to explain this process than it doses to actually carry it out in real life. Nonetheless, it is a single-shot weapon that is manually operated, and therefore a tad on the slow side. Once again, it is greatly to Jasper's credit that--as he did with his Sharps--he gave this this weapon a reloading time, animations and sound effects that seek to realistically represent operation of a single-shot weapon. If you are one of those spit-dribbling, dry-humping morons who wants a fantasy gun for shoot-outs that operates in an unrealistic fashion (cranking out too many rounds too rapidly, without requiring reloading), then fuck you. This isn't the gun for you.

But it's just the kind of gun that Sepp and I love for hunting and target shooting. Oh, and bless his heart, Jasper even "engraved" our names on our respective weapons. Ain't that sweet?

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Learning and “Education” in Second Life -- are they two very different things?

The San Jose State University build: one of many higher ed campuses in SL

I’ve been meaning to write about this for some time: the idea that SL offers opportunities for more than commerce, marketing and socializing--it is a place where a great deal of learning takes place. The curious fact of it, however, seems to be that while there may be substantial learning going on, it is not necessarily the result of teaching in the way that we usually think of it.

So I’ve been pondering on this and have had some conversations with other people who have an interest in the subject of learning in SL. Among those with whom I have had some of the most interesting and intelligent conversations are Aurili Oh, (in real life, Dr. Suzanne Aurilio of San Diego State University who has done her Ph.D. dissertation on learning in sl) and Serenek Timeless (also a real life academic, who is involved with the Renaissance Island sim). However, I hadn’t written about it yet, in part because I’m tired and my brain hurts a lot these days, but also because I still have the sense that I don’t understand a great deal about why certain things seem to happen with learning in SL, and other things just bloody well don’t.

Obviously, I’m not the only one trying to figure it out, and what finally got me inspired to start my part of the public conversation about it was two recent pieces that have appeared on the inter-tubes:

One is this recent article by Jeffrey Young on the Chronicle of Higher Education’s web site, entitled, “After Frustrations in Second Life, Colleges Look to New Virtual Worlds.” Mr. Young ‘s actual article is a slightly more-intelligent-than-usual variation on the current “SL is dead” meme, framed within the context of virtual education. He points to a number of academic institutions that are scaling back on their presence in SL and briefly discusses some of the alternatives.

The other piece that provided an intriguing counterpoint to the CoHE article was a post about the results of a survey conducted by the New Media Consortium, which reported that not only has interest in virtual worlds in general remained high among educators, but that Second Life is still the primary virtual world platform utilized by educators (76% of the respondents said it was what they predominantly used). You really ought to go take a look at the survey results--it’s fun stuff, especially the tidbits about why some universities and colleges staunchly resist the siren call of virtual worlds. But it does also somewhat contradict Mr. Young’s contentions, which after all do seem to be primarily based upon anecdotal evidence and his own limited experience, rather than any kind of actual data such as the NMC tried to present with its survey.

That said, I think you can argue that Mr. Young’s piece does reflect a certain reality: that some of the big schools that got involved with SL apparently are now arriving at the same conclusion that many big businesses on the grid came to over the course of the last several years. Like many large corporate residents of SL, schools are perhaps finding that the platform did not live up to their expectations (or the hype). What is really interesting about the CoHE article however, is the comments. I recommend that you sort through them, in a particular because they shed some light on why some universities and colleges may be coming to this conclusion.

Let me give you a sampling of how people responded to Mr. Young. One correspondent, under the handle “alex_heiphetz,” commented:

“It has become apparent a while ago that building copies of university campuses in Second Life does not produce any results and can only kill an interest in the new technology. To me it is also clear those who begin with building campuses, and do not progress towards using interactive and collaborative opportunities of virtual world are often the people who complain about lack of control, lack of security, etc; while those of us who work with more advanced projects find our way with security, griefers and control. This is not to say that Second Life is absolutely the best forever and ever, but to say that it does work well today, especially where education and training benefit from interactivity, 3D visuals and collaborative knowledge management/transfer.”

I think Alex hit one of the nails pretty squarely on the head. As we have seen with businesses --and as I have pointed out time and again with museums in SL--you can’t come in to a space like Second Life and succeed by simply building a pixelated version of your real life facility and trying to connect and communicate with your audience in the same ways that you do in meatspace. If it’s going to work, it’s going to do so because you’re taking advantage of the unique environment and the tools, and doing something completely different. When it succeeds, it's becuase you're using the platform in ways that enable you to try things that you really can’t accomplish effectively (or at reasonable cost) in a bricks and mortar space.

Another well considered response came from the always thoughtful John Carter McKnight:

“I am currently teaching a law school course at Arizona State University on the governance of virtual worlds, with sessions in the classroom, in World Of Warcraft and Second Life. Virtual worlds provide an opportunity for hands-on engagement with community building, with contract, property and criminal law.

Yes, it takes time to learn the medium. It takes time to learn the medium of law school as well. 

Yes, there are colorful people and environments in SL: there are in the neighborhood around our campus as well. Teaching, whether in the physical or digital classroom, is embedded in a larger community. Few of us study in remote monasteries anymore. This is not a bug, but a feature. 

Second Life enables us to bring guest speakers from around the world into our classroom, at no cost. It also enables my students to experience the legal and political issues around online communities first hand, rather than as dry abstractions.”

So John gets it--in essence he’s saying that part of what makes his classes in SL work are some of the very same considerations that other academics look on as drawbacks or “frustrations.” I love that line--”This is not a bug, but a feature.” Damn, I want to put that on a coffee mug AND a T-shirt.

