Sunday, January 31, 2010

I got good news, I got bad news -- life on the Grid

~~~
Ordinal Malaprop, from her flicker photostream. Smart, funny, and watch out for that dang hatpin of hers (note what is in her right hand).



Like the title says, I got Good News, I got Bad News. That's pretty much the nature of life in SL isn't it? You get a bunch of nice things come along, and then something happens that utterly kicks you in the south 40. Yeah, like the disneyfied lions would say, "it's the fuckin' circle of life." And then they would sing about it and dance around, while the toddler on your lap watches with that mouth agape, deer-in-the-headlights expression (even though this is the 637th time they have watched the thing), and you find yourself thinking things like...."Bob Fosse would have made a great Muppet," or "Do I have anything left to drink in this house besides NyQuil and mouthwash?"

*sighs*

I digress.

As usual.

OK...let me give you the good news first.

A number of very cool people with connections to the ever-expanding world of Old West roleplay in SL have started up blogs of their own. Each of these have their own unique perspectives and goals, and I think they add some nice depth to the developing (and un-managed) conversation.

First of all, Cici Levenque has had a blog since January 5th called Western Roles. Yeah she's had it going less than a month and already has like 19 posts about--the gal is prolific, AND she has a great concept: it is essentially a news and discussion blog covering ALL the western sims. Cici is the equivalent of the intrepid 19th century lady reporter, wandering from town to town, a combination participant/observer, covering a lot of ground. Her work gives you an idea of how much this aspect of life on the grid is growing in size and complexity. She also is doing features on some of the great folks who are contributing to the expansion and evolution of various Old West rp communities. Yeah I should have mentioned Cici's blog before, but hey, I get to things sooner or later. Doin' the best I can, here.

Next, a very good friend from Deadwood, Blackjack Landar has started up a personal blog--primarily for his main Blackjack character, but also for some of his alts. Blackjack is a dman fine rp'er, and is hands-down the best bad guy the Deadwood sim ever had. He's smart and brutal but businesslike. He makes alliances, he does dirty deals, he kills people--but it's just business. One interesting aspect of this character is that he is in a clandestine business partnership with Dio and Clay (built primarily around a moon-shining operation). I won't go so far as to admitting that they like Blackjack, but they certainly respect and trust him. Blackjack may be a criminal and a murderer, but he is also a common-sense businessman, and he always keeps his word. I think of this blog, Blackjacks Ruminations, as the character's typist sort of thinking out loud, reflecting on how he approaches his characters and roleplaying, and what is going on with them. So far it's been a nice exploration of how one player gives his characters depth, and particularly how he makes his bad guy persona work well and survive.

Blackjack talks with Miss Dio at the Gem.

Finally I would like to make you guys aware of a third new blog, that of Glen Dover (actual avatar name Master Glendover), who currently plays the sheriff in Deadwood. Titled "The Dirty Side," this isn't so much a character or story blog, as it is about the "stuff" of rp. Glen has begun making things in-world, starting with some very low-prim, photorealisitic furnishings that are just really bloody well done. I got an Eastlake style back bar from him that is probably one of the best Victorian saloon furnishings I have seen in SL so far. But it was cheap and very low prim. Now Glen has moved into men's clothing, under the name "Rustic Wares.".

You know, and great deal of the men's clothing that is made in SL for Old West roleplay is really just balls-on godawful. Most of the Native American stuff in particular will make you look like the Indian from the Village People. Glen, on the other had has a Native American warrior outfit that actually looks like a mid-19th century Sioux or Cheyenne of the central and northern Plains. How does he do it? Um..well, he looks at actual pictures of 19th century Plains Indians.

Glen makes stuff for real guys. He packages some of his outfits with accessories like tools (for example his miner's outfit comes with a pick that was crafted by Clay). Glen also makes his outfits with sweat and dirt layers that you can put on and remove. When you wear his stuff you're going to look like some stanky fucker who actually works for a livin'--not one of the extras in the Willie Nelson video "Cowboys are Frequently, Secretly Fond of Each Other." Mind you, I got nothing against that song--it's poignant and beautiful and funny, and Willie performs it wonderfully--but mostly I am guessin' you boys trying to do authentic Wild West rp really need to find a different look than that. So go check out Glen's outfits. He keeps crankin' out more stuff all the time, and his blog is used not just to make announcements, but also as a discussion of what he's thinking as he makes stuff and why.

********
Speaking of people who make good stuff, another Deadwood friend, Astolat Dufuax just came out with some new men's outfits of her own--an underground miner (complete with hat with miner's lamp) and a cavalry enlisted uniform of the 1870s. This is different from the uniform that Caed Aldwych has made for Deadwood, which is great because now we can get that authentic 1870s look of mixed old and new styles. The horse soldier on the Western frontier in the 70s--except when on parade--looked like a real hodgepodge: they wore a mix of surplus civil war stuff, (which the government in its frugality insisted be used up before new stuff was issued), civilian items, and new articles such as the M1872 kepi and the M1874 five button "blouse" (sack coat), both of which are among the items that Astolat and her colleague Ernst Osterham have recreated. Visit Astolat's blog, the Victorian Closet, to see the details.

***********

Ok, I've now told you about some great new blogs that you should be reading to see how the discussion of SL's Old West roleplay elements is evolving and expanding. And I also had some good news about how stuff like historical clothing keeps getting better and better in SL.

So what's the bad news, you say?

Well, goddamit, Ordinal Malaprop got fed up yesterday to the point that she deleted her store from Second life, AND pulled the plug on her blog "An Engine Fit for My Proceeding."

Ordinal has been in SL a long time. She's has been a builder and scripter who produced some of the most imaginative and FUNCTIONAL steampunky stuff you ever saw. Below you can see an image of my friend Aldo with his Ordinal Enterprises "gun balloon" (for which he built his own armored cockpit). Ordinal invented this ages ago, but it's still brilliant--as Aldo says it's essentially a steampunk version the A-10 warthog: a simple, sturdy aerial vehicle built around a Gatling-style BFG (big fucking gun). Aldo loves this thing.

Aldo and his adaptation of an Ordinal Enterprises "Gun Balloon"

And I love my Ordinal Enterprises whacking big Hatpin of Doom (that's what I call it, I have forgotten Miss Malaprop's precise nomenclature for the thing). This elegant concoction was built and scripted by Ordinal so you can wear it in your hair or hat, and pull it out when necessary for use as a deadly weapon.

Anyway, I don't know all the details, but I have the impression that Ordinal had been frustrated with issues on the technical side of SL for some time. More importantly, I think she had a larger concern about the direction the platform was going in general, and what she perceived as a growing gulf between the consumers and the content makers in SL. The last straw apparently was the Lab's acquisition of a social networking site, Avatars United , which seems to be..ahem..somewhat flawed, if not downright primitive. Ordinal went into AU and created a batch of accounts, using other people's names, including Desmond Shang and Prokofy Neva, and then made an account with a Linden last name. You can see the results of Ordinal's experiment on her flickr photostream.

This, seems to have simply blown Ordinal's mind, and she started throwing the big knife switches to the "off" position.

And all I can say is...shit. Shit. Shit. And more Shit.

There are lots of people on the grid who are funny, and lots who are brilliant...but not many who are funny AND brilliant. Ordinal was one of the few.

Emilly Orr has said to me she thinks more of those who are the best of the best, like Ordinal, are going to give up soon as well.

So that's my bad news.

At this point can the Lab actually do anything to slow or stop the attrition? Or would it be like trying to turn an aircraft carrier? You could put the helm over hard, but would it turn fast enough before the torpedoes hit?
~~~

An Update, 1/31/210, 3:20 PM SLT

Ordinal has turned her blog back on, and included a explanation. It's pretty much what I described above, with a good bit of clarification. I hope that what this becomes for Ordinal is one of those points in life (and that goes for all aspects of of life, not just the elements that occur within a virtual context) where you have to stop what you are doing, look it over and decide what new adventure will come next. It may or may not grow out of the foundation of the activity that you just shut down...but like the goddam dancing/singing lions would tell you, it is part of the fuckin' circle o' life.
~~~

Friday, January 29, 2010

A Deadwood Story - counting coup, part one

~~~


Second Lieutenant Jospehus Wilcox was about as unhappy as a newly minted officer in the United States Army could be. Freshly graduated from West Point, he had made the long trip by railroad and steamboat to the cavalry depot at St. Louis, expecting to be able to immediately begin carrying out his first assignment: to lead several sections of new men from the depot out to Camp Robinson in Nebraska. There, he and those fresh recruits would be become part of the 3rd U.S.Cavalry Regiment, helping watch over the 13,000 or so Lakota and Cheyenne who resided at the nearby Red Cloud agency.

