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.