The interesting thing here is that people like Mr. McKnight seem to be finding new ways to teach using a platform like Second Life. This is what intrigues me: “Education” (with a capital “E”)--the business of education as we know it in the real world--doesn’t seem to necessarily work very well in a virtual world like Second Life. People do seem to be finding ways to learn AND to teach on the grid, but not in a tradtional "formal" way.

This is essentially at the heart of Dr. Aurilio’s findings which she put forth in her dissertation--that “formal” education in SL usually doesn’t work terribly well. But what does work remarkably often (and remarkably well) are various manifestations of self-directed learning, some of which take place within an individual context, while other examples are carried out in a collaborative (or at least mutually supportive) collective environment.

Dr. Aurilio studied learning among adults on the platform and came to some wonderful conclusions including:

* Learning is technologically and socially platform-specific.

* It is socially interdependent.

* It depends on intrinsically motivating activities.

* It engenders forms of learning-by-doing.

I was also struck in the course of talking with her that my view of places like Renaissance Island and Deadwood being most successful as venues for self-directed learning needs to be considered in a different way than I have been thinking of it in the past. The fact is, even when you are motivating yourself to learn something--how to build a world or a chair, what forms of material culture were used in a particular time and place you are trying to recreate, the social history of an era that is going to be represented in roleplaying, etc.--you are not doing so in isolation.

When learning has happened among us in the Deadwood community, it is a wonderfully collective experience. We share research, we make things for each other, we share ideas and develop collective goals...we also egg each other on, we encourage each other and at times we challenge each other. Clay Kungler, for example, has been teaching himself (learning by doing) to build and script things, and he asks me, “Hey Boss, what do we need for our 1870s placer mining operation that we don’t have?” And I say, “Well, Bubba, we sure could use some wheelbarrows and these things called rockers that you use for sifting gravel and sand.” And then he says, “So what’s a rocker look like and how does it work?” And I do the research and find cool pictures to send him. Then he says, “So what does an 1870s wheelbarrow look like?” And I say, “Shit, I don’t know, I’ll work on it.” And I do more research and find some pictures and learn that the guy who made Studebaker wagons (and later on, Studebaker cars) started out making wheelbarrows in the gold fields of California. Meanwhile Clay is figuring out not just how he’s going to make this junk look right, but how he’s going to script it to work as dynamic adjuncts to the rp storyline. Finally, these things are going to be shared with other people in the sim, and they will be learning about the historic processes of placer mining while playing with the objects that I researched and Clay built.

So is it self-directed learning? Yes and no. As Dr. Aurilio said to me about her observations of learning in SL:

“ fundamentally involves others, in terms of sharing, asking for help, using the resources others have created and creating them for others too. My participants also seemed to be motivated to learn by what other Residents built. Several commented that when they saw things other Residents had made, they felt inspired to try and make it themselves. I’m re-thinking the notion of “self-directedness”. What exactly does that look like in an environment such as SL, or the Web for that matter?”

And how does this all apply to issues of teaching in Second Life? In this context of self-directed learning in a collaborative environment, what is the role of the teacher? Do you become more of a community leader than a “teacher” in the traditional sense?

Ultimately, I do believe in the future of virtual worlds as a vital and vibrant learning environment. But I suspect the most successful manifestations of it will not be developing in the arena of “mass-production” education. And to try to make it work as such arguably is a dreadful waste of the potential that virtual worlds hold.

Monday, February 15, 2010

A Deadwood story -- counting coup, conclusion


Lieutenant Wilcox desperately wanted this mission over and done with. It was bad enough that the Indian scouts clearly thought of him as little better than an inept child, but the expedition itself had been truly punishing. The trip up to the Black Hills had involved a lot of hard riding, little sleep--and then only with a blanket on hard ground--and living off cold rations. Then when he finally got to go into that Deadwood place and have a seat indoors and some coffee--and was beginning to feel like a civilized human again--Sergeant Bogart's fiance had torn into him like one of the gut-shredding harpies of ancient legend.

He had never before known a woman who could demolish a fellow's self-esteem in such colorful and extended fashion. It was in actuality probably accomplished with only a few sentences, but it felt like an eternity of verbal abuse.

The worst part was, he knew she was right. He had developed great respect for the Indian scouts, and hoped he was learning some things from them...but it had been an egregious lapse in judgement and responsibility to have allowed Corporal Red Knife to look for the woman on his own, and run the risk of being shot as a hostile by one of the townspeople.

Still, it had turned out alright. Once Mrs. Kuhr had finished giving him instruction in the art and craft of applied profanity, she had given both him and Red Knife a darn good feed of coffee, pie and venison stew. She then gave them some useful information in terms of things she had heard about signs suggesting hostiles were in the area, and was able to pinpoint exactly where these reported signs had appeared. Furthermore, she agreed to alert the populace of the town about the need for caution when hunting or working in the hills, and promised to do so in a manner that she hoped would cause the least possible amount of panic and overreaction. Wilcox had in fact improved his standing in the woman's eyes by suggesting that she embellish the truth about the size and nature of the force that the army had sent to pursue the raiding party, in order to give the locals some reassurance that the hostiles would be dealt with swiftly and effectively.

But now he was back in the hills, crouching in some bushes in a thin rain, waiting for the signal from Clouds on Big Mountain to attack the Lakotas' hidden camp. They had already confronted the raiding party once--an encounter in which Clouds on Big Mountain and Young Hawk had tried to convince the Sioux to return peacefully to the Agency. The scouts had no real wish to kill Lakotas unless they had to, not just because that was an aspect of their orders, but also because if they killed these fellows, that might stir up more unrest and new problems among Red Cloud's people.