But instead of being able to set out immediately, he had been informed that the depot commandant was not quite ready to release the men into his custody. This seemed to contradict his orders, as well as what he had been told to expect. Highly respected officers back at the Military Academy had assured him that the new recruits would simply be held at the depot until he arrived--that almost all training would take “on the job” out at the post, so the men could be molded into the kind of soldiers that officers like Second Lieutenant Wilcox wanted them to be. Instead...it turned out that the depot was experimenting with providing the “fresh meat” with some serious training under the direction of officers and non-coms who had only recently been on active service in the field against the hostiles. Evidently, there was actually a plan afoot to move the depot to St. Louis’ Jefferson barracks soon, and at that time the commandant expected the policy of training new recruits to become official and standardized...and apparently this plan had the backing of Army administrators.

Nonetheless, Wilcox had protested quite vehemently that he had been instructed to proceed immediately to Camp Robinson with these men. He was then told--in no uncertain terms--that unless he wished to have his posting to 3rd Cav abruptly changed, he had best learn to accept things and just shut the hell up and make good use of the extra time.

Upon reflection, he decided he had no issue with that...if the commandant was not going to let him proceed with his assignment, Wilcox concluded it would be a good opportunity to start seeing what the new troopers were like, and to begin establishing his authority over them. The men however, proved to be yet another disappointment to him.

They were a mixed and unremarkable bag. Half of the sixteen men (four sections of four each) were dutchmen or swedes who could barely speak any english. A few of the others were Irishmen, who looked suspiciously like potential troublemakers. The remainder seemed to be big city slum dwellers (and some, possibly fugitives from the law)...they were a rough lot, mostly scrawny, unimpressive physical specimens.

The group was under the direction and instruction of a First Sergeant who was attached to the cavalry depot...and to Wilcox’s surprise, in the short amount of time he had this scruffy crew under his tutelage, the sergeant had made some real progress. He had got the men accustomed to the basics of horsemanship (many of them had never been on horses before arriving at the depot), and handling their gear and weapons. They knew how the accouterments were supposed to be worn, they had the rudimentary basics of military courtesy, and they had tentatively dipped their collective toes into the arcane waters of dismounted drill. The sergeant had even begun giving them a modest introduction to convoluted ballet on horseback that was mounted drill.

But this sergeant...oh my...he really did not inspire confidence in young Wilcox’s mind. He looked to be nearly 50, his gear and uniform was a mix of old and new bits and pieces...he was a dutchman himself, explaining things in his his native tongue to the immigrant recruits instead of forcing them to speak only english...and he wore an eyepatch!

Finally, Wilcox could stand it no longer. He requested a meeting with the commandant to express his concerns. And the commandant, having had a good morning and feeling well rested and satisfied with the returns recorded by his quartermaster sergeant, was in a sufficiently generous mood as to be willing to address the issues that the Lieutenant had on his mind.

When the Lieutenant reported to the commandant's office at the appointed time, the senior officer bade the young man take a seat in his office and actually smiled slightly.

“What can I do for you, Lieutenant?”

“Sir I...must confess I am confused. Since I have arrived here..a number of things have puzzled me...though, I...I think I now understand the desirability of giving the men some preparation before sending them to posts deep in the interior...but..."

The Commandant chuckled a little bit. “It’s a different army out here isn’t it? Once you cross that big muddy river, it’s a whole different way of doing things from what you were taught..and what you saw at posts back east. Let me tell you this, Lieutenant, it’s just going to get more and more different, the further into the wilds that you get.”

Wilcox frowned. “But sir...I think I can..sort of understand that..but so many rules and regulations, and...orders...they seem to be largely circumvented or put aside... “

It was the Commandant’s turn to frown. “Oh? Such as?”

“Well,” the lieutenant continued, “Take First Sergeant Bogart for example...does he own the regulation uniform? On training details I’ve observed, he wears the old pattern short cavalry jacket, and the old forage cap...old style leathers and belt buckle..his pistol is an obsolete pattern...doesn't he own one of the new pattern blouses and the current set of accouterments?”

The commandant shrugged. “I am confident he does...you don’t suppose that he wants to get them worn and filthy, do you? I imagine he’s saving them for parade purposes. And as for his old kit and firearms...habit probably. This is First Sergeant Bogart’s final year of his enlistment..and he has been at this a while, let me tell you. He was...well, he was leading men in combat against the natives probably before you were born...”

"But sir..he wears an eye patch...he seems to be missing an eye, that is absolutely against reg...”

“Yes, Yes of course," the commandant interrupted. “Bogart lost that eye in the War. I am told he does own an artificial glass one for special occasions...and I assume when he signed up for service in the army some 11 years ago, he popped it in for the exam and the doctor didn’t notice...was probably either drunk or didn’t care. And even when officers at subsequent duty posts found out the truth, he was such an exemplary and experienced horse soldier it simply became customary to overlook it. I believe, however, that if he was ever on parade or under inspection conducted by an officer who might have protested, he simply put in his glass eyeball and avoided close eye contact.”

“Um...sir?”

“Yes?”

“You said he’s in the last year of his enlistment...but enlistments are for five years..and you said he is in his eleventh year?”

“Ah yes..you see Wilcox, he has in fact gone through two full enlistments since the War...but we wanted him for another year to work here with training recruits at the depot, so we made an arrangement with him....”

“Sir? How did...um...officially?”

The Commandant waved his hand dismissively. “No of course not officially. We just altered his records, giving him an enlistment date for a year after he first actually entered the US cavalry...it’s all taken care of.” The commandant smiled and folded his arms on his chest as if he thought this was all an eminently reasonable and appropriate solution.

But Wilcox was not quite done yet. “Sir? The Sergeant allows the men to do fatigue... and sometimes even drill...in their shirtsleeves. And he made the men turn in their Smith & Wesson revolvers and draw Colts. Furthermore, he's teaching them techniques with their weapons that I am sure aren’t in any manuals...”

The commandant looked at the junior officer as if he was just a tad feeble-minded.

“Good,” he said simply.

“Sir?”

“You’ll see when the men are actually in the territories on work details and on campaign and patrolling...they are going to look more like border ruffians than picture book soldiers. They will fight in their shirtsleeves and some of them will die in their shirtsleeves. Get used to it. As for the guns...we checked, and the companies of 3rd Cavalry at Camp Robinson carry the new model of Colt’s revolver...and perhaps you were not aware that the round that is used with the Colt is very different from the ammunition for the Smith & Wesson models. It will simplify the supply situation at the post.”

Lieutenant Wilcox sighed. He rather liked the Smith & Wesson No. 3 pistol, as it automatically ejected the empty casings when you opened it to reload...but he could see the sense of making sure that the enlisted men had the same weapons as the other fellows in their companies.

The commandant apparently could read his mind. “It’s quite all right Lieutenant...if you prefer the Smith & Wesson for you own sidearm, please feel free to continue usage of it...you have to purchase your own ammunition anyway. Simply be sure you are taking a goodly supply with you.”

“Yessir. I will be sure to do so.”

“Oh and as far as what else First Sergeant Bogart is teaching them...the things that aren’t in manuals...be very glad that he is covering that ground with the men. There are a great many things that books do not tell you. Nor do things always work the way the manuals say they should. You would do well to avail yourself of some of Sergeant Bogart’s wisdom yourself before reporting at Camp Robinson. Fortunately, you will have some extended opportunity to do so....”

“Sir?” The Lieutenant looked confused once more.

“Ah well, I have decided to have the Sergeant accompany you and the new men to your posting, just so....”

“So that he could help me to understand some things?”

The Commandant nodded. “Precisely Mr. Wilcox.”

The Young man looked thoughtful. “You say that First Sergeant Bogart was wounded in the war...may I ask if you know which battle that happened at?”

“Ah, I believe it was near Vicksburg in ’63. As I understand the story, his company was preparing to move out and one of our shells exploded among them, killing some of his companions and wounding him.”

“Umm...sir? One of...our shells, you say? Do I take you to mean that...”

“Oh yes...of course, Mr. Bogart was a Captain commanding a company of Confederate cavalry...one of the Texas regiments, I believe...in Ross’s brigade, most likely. And before the war he spent a good number of years as an officer of Texas rangers fighting the Comanche.”

The commandant paused and fixed the young man with an unwavering gaze, looking him straight in the eye. “Do you have any problem with that, Lieutenant?”

“No, sir!” came the crisp reply. “I shall look forward to...conversing with First Sergeant Bogart.”

The commandant was starting to feel a little bit better about this shavetail. He might turn out to be fine, after all.

“Lieutenant, it is nearly time for Noon mess...you will be so kind as to accompany me.”

