Thursday, December 23, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

photo from

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Christmas traditions: the morphing of my holiday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He looked pretty surprised.

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

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

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

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

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

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

She looked startled for a moment and then smiled.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, December 16, 2010

RP lives on in SL

Hey y'all,

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

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

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

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

Is that fuckin' poetic, or what?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 6, 2010

I fear for the future of the republic...

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