The hostiles, however, had chosen to resist, and a short, sharp dust-up had erupted. The raiding party managed to break through the encircling scouts and escape, but in doing so at least one of them had been wounded. The one positive note in the course of events was that in the fight, Red Knife had struck one of the Sioux men with a native form of riding crop, thereby "counting coup" and gaining accolades from his colleagues. Young Hawk was quite proud of his nephew, and the other scouts all seemed to take it as a good sign that the raiding party would not slip away next time.

Well, this was that "next time." The Lakota were hiding in a cluster of some rocks and fir trees, while the scouts--and Lt. Wilcox--were arranged in a circle around them, ready for a fresh attempt to make them return to the Agency.

Wilcox peered through the misting rain and branches of the bushes where he was concealed, but he really couldn't see anything. He was frustrated, he was wet and miserable, and he was painfully aware of something having worked its way into his boot where it rubbed uncomfortably against his ankle. But this was, of course, not the time to be pulling off his boots and trying to look after a minor irritant like that.

Oddly enough, what Lieutenant Wilcox was not, was scared. The firefight the other day had been his first occasion of actually being under hostile fire, and he had found it to be an experience that was strangely exhilarating--as well as sobering. He had felt almost disconnected from himself when the shooting an observer, watching a training exercise. If you had pressed him to explain his feelings, he would have found it hard to put it into words. Now, waiting for his second encounter with the enemy to commence, he was aware of his physical discomfort, he longed to get this business concluded, but he also was remarkably calm and in the moment. Many years later, he did make a comment to the effect that on this occasion, he had felt he was where he was supposed to be...

And then a shot rang out from the rocks...then more. They had been detected by the Lakota. Almost immediately, the scouts were returning fire, and the crackle of gunshots was rising to a brief crescendo. Suddenly, Wilcox realized there was a hostile warrior on the move: advancing rapidly, bent over and taking advantage of all cover he could find, and heading directly towards the lieutenant.

Wilcox raised his .45/55 service carbine, drew in a breath and let it out part way, took aim, squeezed the trigger...and missed. The Indian heard the roar of the carbine and saw the flash, and began bearing down on the officer. Rather than trying to reload the carbine, Wilcox tossed it aside. He then stood up, clawed open the flap on his pistol holster, and yanked out the big Schofield revolver as quickly as he could.

Now, you may recall something we mentioned some time ago, while the young gentleman was still in St.Louis at the cavalry depot. At this time, the U.S. Army had a mixture of revolvers in service, including the Colt model 1873 (commonly called the single action army), and the large Smith & Wesson No. 3 revolver (later versions of which were known as the "Schofield"). Mr. Wilcox had elected to keep his Smith & Wesson as his personal sidearm of choice, being as it is a break-action style of weapon, in which the frame is hinged so that you when you undo the catch, the barrel drops down and a mechanism automatically extracts the contents of your cylinder. Consequently, you can remove your spent casings and get reloaded much more quickly than you can with the SAA Colt.

Unfortunately, there is a curious thing that occasionally happens with the Smith &Wesson No. 3. In jamming the pistol into the holster or pulling it back out, it is possible to accidentally disengage the catch on the frame. When that occurs, once the pistol is drawn clear of the holster the heavy barrel will be pulled down by its own weight, opening the action of the weapon, and your firearm can unexpectedly and inconveniently unburden itself of your unfired cartridges.

This is one of the reasons why the Army rather preferred the Colt over the Smith & Wesson (as well as other factors like its use of a relatively anemic round, and that it had more parts that could potentially break). But accidentally unloading itself in the heat of combat was a pretty substantial drawback in and of itself.

Mind you, this sort of accident was not common. There was...oh, let's say maybe something like a one-in-a-hundred chance of this occurring. But it did happen now and then. And of course, that is precisely what happened to Lieutenant Wilcox in this instance. The one-in-a-hundred thing that could go wrong chose to go wrong at the worst possible time (as such things usually do). When the young officer yanked out the massive revolver, the catch was in fact undone, the heavy barrel did, in fact, tip forward, and the extractor mechanism functioned as it was supposed to. The Lieutenant was unpleasantly surprised by the sound of his unfired rounds landing on the soft ground.

Plop. Plopplopplop....Plop.

The Indian who was rushing at Wilxcox was apparently surprised as well. He stopped a short distance from the white man, who was looking at his now empty pistol. Then the white man said something in his own tongue (it was in fact, "Oh, what the hell"). Then the bluecoat--rather than running away or cowering--casually tossed his useless weapon over his shoulder and charged at his opponent, shouting like one who had looked upon the Face of the Great Spirit and gone mad.

To complicate the situation, the Lakota warrior also noticed that several of the "White Men's wolves"--Indians who fought alongside the bluecoats--had burst from the nearby undergrowth and were coming to the aid of this crazy white guy. Under these circumstances, the Lakota man elected to execute a tactical withdrawal, and turned to make a dash back to the cover of the rocks. As he did so, he felt a sharp--but certainly not disabling--blow to the back of his head.

Crazy white guy had smacked him from behind with with the open palm of his hand. The Indian could have turned and killed the man with his knife, but he knew the scouts would be on him almost instantly, so he continued back to the rocks.

Wilcox, meanwhile, having just slapped a Sioux warrior on the back of his head, suddenly was overcome with the realization that he had placed himself in a somewhat untenable situation. He was more or less in the open and unarmed. Red Knife and another of the Arikara men had rushed out from cover to stand with him, but at any moment he expected for them all to be cut down by a renewed hail of bullets from the direction of the rocks.