“Yes, SIR. Thank you, sir.”
~~~

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

I am Spartacus -- linking real life identities to SL personas

~~~

I've been tryin' to be a good virtual citizen and actually read the Linden blogs...still can't force myself to look at other things there like the bleedin' forums, but hey, I tend to work up to things slowly. I've even taken to commenting now and then...including a comment on this thread in which the new Conversations Manager Wallace Linden brought up the issue of linking our identities..particularly that of the SL avatar and the real identity of the "typist." he said:

"I want to open a conversation about some of the issues surrounding identity and how it gets handled online. (That's my job, after all, to start some conversations.) We show up in the digital realm under so many different guises now, it has become difficult -- perhaps impossible -- to separate the real from the imagined, and the actual from the virtual....as Web and mobile services continue to work their way into all corners of our lives, these aspects will continue to proliferate -- and as they do, we'll start facing important questions about how we handle these collections of selves....And the choices we make as individuals in these contexts can have a surprising impact on who we are -- in "real life" -- and who we can become.

The thing not to miss here -- and it bears stating despite how obvious it sounds -- is what all these online "identities" have in common. At the center of them all, the hub that ties all these personae together, is the very real, non-virtual, analog and offline "you." Whether the connections are public or not, your Second Life avatar, your World of Warcraft toon, your Facebook profile, your LinkedIn employment history -- all of these and more are just different aspects of a single entity: the person reading these words. They are all already connected to each other, via you.

The question we now face, both as people and as organizations, is how we handle these connections, how we handle these collections of selves. "

A lot of people responded and joined in this conversation...and rather took it from the theoretical into the very practical question that is on many people's minds: would it be desirable to have Linden Lab facilitate a direct connection between your real life identity and your SL persona, and enhance connections to social media tools like Facebook and Twitter, which is something they seem very interested in. So, not wanting to be a bad citizen, I figured I would go ahead and add my opinion to the overall Philip Glass-like symphony of verbiage.

Being as the comments on the thread have really stretched out and one's opinion can kind of get lost--and because I am feeling lazy today and didn't feel up to writing something else for this pile of turkey turds, here's the comment I contributed:


"Ok Wally, I'll bite. I will go ahead and assume for the moment that the Labsters actually want to know what we think about things and offer you my perspective, although the general pattern of your responses does sadly suggest there is a predetermined outcome. If I am incorrect about that, I'll ask you to forgive my doubting nature, but alas, I feel what I feel, and I see what I see.

Regardless, if you do actually care for input from some longtime users of the platform, allow me to add my voice to the cacophony...which in general--other than the occasional straw man--has been, I think quite thoughtful and eloquently expressed (gee, the things people can say when not limited to 140 characters, eh?).

Frankly, I believe that the concept of openly connecting my rl identity to the "Dio Kuhr" persona would prove not only superfluous but counterproductive.

Yes, there are situations in which I willingly share rl information with certain people in-world, but it is on a case-by-case basis. It is something that I find it advantageous to have control over, to implement as I get to know people by talking and working with them, and finding common ground and shared interests. I have done some worthwhile networking within SL, but it is something that I don't need or want the Lab to be helping me with.

I can do it very handily myself, thank you very much. And in fact, if a significant number of people were contacting me out of the blue because of some public presentation of my rl information, I would find the usefulness of being on SL greatly diminished. Yes, there may be the occasional serendipitous making of a productive connection, but on the whole the signal to noise ratio in those uncontrolled conversations is not good--you can just get bogged down wading through all the shallow slop.

That, in fact, is why on Facebook and Twitter, I keep a very tight control over friends and followers, and strictly limit who I follow in turn.

Facebook in particular is--as far as I am concerned--an egregious waste of bandwidth. I do have a FB account that is based upon my physical space information. At this point, it has displayed some utility as a means for keeping in touch with dispersed family and reconnecting with some old friends. But generally, like many people, I have the account but simply don't do much with it.

With Twitter on the other hand, where I have an account for Dio Kuhr, I do find it to be a practical and often enjoyable means of sharing information with a very focused group that is primarily made up of a few educators and other sl people. It is a handy way for those of us who are writers to notify each other when we have new posts up on our blogs, and some people I follow are really great about providing links to articles on numerous topics that I would not know about if they weren't passing on the scuttlebutt. And thanks to Second Lie's tweets I no longer feel quite so disconnected from the more Kafka-esque aspects of life on the grid. Simply put, I am not convinced that having this function more integrated with SL would do anything other than serve as a distraction. And having "real life" information associated with it--even just a name--would not be an improvement. If anything, it would simply open up another avenue for potential harassment to migrate from virtual to physical spaces.

As for your contention that "The more people you're connected to, and the more people they're connected to, the more useful the network becomes," I agree with those who have already suggested that in arguing thus, you have made an assumption that may be based more upon wishful thinking and anecdotal evidence than any actual quantifiable reality. Another possibility is that your contention may hold true for some people in certain circumstance, but not for others. For example, in your line of work, it may in fact be useful. In mine, however, mass connection just increases the garbage ratio. So maybe we're both right.

However, it is important to not impose your own focused context in trying to determine what is useful or deleterious to the rest of us.

And yes...I know this is supposedly going to be purely optional. You say that no one is going to force me to put up my real life identity in connection with this pseudonymous identity, correct? Ok, cool. But that does bring up the question that so many people have already explored, the idea that SL will develop a class system. When I use my account that is not labeled with my real-life identity, will I become a second class citizen and be ostracized from various locations, shunned by the elite "real people?"

All I have to say to that is..."No...I am Spartacus."

I--and probably others--will cheerfully embrace that status as a member of a class that cherishes privacy and the maintenance of careful control over our connections and our relationships and our identity. If you don't want me to come into your club because I'm not parading the true and real name of my typist over my head, then fine. I probably didn't want to come to your bloody club anyway. A form of reverse-classism will undoubtedly kick in. So I'll be fine, jack--no worries.

But people with in-world businesses...yeah they will be boned, big time. Especially if having the real name made public becomes any part of an "approval" system for vendors and content creators. And yes, there are jolly good reasons why someone doing business in SL would want to keep their real life identity to themselves. Have you ever dealt with an SL customer base? Most people are great, most people are cool, but there is that certain number of stalky-freaky-psycho idiots who think just because they saw your name on something they bought, they are now your best friend--or worst enemy. Things are bad enough when they are continually badgering an anonymous avatar, but if they have your real name too? Belay that. Life is already hard enough for our in-world business folks. But what will you say to content creators who might someday find themselves boycotted by the elite "real people" because they won't display their real names?

Does the Lab really want to take another dump in the content creators' collective chapeau?"

Oh, and one other thought from Wallace's post that struck me:

"For many, using the word "virtual" in regard to online worlds and other digital contexts has become nearly meaningless. To me, there's nothing virtual at all about my presence in various online contexts. Like many people, I have a handful of email addresses, a Flickr username, an XboxLive gamertag, and more than one Second Life account. Each of these represents an aspect of my identity, one of the various ways I express myself online."

Is it just me or is that another variation of my on-going argument that we shouldn't be so black and white in distinguishing between the virtual and the physical: that it's not about having a "first and a second life," but is just about living your life?

*********

And of course, as soon as I posted my feeble expression of opinion, I have found that there are other people writing like mad about this subject at length--and certainly doing a much better job of it than I. Among the damned good pieces out there are one by Prokofy Neva, another by Dusan Writer and finally, a real corker by Emilly Orr, written as commentary on Dusan's piece.

It's all worth reading, but as usual, I found Emilly's thoughts to be particularly meaningful to me, with an eloquence built on a foundation of emotion and experience, as well as intellect.

~~~

Sunday, January 24, 2010

The Bakumatsu in Second Life -- sharing an interest in history

~~~
Looking out into the back garden at the House of Yagi Gennojo in Kyoto Bakumatsu--a sim representing aspects of life and politics in Japan's capital city during the 1860s--a time of great change and dramatic conflict.

The other day, I was casting around for something new to go see in terms of history-related builds in SL, and my friend Ernst Osterham asked if had seen the sims representing Nagasaki and Kyoto in the 1860s. I admitted I had not, and at the first opportunity, popped over to see what is best described as the "Bakumatsu" build: three adjoining historically-themed sims dealing with the end of Japan's Shogunate era.

I am indebted to Ernst for the suggestion to visit this intriguing and well-constructed effort.

You know, much of what keeps me interested in Second Life is what various residents do in terms of exploring stories that are important to them. The ability to interpret or recreate historical environments fosters a delightful range of learning opportunities and various "aha" moments.

Some of those learning opportunities are entirely self directed, as in situations where a concept (like the Deadwood sim) and/or an activity (like Western frontier roleplay) draws you in and encourages you to learn new things. I honestly knew damned little about the American Western frontier and things like gold mining before I started playing in the Deadwood sim. Now mind you, the build and the roleplay didn't necessarily teach me these things. What it did do was to inspire me to study and learn about a range of new subjects, and to immerse myself in stories from a part of America's past that had only marginally interested me before.