But that wasn't what happened. Instead, all shooting stopped. Some moments passed, and then a voice called out in Sioux from the cluster of rocks and trees. Clouds on Big Mountain replied in the same language, and before long, there was movement from the Lakota as they left their concealed positions. Red Knife explained to the Lieutenant that the raiding party was surrendering itself to return peacefully to the Agency.

In a way, it wasn't surprising. As the half dozen men came down from their position, Wilcox could see that at least two of them were wounded. They only had a couple horses, and to tell the truth, the Lakota looked about as tired, hungry and miserable as he felt...these men had made their attempt to return to the old ways...and they were now ready to go back.

What did surprise Wilcox however, was that the Crow and Arikara scouts crowded around him patting him on the shoulder and smiling broadly. The lieutenant looked at Red Knife with a puzzled expression.

"What's all this about, Red Knife?"

Red Knife laughed. "You too have counted coup! And how you did so! To empty your gun...and throw it away! Crazy you seemed, but crazy-brave! That is why our enemies decided to quit and go back--being chased by us, and a white man who does not fear to die...who would throw away his gun to count coup...they lost their hunger for this fight."

Second Lieutenant Josephus Wilcox thought about this a minute...he briefly considered trying to explain what had actually happened...then he decided it was was not in his own interest to disabuse anyone present of the notion that he had deliberately unloaded his pistol and tossed it aside in order to count coup in the purest sense of the concept: without any deadly weapon for protection, and expressing utter contempt for his enemies.

He turned to Young Hawk and Clouds on Big Mountain, and with Red Knife's help, told them that he wished to return briefly to Deadwood so he could tell the One Eyed Sergeant's Woman what had happened, and that all was well. He would also get them some supplies for the return trip.

The two elder scouts nodded their assent...though Young Hawk asked if some of the scouts should perhaps go with the Lieutenant. With no hint of irony, he told Wilcox that they would be proud to go with him to the white men's big camp if he wished them to do so.

But Wilcox shook his head.

"No thank you, Young Hawk. I will go alone. I do not wish for you or any of your...of our men to be shot by mistake by some fool."

He then looked at Red Knife and grinned. "It's all right, I will do my best to not get lost."

As the scouts watched Wilcox ride off in the direction of the town, Red Knife told the others what the lieutenant had said. The Crow scouts all smiled slightly at this, but the Arikara men laughed out loud. The universe could indeed be a funny place sometimes.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

A Deadwood story -- counting coup, pt. 3

Arikara Scout, 1870s (National Archives)

Early one morning, Dio was out in woodyard behind Doc Alcott’s old infirmary, splitting wood with the help of a boy from the orphanage, who went by the name Tim Hax.

Oh, I probably ought to mention that being as Doc Alcott had died during childbirth, the infirmary was now being run by the same Doc Morpork I have mentioned previously. You see, the Doc had elected to retire from the army (or the army had elected to retire him) and he decided to stay on in Deadwood to continue offering his services to folk when he wasn’t too drunk to work. Truth be told, he didn’t get on too well with many folks, but one of the few that he did seem to respect was Dio--mostly because she knew how to cuss properly--so he let her use the woodyard behind his place.

But I’m kinda digressing there, aren’t I?

Anyhow, Dio and Tim Hax were splitting wood and stacking the pieces in a hand cart to drag back to the No. 10, when Tim looked up and pointed to two figures who were approaching.

"Miz Dio...seems like someone’s comin’ lookin for us.”

Dio ceased working with her splittin’ axe and looked up. Sure enough, she could see two people walking up the muddy alley towards the woodyard, one of whom clearly was Geoff Alderson.

You remember little Geoff don’t you? Dio had saved him from an outlaw who was holding him hostage but shot him in the leg whilst doing so. Accompanying the lad was young man--an Indian, in fact, with long black hair under a broad brimmed hat, wearing a blue army sack coat with corporal's stripes, belted at the waist with an old pattern federal-issue pistol belt with the big oval brass “US” buckle. While his upper half looked military, his lower half reflected his native heritage: buckskin trousers, leggings and moccasins.

Geoff looked a little nervous and uncertain.

Uh...M-Miss Dio? This here g-gent, he says he is a-lookin’ for ya. And they’s also a army ossifer too, a-waiting at the Number 10 for ya...”

Dio could tell from the style of the young man’s leggings and moccasins that he was probably Arikara, a people who had in recent years worked with the army in fighting their traditional enemies, the Sioux. The nature and condition of his service blouse and pistol rig indicated they were issue--not cast-offs or stolen. Dio quickly sized him up and concluded he was an Indian scout for the US military.

“Tashgasha.” said the young man as he raised his hand in greeting. “I am Red knife, Corporal of Scouts.”

Yup. Definitely an Arikara, as that is the way a man of that tribe gives greeting. But his command of English seemed to be pretty substantial.

Raising her own hand in greeting to the young man, Dio responded, “Nawah, Corporal Red Knife,”

“Nawah” is the appropriate Arikara greeting given by a woman (you may recall she had Arikara friends from back in her buffalo-hunting days). I expect Red Knife found this to be to his liking, for the Indian scout smiled in reaction to her greeting. Then he inquired, “You are the one called Dio, Sergeant One Eye's Woman?”

“Well, yes, I’m Dio...but ‘Sergeant One Eye’s Woman?’ That’s a new one on me, m’ friend.”

The young scout shrugged and smiled slightly. “Yes...the Crow scouts speak of a Sergeant they call ‘One Eye’ and of ‘Sergeant One Eye's Woman,’ also called Dio...some even speak of you as ‘elder sister’ to them. They say you are a warrior woman who has ridden with One Eye and Clouds on Big Mountain...and you track and kill well, I am told.”

“Ah,” Dio smiled. “You know Clouds on Big Mountain then?”

Red Knife nodded. “He leads the Crow scouts who usually ride with the horse soldiers of 3rd cavalry. But today they ride with us. I scout and fight under my Uncle, Young Hawk, who is our sergeant. We usually ride with Bad Hand.

Geoff had been listening to this whole exchange in a somewhat awed state of open-mouthed silence. It had been impressed upon him by some idiot or other that Indians were universally dangerous savages, hardly better than animals. But here was this well-spoken young man--the first Indian Geoff had ever seen up close, with his dark skin and long, shining black hair--engaged in friendly discussion with Miss Dio. And she was obviously inclined to be quite pleasant and respectful with him. In fact, he noted that her demeanor and manner of speech was different than usual. She seemed somewhat reserved..almost formal...but at the same time she gave no indication of being cautious or on-guard with him. And now this mention of someone called Bad Hand intrigued the boy. Such a name could only be for another warrior, and probably a fierce and dangerous one.

“W-who’s Bad Hand? Is he another injun?” asked Geoff, his curiosity overcoming his uncertainty about the situation.

Dio looked down at Geoff and smiled gently. “No, Hon. That’s what the injun scouts call Colonel MacKenzie, commander o’ 4th Cavalry.”

Tim nodded, adding, “He’s probbly one o’ the best field officers on the Plains.” Tim was too polite to be very forward with the stranger. But he was quite impressed that this young man, not much older than himself, was under the command of the famous Ranald MacKenzie, one of the few army officers who had dealt successfully with the Comanche in Texas.

“OH.” said Geoff, now really curious. “Why they call him Bad Hand?”

“Mackenzie has been wounded many times,” answered Red Knife. “Once in the White mens’ big war, his hand was struck and he lost some fingers. Many scars he has, but that is the one you can see most. So that is why he carries the name Bad Hand.

Geoff brightened up at this. “I got me a scar too! I got it when Miz Dio saved m’ life an shot me all in the same day! You wanna hear the story?”

Dio laughed. “Geoff, hon, I think we got things we have to talk over first. I ‘spect Red Knife is here fer a reason besides just visitin’ to say howdy-do. I am sure that there will be some other time when ye kin tell Red Knife the story o’ yer scar.”

Red Knife grinned a little at the boy. “Yes...some time, our stories, we can share.. Now I must bring Sergeant One Eye’s Woman to see the white officer who comes with us.” He turned back to Dio and his face took on an almost blank expression. “The lieutenant...he is called Wilcox. He is at the place called number ten. He chose to wait there, while the young one here took me to find you. He said he would stay there should you came back while I looked for you other places.” He shrugged again. “I think he wished to sit a while.”

“Th’ Lootinint looked awful tired,” Geoff agreed.

“Well I reckon he can wait a tad longer then, if’n he couldn’t be bothered to come seekin’ fer me with the Corporal here,” said Dio, trying to keep her voice from betraying the irritation she was feeling. Sending the young Indian scout to wander around Deadwood on his own was just asking for him to get shot by some feckless idiot.

She took a step back and put her hand on Tim’s shoulder. “Before we do anything else, I should interduce my friend here. Corporal Red Knife, meet Tim Hax.”

Tim was a tall skinny kid, dressed in jeancloth work duds that had patches upon patches. He was just shy of 14 years of age, but he looked older because of his height, and that sort of gentle wisdom you could see in his eyes. He didn’t always talk much, but he was as earnest and good-natured of a young fellow as you could hope to meet. He stuck out a calloused hand that looked too big for his body, at the end of an gangly arm that was a bit too long for the sleeve of his jacket.

“How do, Corpral?” he said in a manner that was a nice mixture of respect and quiet friendliness.

The Indian scout looked into Tim’s eyes for a moment and then smiled. He reached out and took the boy’s hand in his and grasped it firmly. “I do well, friend.”

Dio looked on with approval, then cleared her throat.

“Red Knife, I 'spose you been sent lookin' fer me for a reason. What can I do for you and your brother scouts?”

Red Knife’s face took on a very serious expression and he straightened slightly, as if giving a report.

“There are young men at the Red Cloud agency--Lakota, they are--with much anger that they cannot hunt and raid as they once did. Some have defied their elders and left the agency. They have come this way. The Major at that camp called Robinson, he and Bad Hand decided to send scouts and a white officer to follow these men who left the agency, to bring them back, or kill them if we must. We have tracked them. They are not far. But the Major told us that his Sergeant One Eye had a friend called Dio who is an elder in the white mens’ big camp called Deadwood. He told us to find you to tell you of these Lakota who have returned to this land they call Paha Sapa”

“Where are the other scouts now, Red Knife?”

“They are in the hills, watching. Clouds on Big Mountain and my Uncle have told me to come to the big camp of the white men with Wilcox to seek you. I speak the language of white men better than most, so they thought I should come.”

“Oh? Why din’t the officer come on his own?”

“Red Knife’s face was impassive. “They did not wish for him to get lost.”

Dio sighed.

“Do not worry Dio,“ said Red Knife in a reassuring tone. “We have good scouts. Men who have killed many enemies...I have killed an enemy myself, though I have not yet counted coup. We will catch the Lokota men.”