Ah, but a slightly different kind of learning took place for me in the Bakumatsu sims. This build is literally an example of people from a background and heritage very different from my own, transporting me into a world of which I had only superficial knowledge from college courses I took almost 35 years ago. According the Bakumatsu sims manager Ryomo Sautereau (who is also one of the builders) this project was the result of collaboration among a group of SL residents from Japan who wanted to share a part of their history. They are not associated with a museum or university, but are simply a collection of Japanese history enthusiasts who have a fascination for this period known as the "Bakumatsu," which encompasses the years from 1853, when Commodore Perry's US Navy fleet of "black ships" pressured the Japanese to open their nation to trade with the western nations, to 1868, when the control of Japan by the Tokugawa Shoguns ended with the Meiji Restoration.

As I looked into this story (and some of my old Asian history studies came back to me), I could see why these folks are so intrigued by this time period: it was an era of great change for Japan not just politically, but also in terms of society and technology and religion. It was an era in which the Japanese people could see aspects of their ancient traditional way of life juxtaposed with the modern world, and they had to figure out how to reconcile those two realities. It's fun, exciting, and meaningful stuff.

Ryoma explained to me that the three sims actually have been around for some time: Kyoto Bakumatsu and Nagasaki Bakumatsu were built 3 years ago, and Kyoto Sanjo opened about a year later. A number of highly skilled builders were involved in this project--among those whose work you will see here are Senri Oh, Jeter Jun, Kuroe2 Noel, D15 Koba, Hiroe Jewell, and Ryoma. There are others as well, and I intend no slight to them and their work by not listing them all (and I apologize to those I missed in my cursory note taking), but a lot of people have contributed here. The remarkable thing about it is that even with all these different folks crafting the build, it has an astonishingly consistent feel to it. The scale, the authentic feel (even in the vendor areas), and the overall look works really well.

A clean and authentic feeling streetscape.

The way that it is structured is that the three sims generally have historical recreations arranged around their outer edges, while the central areas are commercial. In these center sections, you will find numerous blocks of historically-styled buildings that can be rented for vendor and social spaces. These include stores selling garments, skins, furnishings, weapons, etc., and while the products and environments all seem to express Asian traditions and generally utilize an Asian design vocabulary. You can also find social and cultural venues throughout the sims, such as a recreated tea house and a place showing machinima.

Ryoma tells me that not all the merchants are Japanese--many come from America and Europe. The interiors of the commercial spaces do not have to be historically authentic--most of the stores look like standard SL retail operations with the usual vendomatics and signage--but the exteriors generally have been kept clean and close to the period, so the overall effect of the streetscapes does not clash with the historical elements of the sims.

And I tell you what, boys and girls, the historical environments in these three sims are excellent--both in how they look and feel, and how they were chosen to tell a particular aspect of the story of this era.

For example, I started in the Nagasaki sim and the first thing I noticed was a massive recreation of mid-19th century steam and sail-powered sloop of war. And I thought, "oh..that must be one of Commodore Perry's warships from 1853." Nope. Not at all--it is a representation of the Kanrin Maru, Japans first screw driven naval vessel (that means it's moved through the water by a propeller, not side-wheels), which was built in a Dutch shipyard in 1858. It's an important artifact as it highlighted the reality that only five years after the "black ships " first arrived, the Japanese themselves were adopting the latest modern technology. The Kanrin Maru is also significant as it carried the first Japanese diplomats to the US. The build itself, crafted by Kuroe2 Noel, is gorgeously done. The hull has clean lines, the masts are fully rigged, and overall the ship is properly proportioned.

The Kanrin Maru, tied up at the dock in Nagasaki Bakumatsu

The ship is moored at a dock, not far from both traditional Japanese style structures and a sort of "foreign quarter" that includes a recreation of the Oura Roman Catholic Church, which was built in 1864-65 in Nagasaki. The real life version of this structure still stands today, and is the oldest existing Christian church building in Japan.

From there I wandered into the commercial area, passing numerous shops--mostly fully rented, it seemed, and without realizing it I passed into the Kyoto Bakumatsu sim. While Nagasaki was a key sea port and trading center in the 1850s and 1860s (and a nexus for interaction with the West), Kyoto was the old capital city of imperial Japan until the Meiji restoration in 1868 (when the capital was moved to Edo--now Tokyo). Consequently, Kyto was a center of intrigue and conflict between the supporters of the old Tokugawa Shogunate system of government, and the socio-political forces that wished to return real control of the country to the Emperor.

This makes for some real interesting stories--ronin serving as special police forces, assassinations, torture, sword fights, the whole deal. Great stuff! In a lot of ways, this era of Japanese history is like a combination of our American Civil War, the Wild West, and the Condottieri wars of Renaissance Italy all rolled together.

At the Mibu Dera Temple in Kyoto Bakumatsu

Historical recreations representing this story include the Mibu Dera temple (build by D15 Koba), a Buddhist shrine that was erected in Kyoto around 991 AD, and which in the 1860's had connections to the "Shinsemgumi," a "special police force" made up of ronin who worked for the cause of the Shogunate. Nearby to the temple is a damn fine representation of the house of Yagi Gennojo, which served as the headquarters of the Shinsengumi, and where two important members of the group were assassinated in 1863 (and for whom there is a memorial at the Mibu Dera temple). This recreation of the house of Yagi Gennojo was also built by D15 Koba, using some fantastic texturing. It very closely follows the exact design of the rl structure...and as for its overall feel, it stands head and shoulders above most other recreated historical houses in SL, such as the sterile and lifeless Frank Lloyd Wright builds.

Wonderful texturing and a great overall sense of place at the Yagi Gennojo house.

Another really well done historical recreation is featured in the adjoining Kyoto Sanjo sim. This is a representation of the Ikedaya Inn, built by Jeter Jun. It was the site of the "Ikedaya incident" in 1864, in which the Shinsegumi conducted a raid to arrest a group of pro-imperial ronin who may have been planning to make trouble. A serious little battle broke out, and although the actual impact of the incident is debated, it certainly added to the reputation of the Shinsengumi as a force to be reckoned with.

I asked Ryoma what are his favorite parts of the Bakumatsu build, and he told me really liked the temple because of his fascination with story of the Shinsengumi, but he was particularly fond of the Ikedaya Inn recreation because the actual structure no longer exists. Therefore, as he put it, "There is nothing of it any longer in rl--only in Second Life can you get the feel of this building that existed long ago."

Getting a feeling for a place that no longer exists--inside the Ikedaya Inn.

A big part of what the folks who built the Bakumatsu sims wanted to achieve was to share their history with other people who might not know these stories. Just as all the renters are not Japanese, Ryoma told me the same holds true for their visitors. And in fact, when I was there I noted that there were interpretive signs at all of the numerous historical recreations, both in English and Japanese.

To be honest, the English translations of the Japanese text were not always clear. But they provided enough clues, key words and names that I could then use Google to clarify the story of each structure and discover more information to enhance my understanding. So in a way, it actually became another self-directed learning exercise. I had a lot of fun exploring, and I really appreciate Ryoma Sautereau taking the time to answer my questions to help me better understand what he and his associates were trying to communicate here.

And oh, yes...my last question I asked him was if anyone ever rp'ed in these sims. He replied, "not yet."


To visit--which I highly recommend--you can enter the Nagasaki sim at:
http://slurl.com/secondlife/Nagasaki%20BAKUMATSU/150/122/22

To go directly to the Kyoto Sanjo sim:
http://slurl.com/secondlife/Kyoto%20Sanjo/200/127/22

And to go directly to the Kyoto Bakumatsu sim (this will put you in front of the teahouse):
http://slurl.com/secondlife/Kyoto%20BAKUMATSU/136/83/22
~~~

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Getting past the superficial

~~~
Hey guys, I wanted to let you know that I have re-edited the post about "memes at the extremes" to replace the colorful vocabulary with something more palatable to the large number of readers we have coming from a link that Barry Collins included in his second article on SL.

Some of you might consider this a cop-out or pandering to the masses...and I want you to know that it is nothing of the sort. It merely is a recognition that Mr. Collins' posting of the link to Ephemeral Frontier somewhat changed the dynamics of the situation.

This blog is not written for everyone. You regular readers are a select group with a special viewpoint and unique sense of humor. I have no intention of changing what I say or how I say things between us. But one thing I learned over the years is to speak to the audience and keep in mind the goals that lie behind what I am saying. My cussin' part of the persona of this blog is done primarily for my own amusement. You don't really think I talk like that in business meetings do you?

So sometimes that means I will adjust my approach.

When I wrote the piece about Percy and Deadwood with the hope that Hamlet would link to it, I certainly cleaned up the vocabulary quite a bit for mainstream consumption. After all, my goal there wasn't to amuse myself and have some yuks, it was to get recognition for Percy and publicity for Deadwood.

So at this point, Mr. Collins' act of linking to my blog changed the dynamics on the "memes" piece in an interesting way. Suddenly, I had 200 people a day looking at it. He in effect handed me a completely new and different audience.

So I wanted to adjust for that. I will be the first to admit that the crap I generate ain't exactly deathless prose. Unlike Cyrano, who "would not change a comma, thank you very much" I re-write and clean up old posts all the frakkin' time.

Therefore I have gone through and changed all the vulgarity and the most outrageous insults to something more palatable for a lace curtain audience. Where you see the term "gentleman" for example, I invite you to mentally fill in the appropriate noun--such as "knee-walking shithead" or feckless something-or-other, as you choose.

There were a few people who commented here and there that they couldn't get past the invective, or said they thought I was trashing the gentleman simply because he didn't like SL.

Obviously they missed the whole point and did not read very carefully.

Granted, people reading things online tend to skim them. Many do not give careful consideration to the words they are seeing in front of their eyes under any circumstances, and they just react to what they think they are seeing. So even with the invective replaced with with harmless numnums, more than likely a great many of these folks still won't do much in the old reading comprehension department. But maybe a few of them will. And for those folks, I wanted to make it a little easier for them to grasp the actual argument--that what Barry Collins did wasn't journalism or analysis, it was simply opinion. He has a right to his opinion. It actually was a perfectly valid opinion. But it was nothing insightful or carefully considered--it wasn't based on any of the work that one must do if one is doing real analysis. Again, I encourage people to look at Randall Hand's series on Vizworld to see real journalism about SL The series beings here:

http://www.vizworld.com/2010/01/state-union-vizworld-life/


We need to be realistic about SL if we are going to help it grow and evolve. We can't just either mindlessly buy into either the everything is "heading in the right direction" meme, or the standard "SL is dying" pap. We need to look carefully at what it is and how it is working, and what is right and what is wrong--and we need to keep working at it.

We are partners in a remarkable experiment, and we need to keep our eyes and minds open in order to see where it is going, and can go.
~~~

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Dio gets married -- and we have the Lindens to thank that it happened

~~~
You plan something nice and of course, Murphy invites himself to be the guest of honor....


You know I have a habit of givin' the Labsters a hard time, and when I do, it's usually cuz they deserve it. But I also like to give 'em credit when the magic works--when they come through for you. And they did that today.

Apparently today was the day that the server gods decided to massively muck about with the grid, just so they could sit on their mountain top, laughing at us poor mortals below while we wallowed in epic lag, and as sims were crashing like Monty Python's flying sheep.

It also was the day that we had decided that Dio would finally roleplay marrying Sepp, her long-time rp soul-mate. Sepp's typist had not been able to be in SL for quite some time, but we still had him as an off-screen presence in a lot of our storylines. Well, we wanted to bring closure to some things before the re-start, and one of the things we elected to do was have Sepp and Dio finally jump the broom.

The wedding (scheduled for 1:00 PM SLT) was to be held at the Gem saloon because:

A.) Sepp's character is a freidenke and doesn't hold with ministers and churches and such; and
B.) the Gem was where Sepp and Dio reconnected after not having seen each other for about 16 years. You can read the story of their meeting again here.

So at about a quarter to one, we were trying to get into the sim...and no one could tp in. And Sepp, who had been in DW around 12:30 or so and had logged out to get something to eat, then tried to log back in...and SL would not let him log on at all. It wouldn't even let him in and then toss him to some noob-welcome area hellhole.

We thought we were totally boned.

Here I am sitting in Caledon, unable to tp to Deadwood, waiting in my wedding dress for things to straighten out, or for everyone to decide if we would just give up and reschedule.


But I IM'ed Estwee (one of our owners) who was on, and she got a hold of Caed (our chief owner and sim builder) and he got in touch with the concierge services for help. Their first attempts at fixing things did let us get in, but we were immobile with lag. But a rep from the lab named Mae Linden kept banging away at the problem. They apparently eventually wound up switching Deadwood to a different server. And finally we could all get in and the lag was tolerable and ..well...as far as the kind of time we had, I will show you the pictures momentarily.

But right now I just want to say again to Mae Linden, thank you hon. I am deeply appreciative of what you did--I am grateful for your persistence and willingness to help in what must have been a shitty situation of massive proportions for you and your co-workers. Hell's outhouse, everyone and his fuckin' brother must have yelling for help from you guys...but you saved Dio's wedding.

It got started about an hour late, but hully gee, boys and girls, it was about the best goddam weddin' I have ever been to SL.

I did the processional with Doc Morprok, who gave me away. He was a bit unsteady but we only ran into a couple of tables and posts along the way. He did a great job. I love Doc.

Doc Morpork starts walking me in...

And here we are heading up the aisle to the stage where we did the ceremony. Sepp is at center with green-blue waistcoat and the fellow next to him in the hat is our neighbor Meriweather Runningbear, who stood up as Best Man.


There's Sepp in all his one-eyed glory. he changed the vows a bit when he repeated them: "...for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, until the day we die, back to back, our pistols smoking, and our enemies around us in heaps..."


And there I am, looking pretty happy, I reckon. Clay, as mayor, presided and I think he did a real fine job. Carrie Anne was my maid of honor and Mahaila Bertrand (right behind her) was my other bridesmaid.


After the ceremony we had a real nice reception that September and Clay put together, with some fancy stuff to eat and lots to drink. Sepp, unfortunately could not stay for the entire reception but had to get back to the ranch due to an emergency there.

At the reception: folks looked real nice. Here you can see Ernst Osterham (with the cane) who got himself a new frock coat for the occasion, and some of my lady friends who were turned out in some real finery.


And then after a bit, it got real fun. Below is an image in which you will notice Silas and Bram sprawled on the floor. Silas got kinda out of hand, and he went down for the first time after I hit him in the head with a coffee cup and punched him a couple o' times. Then he got up again and he and Bram took to slugging' it out, and then both of them went down at the same time. This picture was taken right after that. It was really somethin' to see.


From that point on, there were about a half dozen separate fist fights as the boys got into it. And they were going at it not just in two's but also in threes. Silas got back up a number of times...



Mostly the boys were insulting each other over disagreements about the Friday night boxin' results and something about poor law enforcement...then one of the times Silas got back up, he insulted Miss Mahaila...

Silas, after insulting Miss Mahaila.


So, finally I whacked him a couple times in the head with a pool cue. Then, when he got back up again, he was whole lot more pleasant. So I got him a beer and he kinda cheered up some. In fact everyone got another beer at that point and things settled down.

It was a GREAT wedding. Thank you to Mahaila and Carrie Anne and Meri for being in the wedding party, to Doc for giving me away, to Clay for officiating, and to Clay and September for setting everything up and decorating so nice... and to Silas for providing the entertainment. And thank you to all the DW folks and my friends who came. I love you all.

And last but not least, thank you Mae Linden.
~~~

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Hell is watching other people shop -- United Nations Citizens

~~~
Various blogs and sites--including that of “Botgirl”--are already commenting on the announcement of the impending opening of “United Nations Citizens," which, we are told, will be “a virtual living environment for consumers and businesses...”

A screenshot from UNC--palm trees and an Apple store. Why would a shopping Utopia necessarily require palm trees? Is it some visual metaphor suggesting that this new world will be evocative of some consumeresque Garden of Eden? Or are palm trees just easier to make than other trees? The buildings certainly look fucking uninspired.

The following announcement came out just yesterday:

NEW YORK, NY. — Jan. 13, 2010 — Making use of the core graphics engine used in the smash hit AVATAR, Cisco Systems and Equifax have partnered with Heads & Tails TV, Faithful Friends TV & Montage Systems, to create United Nations Citizens, a virtual living environment for consumers and businesses, unveiled today at the 99th Annual National Retailers Federation Expo in New York.

United Nations Citizens is a collaboration of numerous international partners that have invested millions of dollars into technologies that provide e-tailers with a unique virtual world. Featuring lifelike avatars for both stores and consumers, United Nations Citizens enables online commissioned sales assistants and paid greeters to become faithful friends helping consumers with questions and purchases.


“We’ve created the world’s first virtual workplace where real people can actually hold down good paying jobs,” said Anthony Loiacono, CEO at Heads & Tails TV. “We’ve created a whole new way of putting people to work, selling the products and services of more than 330 name brand retailers.”


A number of next-generation features are used in United Nations Citizens, including in-world HD television screens with passion point programming and active website links; audio chat capabilities with paid greeters from in-world companies; state-of-the-art media file servers to ensure a pure HD experience; hyper-local programming opportunities, such as high school sports, festivals, fashion, game and social media networks; plus mobile and online extensions for a more robust experience.

"Advances in virtual and augmented technologies allows content to reach audiences in methods that were speculation in the prior decade. Cisco Digital Media Creative Services along with global content and innovative partners such as Heads & Tails will provide solutions that address the content demands of the new decade as showcased at the National Retail Federation show in New York City” said Dos Dosanjh, World Wide Customer Solutions Manager of Marketing with Cisco Digital Media Creative Services.