“I am sure you will,” replied Dio.

Red Knife continued, “But we were told to seek you, as you are an elder of this big must warn the other white people of your camp...tell them to not go into the hills alone, to not be fools and to be wary until the Lakota have been caught and made to go back...or are killed.

Dio tried really hard not to sigh again, but a small one escaped nonetheless. “Well Red Knife, tellin’ some o’ these people here to not be fools is like tellin’ the water to not run downhill.”

The young scout shrugged. “To hear is not new to me. The white men...mostly fools they are. But I am told you are not a fool, and you are an elder of this big camp...tell them and they will hear you...I hope.

Dio assumed a very serious expression. “Red Knife, I thank you for your warning. Your Uncle and Clouds on Big Mountain do me honor to trust me to not waste this message you bring. It was a risk you took to come into the town. The elder scouts do you honor as well to trust you with this well as looking after the lieutenant.”

Red Knife grinned slightly. “Maybe. I hope so. Or maybe I am the youngest, and if some white fool shoots me, then I will not be missed so much, like they would if it was one of the older men.”

Dio laughed. She really liked this young man and his quiet sort of humor. But then Arikara folks always seemed to appreciate the fact that the universe was a pretty funny place sometimes.

“Come along then, Red Knife, let’s go back to the No. 10. Will ye take a meal with us? I have stew an’ coffee...and we can collect yer lieutenant and make sure he din’t get lost.”

She turned to Geoff and Tim.”Boys, I would be obliged if ye would toss the last o’ the split wood in the cart an' bring it along. Then wash up an' ye can jine us fer some grub.”

“Yes ma’am,” they both chorused in response, as the woman and the young scout set off back up the alley towards Main street.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Living the Good Life on 20 prims

Sculpty antique pottery and books in my new office.

I've been getting more involved at Hogwarts lately--getting ready to start teaching a class in magical research and the handling of enchanted books and documents, among other things--and so I finally decided to request an office space at the castle. Doing so truly brought home to me the extent to which sculpted prim and carefully textured low-prim objects have revolutionized how we can deal with that SL equivalent of original sin, the prim limit ("Forgive me Father, for I have prims...").

What lay at the heart of my little epiphany regarding sculpted prims was that when Hogwart's beloved owner, Stormcloud Criss, built my office space in the library, she informed me that my prim allowance for furnishing the space was a princely 20 prims. Now mind you, it had been a while since I had really tried to furnish a space that had a serious prim limit on it. In fact, it had been some time since I had furnished a space in SL, period. So I was not looking forward to this process. I was thinking, "Great...I can have a desk...and a chair--or maybe a cube to sit on--and oh maybe a picture stuck on the wall..."

But then I figured, you know...maybe this isn't so bad...maybe...this could be like a challenge, and if I go look to see what people are making in the way of low prim and sculpted stuff...maybe this will turn out allright.

And it did. With a bit of research and some suggestions of places to look from people like Clay, I learned that low prim and sculpted does not mean ugly and clunky.

Yes, I am aware that sculpted prims have been around forevah, but you know. so much of it lookd dirt-grubbin' butt ugly. But not anymore. The quality of sculpty goods in SL has advanced by leaps and bounds. There is much more to choose from, and more of it looks really, really good. Furthermore, the creative and judicious use of textures also has vastly improved the appearance of low-prim objects that are made from only a few conventional prims.

So here's some of what I was able to do with my 20 prims:

My new office in the library at Hogwarts.

Actually there are some other things you can't see in the image: a couple of decorative vases, some more books and a chest of drawers. I am quite happy with how it turned out, and this really struck me, because I can remember times in the past where I felt like 200 prims wasn't enough for a small space like this.

Here's what's in the office:

* 2 "leather" easy chairs by Pedrolucas Landar at 1 prim each

* a 1-prim bookcase and a 2-prim Tiffany lamp by Brenda Hoisin (Brenda's House of Low Prims)

* a big 2-prim decorative pot by Tan 260 Talon

* a 1-prim ancient Greek-style pitcher by Katelyn Barom

* a huge 2-prim safe and a 2-prim desk by Master Glendevon

* a batch of 1-prim stacks of books by Franklee Anantra

* a 1-prim chest of drawers by Hawk Clayton

* a 1-prim arm chair by Stormcloud Criss

In addition, I also made a number of 1-prim books myself, and a 1-prim rug complete with scorch marks.

Furthermore, by utilizing a "clutter" textured flat prim provided by Glen (Master Glendevon) and some of the books I bought or made, I managed to create the SL manifestation of my vision of what a busy person's desk should look like:

Hey! Don't clean that stuff up! I won't be able to find anything!

And speaking of the joys of sculpties and makin' stuff, I have also got inspired to do some more crap that will be used when I present my class on research. In the interest of full disclosure, I will admit that these ancient "books" are currently residing in the restricted section of the library and not in my office, so they do not count against my 20 prim limit. Nonetheless, I am confident that their impact is quite minimal: some are very simple 1 or 2-prim cuneiform tablets, while others are 1-prim sculpty papyrus scrolls made with the "cartography pack" (with magnifying glass) from Anthony's Sculpty Republic .

Behold! My papyri, and the crappy cuneiform tablets I made myself. Like Clay says, "makin' shit is addictive..." And that is true, even for those of us who can make only the simplest of objects.

Now, I know there is someone out there who is gonna say....

"But scultpies cause laaaaaag"

(Please note that the above line is best appreciated if spoken with a sharp, nasal whine).