More than 330 stores already are members of United Nations Citizens through affiliate marketing agreements, including Apple iTunes, Microsoft Store, Walmart, and Sky Mall, providing customers a unique way to view products and services in a setting that replicates real-world environments. Member companies are able to scale real-life presentations, combined with data collection, personalized product placement and digital signage, through seamless delivery over the web and mobile networks. a UNITED NATIONS CITIZEN positions are open for tour guides, shop owners, commissioned sales persons, trainers, doctors, celebrities, translators and more. Additionally, social networking jobs like bartender and waitress are available with opportunities for advancement within the UNITED NATIONS CITIZEN world. And, you get paid!
"

So it seems to be a virtual world based upon shopping, working simple customer service type jobs, socializing, and generally farting around going to virtual bars and entertainment venues...and maybe doing some driving around and shooting. At first blush, it seems like something that should be perfectly appealing to Barry Collins, but what about the rest of us?

You go and look at the web site for this and it’s flashy and slick, and not unattractive in a vapid sort of way--but it doesn’t tell you much. Will it be easy to master? Does it scale? Will there be cool and unusual shapes and skins? Will thousands upon thousands of happy shiny avatars be able to hold hands?

Fuck if I know. I sure couldn't tell from the insipid goddamn promotional fluff-n-puff they have up.

There are some videos, but not a lot of images. Much of what you do see is repetitive--the same bits and locales over and over (though sometimes shot from different angles). The text is lacking in detail and incredibly badly written, with typos, poor grammar, and syntax that suggests that the writer has “just got off the boat get.”

But let's talk about stuff. After all, this new world is about consumption, and the engine that drives consumption is stuff. And yes, this place will apparently have plenty of stuff. There are indications that you will be able to have all kinds of real world crap marketed to you, as well as stuff to dress up the look of your avatar and to clutter up some personal space (free space? rented space? I dunno). But will you be able to make stuff in this world? They don’t really go into that, so I suspect not. What will you be able to do in this world, and will you be able to shape those activities to your own priorities (if those priorities are aren’t chatting someone up, blowing something up, shopping and fiddle-fucking around on Facebook)?

*shrugs* I dunno. They didn't say. But wait..they did say something about Facebook didn't they?

Ah yes..the role of Facebook in this. We'll return to that in a moment.

Meanwhile, back to the thing about jobs: there's going to be an "economy" and you can apply to be employed in this world. Doing what you ask? Well, boys and girls, I invite you to read the following from their web site:

“As a UNITED NATIONS CITIZEN you need to make customers happy through lively conversation and quality online service. Do people think you are fun to talk with over the net? Do you have a gift to gab, and do you know how to keep pace with an active clientele? This will quickly become the best place to try out your talents, while getting paid.

Bartenders & Waitresses:

The folks behind the bar and the girls that service the stars of the show "The Online Avatars." The brighter you chat, the better the experience and that is not different in the virtual world. We're not asking for fancy bottle juggling or an endless supply of jokes, but a friendly demeanor, active conversation and prompt service will go a long way. That said: People, tip our good bartenders & waitresses, through paypal!


Club Managers:

The folks that monitor the conversations, hire and fire and keep the environment special. As a Club Manager you are responsible for ideas to executive management and ensure that customer satisfaction is set at the highest possible level. As the Club Manager you make recommendations for day and night additions to the ambience of the bar. you are the team leader encourage a team spirit with the other employees. We also hope that you suggest charitable events and local sponsored fun events like games and activities to enhance the overall environment.


Shopping Centers and Malls Commissioned Sales Personnel

Malls are where "Avatars" congregate and wander through contemporary designed retail spaces. You can work at the store of your dreams from designer clothing stores to electronic and sports stores, we have it all and each location is geo-targeted to the Avatars shopping.
Sales Agent: Become an sales agent at one of the many sores; iTunes to Macy's To Footlocker To AT&T and more will provide commissioned sales person opportunities inclusive. Also, virtual clothing retailers, avatar fashion accessories stores, a toy store, iTunes, the NFL (and other leagues), Footlocker, an xTreme Sports retailers and more provide sales opportunities for professionals. Sales persons will interacting in real time with their customers through their AVATARS. Avatars will utilize current on-line websites to purchase goods, but in the near future, virtual merchandise can be picked up, tried on and checked out immediately. Retailers in the future, will provide (or pay to have executed) detailed 3D models of items of merchandise. Commissions range from 1% to 2.5% of the sales price depending on the store and your ability to sell. The more you sell the more you can make. Store Greeters & online assistants: As an "AVATAR Greeter" or "assistant" you will encourage other AVATARS to come into the store to browse and buy. When you purchase you receive .25% to 1% of sales. A great stepping stone to being a full commissioned sales agent. New Store Operators: For a fraction of the cost required to open a real world store, individual retailers will be able to open stores that service one-on-one opportunities with customers, creating an image that will enhance their brand with customers from around the world.

Media and News Reporters United Nations Citizen Daily News:
UNITED NATIONS CITIZENS employs reporters and publishes the “virtual news that’s fit to print.” An online news that gives targeted users the news they desire to read, listen to or view whether it is virtual news happening or local, national or world real-life news. Geo-coding and targeting will be supplied by our partner Equifax, and will allow real-time data mining from information provided by users and actual data overlays down to the zip code plus four level.

Pets, Adopting & Owning Volunteers:
UNITED NATIONS CITIZEN ANIMAL SANCTUARY
A central area for adopting animals: So upon adopting a dream pet users have always wanted they become part of the UNITED NATIONS CITIZEN ANIMAL SANCTUARY. Users have the ability to alter and tweak their animal to their liking? Upon choosing the their animal, they have the ability to determine its size, coloring, its habit, intelligence level, and they can add a cool color or flair and or buy accessories for them.

By the way...I didn’t fuck around with that copy any. That’s the way it came off the website. Is it just me, or do you kind of have some lingering doubts about the capabilities of a commercial enterprise that required an investment of millions of dollars, but they couldn’t spare 50K for some copywriting and editing services? Does that make you wonder what kind of interns and other sallow quadrupeds they had working on the coding...and you wonder..”um..will my avatar have pants?” Prok and I were kind of kicking this around on Twitter. He expressed the opinion that

“By starting with sponsors & actual entry-level jobs to players, this world could win”

And I think he’s on to something there about the potential strengths of this concept. But when I responded about my lack of confidence born of their poor writing, grammar and typos in the text, he agreed and suggested that perhaps one of the jobs they should be hiring for, rather than waiters, should be “copywriter.”

I know...yeah yeah, I can’t produce a typo-free post to save my frakkin’ life. But hey, I’m just churning out this piffle for shits and giggles. This crappy blog ain’t part of a serious mega-marketing project that cost a blue billion pazoozahs to create.

So yeah, the web site for UNC not only didn’t answer the questions I wanted answered, it didn’t exactly fill me with confidence. To be honest...the quality and nature of the text and the site itself made me feel like this had been rushed. It feels like someone higher up the food chain said, "hey you guys, we got to get this turkey off the ground for this big retail convention thing! Make it SO!"

Now I may be wrong about the whole thing. Prok is probably on the mark with the thought that there is some serious potential here for this to be relatively successful with its entry level jobs and sponsors, and IF, as is likely, it is designed for a mass audience to readily comprehend, access and navigate in a manner that is not unlike losing yer footin’ on the proverbial log. And, oh yes, on top of everything else, UNC apparently will be set up so that while you are in this world, you will be able to access all your favorite social media bits and bobs as well. That should appeal to the masses, right?

But does it interest me? Shit... I don't know...probably not. Maybe for about 15 minutes just to see what it’s like. But mostly it sounds like a virtual hell on earth. I already have been a resident of a simple-to-master, structured, “no-you-can’t build-any-of-your-own-shit-here” virtual world when I did The Sims Online for a while (and even there we developed and introduced our own arts venues and activities into that game--things that the sapsuckers at EA never imagined as an aspect of the game). So, it is also possible that people will utilize this UNC virtual world as a place to exercise their own imaginations by just working around or within the limitations of the technology and the Babbitt-like thinking of the people who have made this brave new world.

If they do, I suspect what will happen is that the real value of this thing will be as an incubator to introduce a new broader audience to virtual worlds, get them used to the basic idea of living and working and playing in virtual space using avatars...and then they will feel the same hunger that carried us from TSO to Second Life. They will want to be able to do more, to make things, to interact with what they create...and this big shopping mall world will serve a springboard to propel them to something more challenging.

We’ll just have to see what it’s like when you can actually get into this thing. As Botgirl and others noted, right now, apparently all you can sign up for is to work there. And when you do, you’ll find that one of the requirements to get employment is having a Facebook account.

Hmmm. Interesting. And something that will turn a lot of people off.

So I wonder what is going on there with that nonsense?

But seriously...I know I'm being snotty. I haven't even had the chance to venture into this world, and already I'm giving off negative vibes. But to tell you the truth, I am really kind of looking forward to actually giving it a go and seeing what it's got under the hood, if only to satisfy my curiosity about all the questions that the promotional stuff didn't answer.

Hmmm...that is...unless...maybe I can't access this because I have a Mac? Again, I don't know...did anyone see anything about system requirements anywhere in any of the promotional material...or anything about when this would actually launch?
~~~

Monday, January 11, 2010

An interesting link from Crap Mariner

~~~
Well folks, the good news is that not everyone out there commenting on VWs in general and SL in particular is a knuckle-draggin' tosser. Crap Mariner recently put up a link on his blog to the first in a series of articles by a gent named Randall Hand at Vizworld. I highly recommend you pop over to Crap's place at http://firstlife.isfullofcrap.com/2010/01/lets_give_randall_hand_a_hand.html to check out his short and to-the-point comment, and then proceed to follow the link posted there and go take a look at Mr. Hand's piece.

It's interesting--seems he was planning on doing a post in response to the dumbshit PC Pro article, but once he started looking into what was going on in SL he decided it was going to take a bunch of posts to treat the subject adequately.

I think I like this guy.
~~~

Sunday, January 10, 2010

A Deadwood story -- bad money, conclusion

~~~
All things considered the body count from the Meri’s attempt to arrest Bill Pratt wasn’t as bad as it could have been. Once the smoke cleared, there were only three actual corpses on the ground, that of Pratt himself, and two of his men. The latter idiots had pulled iron on Meri and JF when the lawmen announced their intention to bring Pratt in for questioning. The two lawmen had in fact, planned on bringing Pratt in peaceful-like, just for a “lil chat” as it’s called. But these feckless turds decided to draw when they really didn’t have to, so I guess you could say that they were the ones who actually precipitated the violent conclusion for the situation.

What happened was as follows: one o’the fellers--man by the name o’ Coates or Goats or somethin’ like that--did in fact get his piece clear of leather before Meri and JF did, but bein’ as he was an excitable sort (obviously) he didn’t take care to aim proper and his shot went wild. Meri had his Colt out almost as quickly, but being of a more phlegmatic disposition, he aimed with greater care and drilled a hole square in middle of the sonofabitch’s forehead. This other shithead whose name I do not know, also decided to take out his gun, but JF put a couple o’ .44 slugs in his chest whilst he was till fumblin’ around with it.

So then Meri goes after Pratt, while, JF--who you will recall is no small man and can pretty much put a full-grown ox down for a lil’ nap with a single punch, he took on the other two o’ Pratt’s men who were present, smashing the head of the one clean through the Red Eagle’s bar, and than clobberin’ the other and chuckin’ him clean through the front window.

Now mind, you, all of the preceding fun ‘n games had given Pratt the time to dash upstairs--Meri followed and was fixin’ to confront him regarding the accusation of bad money bein’ passed. But before he get a word out, the rascal seein’ his escape by the stairs cut off, fired a couple shots in Meri’s direction and then lept through the window on to porch outside.

And of course, you know the remainder of what transpired with him jumpin’ down, grabbin’ a horse and takin’ off, hell-bent for the hills, only to be shot in the back by Roku, usin’ Dio’s Spencer.

When the two lackeys bein’ held in JF’s lockup sufficiently recovered, Mayor Pel held a trial and convicted ‘em of interfering with lawmen doin’ their duty or some such thing. He fined the pair about a hundred dollars each and tol’ em to get out o’ town by sunset--which they did--and to never come back. The two fellers seemed to feel they were gettin’ off fairly light in the matter--the pummelin’ from JF notwithstandin’--and they denied any knowledge or involvement with any counterfeiting operation goin’ on from the Red Eagle. Matter o’ fact, they expressed considerable outrage that their boss Pratt had been runnin’ a lucrative grift like that and hadn’t cut them in for a share. On their way outta town, they made a point o’ tellin’ Meri to speak to Roku and thank her for shootin’ the greedy prick, expressing the conviction that had they been aware o’ what he was up to, they’d a shot the ungenerous sonofabtich themselves for not having included them in the game.

And of course, once it became known that bad money had been circulating--and Meri posted public notice of the nature of the notes and the serial numbers they bore--folks began lookin’ through every cash box and mattress stash. Sure enough, they found examples of the counterfeit notes that they had taken in (evidently the genuine counterfeiter had actually been pretty busy around town before finally being silenced by Roku on New Year’s eve). The notes were, of course, supposed to be turned over to the custody of Federal Treasury Agent Meriweather Runningbear. But not surprisingly, only one or two of the fake shinplasters made their way to that final destination. Most folks held on to them and actually continued to use them as tender--though by some sort of unspoken general agreement, they did not pass them to any one of their fellow townspeople nor any Deadwood merchants, employing them instead only in transactions with outsiders or some poor mark who was just passin’ through.

You kinda got to respect thieves honor like that, even if it was subject to some clearly defined geographic restrictions.

Yet even with all these considerations, Dio couldn’t shake her discomfort over the idea that two men had been killed over something that they hadn’t had a hand in. It was to some extent, an uneasiness related to the payback that sooner or later comes with all actions. As Rhia--a friend from her Dodge City days--used to say, “Everything has consequences, and sooner or later, it all comes back around...usually to bite you in the hindquarters.” And goddammit, the whole thing just didn’t seem right.

Hepzibeth McCullough at the laundry

On the evening that the last two of on the morning that the last of A few days after the trial, Dio was in the back room at the laundry, going over the business account books with Hepzibeth, while Roku sat nearby on one of the big sorting tables, reading her newspaper.

I know it seems like a cartoonish-sort o’ observation to make, but the Scotswoman had a head that was greatly suited to dealin’ with numbers, and she seemed to look upon accounting as the height of recreational amusement. Heppy could spend hours upon hours happily poring over columns of numbers and pondering their meaning and accuracy until the cows came home. Dio, on the other hand, exhausted her patience with such past-times rather quickly. Furthermore, her eyes were starting to ache somethin’ fierce--and the inside of her skull wasn’t far behind--so she asked if they could take a break. Heppy, in what was for her an uncharacteristic outburst of sympathy and humane consideration, told Dio to sit back and take off her glasses. She then fetched her boss a warm wet washcloth to put over her eyes and sooth them some.

Dio, leaning back with the cloth covering her eyes, finally said what had been on her mind for some time.

“Hey gals...I gotta ask you somethin’ what’s been weighin’ on m’ mind. First off, how did you convince Meri to go look for the bad money in Pratt’s office, an' how did you make it plausible that you were aware of the crime in the first place?

“Och, mum, tha’ was nae hard a’tall,” said Hepzibeth. Miss Roku gie him some o’ the bad notes we took in here a’ the saloon, so he could see for himsel’--and she tol’ ‘im tha’ I’d seen Pratt handlin’ wee stacks o’ suspiciously new-lookin banknotes o’er at the Red Eagle when I went there t' pay th’ debt. She tol' ‘im naught aboot the pack o’ bills under the chair cushion--we reckoned tha’ he’d do a search an’ find those...I dunna think t’would ha’ been greatly plausible ha’ we tol’ ‘im right where to peek, eh?”

A voice issued from behind Roku’s newspaer at this pint.

“Dio, ah might as well tell ya at this point that ah pass on useful information to Meri ‘n JF kinda regular-like..well, at least when it suits m’ purposes. Ah ain’t never steered ‘em wrong yet...an’ I figgered he’d trust what I had to say in the matter, ‘specially when I handed him a couple o' the counterfeit bills that had been passed by that sneaky cocksucker we had in here at the 10. Meri could see right off they was bad.”

“Aye, tha’ was convincin’ t’ be sure,” agreed Hepzibeth. “And twas no lie to say they’d been passed to us here a’ the saloon--Miss Roku merely neglected to mention tha’ she’d apprehended the rascal what ha’ been doin’ it an’ twas nae one o’ Pratt’s men doin’ it. Joost like twas no lie for her t' say I’d observed Pratt handlin’ stacks o’ suspicious banknotes at the Red Eagle. She only neglected to mention tha’ they were part o’ what I handed o’er to ‘im in payment o’ the debt.”

Dio sighed. “Ok, fine. We got away with it. It looks like this one ain’t
gonna come back around an’ bite us in the ass....but goddammit gals, a couple o’ fellers got kilt cuz of a situation they didn’t really set in motion. Yeah, I know Pratt was a weasel-fuckin’ bastard an all that..but he warn’t really behind this one...”

Hepzibeth snorted. “Och, aye, maybe he wasn’t ...but he was up to somethin’ I’ll warrant. Otherwise why did his man shoot at Mr. Meriweather...an’ why did Pratt gae to the lengths o’ jumpin’ from a winda an’ ridin’ off like he did? From what I hear tell, neither Mr. Meri nor Mr. JF had said nothin aboot the counterfeitin’ charge...they joost said they needed to bring Pratt in t’ talk with him--but him an’ his floonkeys all acted dreadful guilty aboot somethin’ there...”