Yeah, I've heard that before. I heard it the other day, in fact. So I looked into it and found that much smarter people than me have already commented at length on the issue of sculpties and lag. So after reading pieces like that, and talking to some friends who make stuff with sculpted prims, I have found that the consensus is, yes, they do cause lag. And they can also reduce lag. Apparently it depends on if you use them wisely. And maybe if it's a full moon or not.

So anyhow, yeah, I know that all this is old news. It's another example of me being way behind the curve (and go on you kids, get off my goddam lawn!). But it really just struck me how much things have changed when it comes to "dressing the set." Content creators in SL keep progressing in not just lowering the number of prims in their products, but also in improving the overall appearance of these items. I am deeply indebted to the people who are doing such creative things with sculpted prims and low-prim objects--and making the end result look so good.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

A Deadwood story -- counting coup, part 2

Traveling First Class, army style.

Lieutenant Wilcox knew that the Army could be frugal, but he didn’t realize how utterly, drop-dead tightfisted it could be, until he discovered that he and his detachment of new recruits would be traveling most of the way to their first duty post in a Union Pacific boxcar. Sergeant Bogart, however, gave no evidence of being surprised at this, and the men just seemed pleased that they would be making a large part of the trip by rail, instead of having to ride their horses the entire way. A good many of them, after all, were somewhat new to the art of horsemanship, and they were probably more comfortable gaining experience on horseback in smaller doses.

The same train included a number of additional freight carriages that were identical to the one that was occupied by the men, but these were laden with supplies and provisions destined for Fort Sidney and Camp Robinson, as well as the Red Cloud Agency. There were also a number of stockcars loaded with horses--a number of re-mounts as well as the animals assigned to the recruit detachment. The Army, in its infinite practicality--and a desire to make sure that the new troops would not have too much time on their hands while en-route--had detailed the recruits to water and feed the horses during the journey. The men were also to have the pleasure of mucking out the cars at rest stops.

Although it was not specifically among the tasks that had been assigned to them, the Sergeant had respectfully suggested that the Lieutenant detail some of the men to stand guard around the train when it made stops, in order to prevent any larcenous-minded miscreants from breaking into the boxcars and making off with government property.

Wilcox took the suggestion. He appreciated that the Sergeant had brought the idea to his attention, as he quickly realized that even though he hadn’t been instructed to post guards, if something did turn up missing, he would very likely be held responsible for not taking any proactive steps to prevent such an occurrence. As a new officer, he also appreciated the way that Bogart had approached the issue. He had quietly brought the matter up with the lieutenant outside earshot of the men, so the impression was that Wilcox had initiated this course of action.

The Lieutenant soon realized that the Sergeant was working in a variety of small and subtle ways to build up and strengthen the new officer’s standing with the men. Suggestions often came in the form of questions:

“Beg pardon, Lieutenant, shall I take a detail and get some fresh straw for the men to bed down on?”

“Lieutenant, shall I have the men air the blankets now and sweep out the car?”

“Excuse me Lieutenant, I believe we will be here at this stop for a while, may I have the men make some fires and cook up some bacon and boil coffee while we have the chance? Oh and sir, the water cask is getting low...request permission to detail Willich and Ericson to get it refilled.”

To his credit, Wilcox immediately knew that the only possible answer to all these questions was “Yes, Sergeant, carry on, please,” expressed with a nonchalant air that implied that he had, in fact, been intending to issue precisely those orders.

Now, considering that--as you will recall--2nd Lieutenant Wilcox had expected army life and his role as an officer to be somewhat more formal and “regulation” when he had first arrived at the Cavalry Depot in St. Louis, you may be feeling a certain degree of astonishment (if not incredulity) that he was so readily adapting to the reality of how things worked in frontier units.

Well, first off, let me explain that, yes, Mr. Wilcox may have been young and enthusiastic, and he may have left West Point with his head full of all kinds of pretensions and grand notions...but he was not a goddam idiot. The time he had spent at the Cavalry Depot waiting for the recruits to be released into his care had been quite a lesson. He had witnessed first-hand what the Sergeant and other non-coms at the depot were accomplishing in training the new men. Furthermore, Wilcox had been given a good "talking to" not just by the commandant, but also a number of other experienced officers as well. Some of these individuals had been rather forceful in making their points: their stories about what had happened to officers who fell prey to their own ignorance and arrogance had been stomach-churningly graphic. Several of these men had been present at the aftermath of the Custer fight, and described in detail the horrible process of trying to find and identify the bodies of their friends.

As I said, the young man was not a fool, and quickly saw the desirability of not ending up as a naked, mutilated corpse rotting on the plains.

Furthermore, Wilcox simply was fascinated by the trade of soldiering, and he genuinely enjoyed learning about it. He was very glad to have the chance to receive more instruction in how it was actually done. In fact, he desperately wanted to ask Bogart about his fighting Comanches before the war and leading a company of Confederate cavalry. He was also intrigued to find out that one of the recruits, Private Willich, had been a Prussian lancer and had fought at Sedan in 1870. Wilcox ached to hear that man’s story as well. But even in the more relaxed atmosphere of the frontier, it just would not have been appropriate for him to have requested that these men share their personal experiences with him.

Still, when all was said and done, by the time the train finally arrived at Sidney, Nebraska under a gray and sodden sky, 2nd Lieutenant Josephus Wilcox was feeling slightly more confident about how he would acquit himself in this strange and dangerous environment.