Dio took the now cold cloth off her eyes--which were feeling better, though her headache was not. “Heppy, look...I’ll admit Pratt acted like he had some kinda shit goin’ on that made him run when he thought that the jig was up--whatever it was--and Meri was there to take him in for it. But was it worth...”

Roku slammed her paper down on the table at this point.

“Goddammit, Dio, ah go ‘n do yah a big ol’ fuckin’ favor with gettin’ ya out from underneath o’ that goddamn debt what you din’t even actually bring on yahself...and now ya act like ah’m a goddamn murderer or somethin’....well fuck you an’ the hoss you rode in on. Ah reckon ya don’ require mah services no more. Mebbe Sal needs another full-time upstairs gal at the Bella.”

They watched the tall woman stalk out into the dusky gloom. Dio knew there was no point in going after her friend, or calling out to her, or trying to reason with her. Maybe in a few days, Roku would calm down and they could just move on.

Hepzibeth sighed and closed the account books. “Aye mum, ye handled tha’ wi’ yer customary grace ‘n wit. We may as weel forgo finishin’ up lookin’ o’er the books for now. Come along, then...I think you’re needin’ to see somethin’ wi’ me.”

The Scotswoman stood and pulled on her jacket and picked up a basket of shirts that needed mending.

“Weell, ye gunna stir ye’sel’ or set there like last week’s puddin’?”

Dio was curious...this all seemed a bit out of character for the usually dour and uncommunicative Hepzibeth. She pulled on the old butternut-colored wool shell jacket she had got from one of Cap Johnson’s boys after the end of the war, jammed her hat on her head, and followed Heppy outside.

The long-legged laundress was already a good way down China Row, and Dio had to run to catch up. Hepzibeth turned at the end of the alley towards Whitewood creek and strode past the sawyers-yard and the blacksmith to a small, shabby cabin with a dim light showing through its single window. Heppy knocked on the crude plank door and a small, thin voice came from within.

“Roku? Is that you?”

“Nay lass. Tis Hepzibeth. I brung you some more work...if yer willin’...”

“Yes, please...wait...who’s that with you? I can see someone out there with you...”

“Tis only Missus Kuhr, me employer. Nothin t’ fear, lass.”

“Are those men gone?”

“Aye lass, long gone an’ not comin’ back. You’re safe as houses now.”

“Ah...oh...very well...if you say so, Miss Heppy...”

There was a pause while the door was unlatched and opened. The two women proceeded to the dim circle of light within. The owner of the voice who had greeted them was a youngish, pale woman whose eyes no longer looked young.

The woman--a girl really...had a large, ugly scar across her face. Her hair was pulled back tightly and Dio could see that one of her ears was missing. She also had a jagged scar on her neck.

Someone had cut her throat, and evidently done a rather piss-poor job of it, Dio had seen scars like that before. The someone doing it had been in a hurry, and hadn’t gone deep enough with the blade. It had been messy, and certainly blindingly painful for the victim, but not fatal.

There was another young woman as well. She smiled a slight smile and gave a shy wave. The pinky finger on the hand she waved with was missing.

Hepzibeth nodded in reply to the wave.

“Right then, this is Missus Kuhr, who I work for.”

“How do, gals” said Dio softly.

“Quite well, thank ya m’am,” answered the girl with one ear. “I’m Rose and this is Jeanne. Roku has spoken of you often, and it’s a pleasure to meet you.”

Heppy got right down to business. “Weel, if we’re done wi’ the niceties, here’s the work to be done.” She quickly sorted the contents of the basket into piles on a rough table in the center of the room. “These need buttons, these need patchin’ and this one needs a whole new arm. I’ve included this old shirt which you can cut up for the patches an’ the fabric to make the new arm. And here’s a packet with some more thread, buttons that should match up fairly nice...and more needles if you require them.”

“Oh yes, Miss Hepzibeth. Thank you, we are running low on the necessaries.”

“Good. The usual terms, o’ course...when will they be done?”

“Will Friday do?”

“Thursday would be better, lass.”

The girl with one ear looked at her companion who shrugged and nodded. She turned back to Hepzibeth.

“Very well, we shall do our best. Would you all care to stay for some tea?”

“Nay lass, thankye, but I’ve me own work to tend to. And Missus Kuhr has some important things she must look after as weel.”

Dio looked at Hepzibeth with an arched eyebrow. “Yes I believe I do. But gals, I do appreciate the invite an’ if’n y’all don’t mind, I shall take you up on the offer o’ takin’ tea with y’all another time.”

The two young women smiled and the one who did all the talking wished them a good night.

Back out in the darkness of that quiet and lonely corner of town, they walked back past the sawyers’ yard, where Dio stopped Hepzibeth.

“I know you din’t want me to meet them gals jus' so I could see that our mendin’ was in good hands. I suspect I know what you’re about to tell me, but I would like to hear the details."

The expression on Heppy’s face was like stone. “Aye mum, you probably already ha’ figured out I took you to meet the twa of ‘em because wha’ ye saw there was some o’ Pratt’s work. Aboot three months back, very early one mornin’ I was headin’ t’ the Blacksmith’s--I was wantin’ a proper latch fer the laundry door, you might recall...an’ I come upon Jeanne an’ Rose an ‘ another lass, whose name I ne’er did discover...they was near to naked, an’ Rose an’ t’other one--as you might guess--ha’ their throats cut.

“And Jeanne, the one who don’t talk?”

“Aye, her tongue ha’ been cut oot. I imagine so she could na’ say who’d treated the three of ‘em so...tho’ tis nae like anyone really needed to do somethin’ like that...this was back before Mr. JF took on bein’ sheriff an’ t’wasn’t like anyone cared a good goddamn aboot young hoors bein’ murdered ’n cut up.”

Dio had never heard Hepzibeth--who was a strict Presbyterian--ever curse before. “So what did you do?” she asked quietly.

“Och weel, I could see the one lass was done for, but Rose was still alive, so I tore up me good apron to wrap her throat, an’ I ran back up the alley, an’ called to the first soul I set eyes upon...’twas Marty, tha' whackin’ great big lad who’s a bouncer a’ the Gem...an’ I tol’ him to get help...an’ he brought Roku.”

Dio nodded. This was explaining a lot. “What then?”

“Marty said there was this army surgeon who ha’ come through town--gent by the name o’ Morpork--an’ he was sleepin’ it off in a back room a’ the Gem...so I put me coat around Jeanne an’ helped her down there..an Roku carried Rose, an’ Marty picked up the third lass...the dead one.”

Heppy’s expressionless face suddenly softened, and Dio though she may even have seen a tear glintin’ in a corner o’ one eye.

“Twas quite touchin’ t’ tell the truth,” commented Hepzibeth in a voice that was much less harsh than usual. “That big monster of a man carryin’ the dead lass as careful an’ gentle as can be, as if he feared to wake her up. And as he walked along cradlin’ her in those bloody great arms o’ his, he kept sayin’ things like ‘dunna ya worry, Miss, ever’thin’ will be allright, an’ the Doc will take good care o’ ya.’ A strange one he is, that lad.”

“So you and Roku and Marty got the gals to this Morpork feller an’ he took care o' the injuries?”

“Aye, as best he could. An’ we come to find that these three lasses ha' been hired the night before by Pratt for a party o’ some sort for his men...and that Pratt an' the others ha’ gotten all dreadful drunk...things got out o’ hand an’ the three young hoors got beaten ‘n cut up...an’ finally two ha’ their throats cut...and Jeanne was spared, but the basterds thought they’d keep her quiet.”

Dio’s heart was beating rapidly and her face was flushed. “Hell’s britches, how come no one ever tol’ me ‘bout this before?”

“The girls were terrified...they desired for no one t’ know they were still alive, fearin’ if Pratt an’ his men knew, they’d come to finish em off. We all promised t’ tell no one. An’ Roku found them tha’ cabin back by the creek...an’ I gie ‘em work wi’ mendin’ from the laundry, so they’d ha’ coin to buy food from the chinee grocer, who’d bring it by and joost leave it by the door. E’en after Mr. JF took on bein’ sheriff, Rose and Jeanne would na’ gie Roku leave t’ report the crime, for in their fearfulness, they tol’ her they would na’ testify...But now wi’ those last two o’ Pratt’s men gone, I considered the lasses might be more willin’ to be known amongst folk, includin’ ye’sel’ for a start.”

“I reckon Roku swore she would fix Pratt’s wagon one way or t’other, din’t she?” asked Dio.

“Aye mum, tha’ she did. An’ she damned weel kept her word on tha’...as is her custom.”

“Goddammit.” muttered Dio. “I need to go find Roku an’ apologize...see if’n I cain’t make amends.”

“Aye mum, tha’ you do.”
~~~