At the station yard in Sidney, Wilcox was watching the men as they got their gear out of the boxcar and unloaded their horses when he heard the sound of horsemen cantering up behind him. The Lieutenant turned to see some cavalrymen splattering through the mud towards him, dressed in largely shapeless slouch hats and a mishmash of outerwear that included caped overcoats and canvas jackets among other things. The horseman in the lead, whose hat bore brass crossed sabers and the number “3,” was evidently in charge--the fact of which was confirmed to Wilcox when the man got close enough that captain’s shoulder straps were visible on his stained leather hunting coat.

“Lieutenant Wilcox, I presume?” the captain enquired.

Wilcox, saluted. “Yes sir.”

The man’s weather-worn features broke into a craggy smile and he returned the salute in a manner that was so crisp it seemed curiously incongruent with his rough and ready attire. “Glad to have you here...I’m Captain Welles. We’ll be setting off back for Camp Robinson as soon as we’ve sorted out which of the remounts and supplies are for us, and which will stay here at Fort Sidney....I understand First Sergeant Bogart was to come with you?”

“Yessir, he was,” replied the young officer. Wilcox turned to call for Bogart to report to him, but was startled to find the man already standing right behind him.

The one-eyed veteran snapped a salute at the captain that was so sharp and strictly regulation it could have struck sparks from steel. The mud bespeckled captain’s response was equally fit for a parade ground...but the grin on his face was the kind of thing reserved for old friends and comrades.

“Hello, Sergeant!” said Welles, his eyes with a bit of a sparkle in them. “Good to see you again.”

The old sergeant smiled too. “Thank you sir. Tis good to see you and the boys as well.” He nodded at the mounted men behind the captain, all of whom were smiling back...a few of them nodded in response and several touched their hat brims in greeting.

The captain turned. “Corporal Brill! Bring up the wagons and have the new men commence loading ‘em up. Mr. Pickens, take your detail and see to the remounts...have them ready to move out as soon as possible.” He turned back to Sergeant Bogart. “How are you finding St. Louis?”

Sepp smiled again. "Well, Captain, it’s a good bit o’ hard work and more than the usual ration of minor frustrations, but I find it tolerable enough. How are things at Robinson, sir? How’s the Major?”

The captain frowned slightly. “Oh, the Major’s fine. I shall give him your regards. But the situation could be better...we’ve just had a small group of Red Cloud’s young men decide they’ve had enough of agency life and they’ve bolted..probably gone to go do some raiding up in the Black Hills.”

Sepp looked thoughtful. “Have you anyone to send after them?”

Captain Welles coughed. “No, not really...not from the Third, anyway. Part of the command is down with fever, part is on a long patrol into Wyoming, and the Major wants the rest to stay at Robinson in case things get dicey on the Agency. He wants us around to keep any more of the young warriors from getting ideas in their heads. But Clouds on Big Mountain and some of his Crow scouts are on their way to the Camp even as we speak, and I have a few Arikara scouts who are available to go with them. Just wish I had a senior non-com or an officer to go with them...could help with the diplomatic side of things...I hate to send Indian scouts into the area of the gold fields on their own--those damned argonauts haven’t the vaguest clue regarding the natives...idiots will probably try to shoot our scouts on sight.”

At this point, the lieutenant found the courage to speak. “Sir?”

“Yes, Mr. Wilcox?”

I is..I would like to volunteer to go with the Indian scouts...if I may...unless of course, you were thinking of sending Sergeant Bogart...”

Welles looked at the young officer appraisingly. He then turned to Sepp and slightly arched an eyebrow. Almost imperceptibly, the old sergeant nodded. The captain looked back at Wilcox and folded his arms on his chest.

“Very well, I believe that would be acceptable. In fact, First Sergeant Bogart is not an option for us...his orders are to return to the Cavalry Depot with the next train heading east. And be honest, Lieutenant, being as we are somewhat shy of enlisted men...even with the new lot you’ve done such a good job of shepherding here...we don’t really have a place for you quite as of yet. You are somewhat...ah...extraneous for now.”

Even with being labeled “extraneous,” Wilcox was feeling quite pleased with how this was developing. The fact that Sergeant Bogart had given him the nod...a stamp of approval that he wouldn’t just be a burden to the Indian scouts--and that the Captain had said he had done well with his assignment of delivering the recruits--all in all, he was feeling downright good about himself at the moment.

“Thank you, sir. Thank you very much.”

Captain Welles chuckled. “You’re rather excited about the prospect of this aren’t you, Lieutenant? Splendid. Matter of fact, several of the Arikara men are equally enthused about the task. They are rather young themselves...they have yet to count coup and are eager for the chance.”

Wilcox had been following all the conversation to this point but now he looked a tad puzzled. “Count coup, sir? As in killing an enemy?”

“The Captain waved his gauntleted hand dismissively. “Oh no, it's not about killing...they look on it as anyone can kill an enemy--it’s about getting very close and striking your enemy in a contemptuous sort of way, preferably with your hand or something a riding crop...very important tradition for these people.”

“Ah...I see,” said Lieutenant Wilcox, even though he didn’t, really.

The Captain was already thinking about other things. “You know, it would probably be helpful if we could have you get in contact with someone up there..perhaps in Deadwood City or Lead..a community leader or responsible individual who isn’t a complete addlepated lackwit. Let them know what is going on, without causing some kind of panic...gather information on what is going on in the vicinity.”

“Yessir, that might be helpful," agreed the Lieutenant.

Welles turned to Sepp again. “Sergeant Bogart, you spent a goodly bit of time up in that neck of the you know of anyone who isn’t a feckless idiot that you could suggest as a contact person for the Lieutenant and the scouts to meet with?”

Sepp grinned. “Yes, Captain, I believe I do....”