Reality check

1867025334-gary-gygax-inventor-the-essence-of-a-role-playing-game-is-that-it-isThe nature of SL is such that, no matter how realistic we try to make it, we are all role players to at least some extent, even those of us who have no desire to pursue that particular route. The moment we adopt an inworld persona, modify and dress up our avatar – even if only to reflect the real world reality – we are, in effect, role playing. It’s hard to avoid it, and indeed it is in many ways a necessary evil of the virtual world that we have to embrace in order to achieve a sufficient degree of realism and connection to make the platform work on a relatable level.

It doesn’t stop there, of course: Just as in RL, there is nothing to stop us indulging ourselves in more specific forms of role play for fun and for profit – it’s perfectly normal, usually healthy and often beneficial to stretch the boundaries of reality in favour of pursuing a different lifestyle, even if only a made-up one, and SL is the environment par excellence in which to pursue those leanings, as we well know.

Role play however, even in a virtual environment, needs to be tempered by reality, if it is not to get too out of hand. I always chuckle when I recall seeing a medieval re-enactment group preparing for battle before which they received a stern and solemn health and safety briefing: “I don’t want to see anyone being hit by swords, and please be careful, the ground is muddy, watch that you don’t slip!” It was amusing, but I suppose it was also necessary, in the same way that in character/out of character conventions are there to be followed and safe words are meant to protect. Role play is serious business!

There comes a time too, when we need to ditch the fangs and slave garb, put away the weapons and Middle Earth speech, and return to a semblance of normality; and sometimes I think people – especially in SL can lose sight of where that boundary may lie. pirate_013I’m sure we can all think of occasions when we’ve encountered people who can’t seem to switch off the role play at the appropriate time and who remain in character even outside the appropriate setting. It can be irritating to be the unwilling participant in somebody else’s fantasy, and some would go so far as to say that the non-consensual appropriation of an unwilling participant into another’s role play scenario is both rude and overstepping the mark.

It can also be wildly amusing – particularly if those unwilling participants choose to humour the errant role player and play them at their own game.

A stranger turned up in the midst of one of our social get-togethers recently. We didn’t know her, but as always, we made her welcome and tried to involve her in our conversation. This is a double-edged sword in some respects – our conversations can range from the bizarre to the intense, and whilst we do try to help out those who might fall victim to them, we also don’t take any prisoners and are more than likely to have a bit of gentle fun at the expense of those who might show any weakness.

So, when it became clear that our new friend seemed to be struggling to understand that some SL pursuits fall squarely into the category of ‘not real’, it was inevitable that we were going to take advantage.

She told us that she couldn’t stay long because she’d be off to work shortly. Her job, a volunteer carer at a homeless shelter. I’m sure that you’re thinking what we thought: What a selfless vocation, and good for her. Except, it turned out that the homeless shelter in question, was inworld and her job as volunteer, was to attend to the needs of homeless men, in the 65+ age range, in a variety of ways. She would feed them, put them to bed, dress them and bathe them… And all of this explained matter of factly and in a way that clearly seemed to indicate that, as far as she was concerned, all of this was as real as the legitimate world in which we live. It was both surreal and a little disconcerting: We had inadvertently been subsumed into a parallel universe where virtual was, apparently, reality.

It was one of those moments where you wonder whether there’s more to the story of the person you’re dealing with than was immediately apparent, or were they just having fun with us – hard to say, although we’ve subsequently seen her again and it’s quite disconcerting to hear about her tending to her ‘homeless’ folks as matter of factly as anyone else would talk about RL.

Intrigued, the last time she disappeared to wash some virtual dirty old men, I did let curiosity get the better of me and allowed my cam to wander after here… And now I’m no so sure about her vocation, after all, unless looking after unfortunates in a homeless shelter is the same thing as sitting on the beach at the far end of the sim, chatting to a furry wearing bondage gear! (But who am I to judge?)

s. x

In the all night cafe
At a quarter past eleven,
Same old man is sitting there on his own
Looking at the world
Over the rim of his tea-cup
Ralph McTell – Streets Of London

Posted in Philosophicalisticality, RL, SL | Leave a comment

Recognisable traits

personI bumped into somebody I haven’t seen for years at the station this morning. I can’t say it was a terribly comfortable crossing of paths – it was the mother of an ex, from whom I split up with in my early twenties – I never really got on with their mum back then, and of all the people in the world that I’d chose to run into, she would be pretty low on the list.

To be honest, I didn’t even recognise her – the years haven’t treated her all that kindly, and if she hadn’t made the effort to say hello, I would have remained oblivious. It was a bit of a weird conversation, which although very brief, gave her sufficient time to tell me my hair had changed, ask where I was living and working now, tell me that her mother had died, along with Lucy and several other people whom I’ve never known or heard of, and explain that she was off to Hereford to accompany a friend to hospital. An amzing amount of content for a conversation that lasted less than a minute!

However, as I’ve mentioned, if she hadn’t recognised me, I certainly wouldn’t have recognised her, and that conversation would have remained unspoken. Now that I’ve escaped to the safety of the train, the incident has got me thinking about SL and our ability to recognise one another inworld.

Now, that may seem an awfully silly thing to question – after all, in a world where everybody has their name floating over their heads, it’s almost impossible not to recognise somebody – but what I do think is noteworthy is that, even without any such blatant descriptor, the vast majority of us would have little difficulty in identifying those whom we know well inworld. It’s not just a case of facial recognition either, particularly when you consider that some people in SL change their skin, hair and face almost as frequently as they change their underwear in RL. Much of that stems from the familiarity that we develop as friends and acquaintances, from whom we pick up the nuances and traits uniquely associated with them. These small, but telling, identifiers may manifest themselves through a specific AO or dance that we associate with that person, their habitual behaviors or subtle, almost invisible hints that only those who know them well would spot, but are dead giveaways to those in the know.

moon2_001In fact, such – often unconscious – attributes can be so powerful that they are enough to reveal the identity of a friend even if they are appearing incognito… On many occasions I’ve had little difficulty recognising friends and companions even when they’ve logged in as alts bearing no outward resemblance to their more familiar alter ego. It’s testament to the powers of perception that we all possess, and to how much depth there can be to relationships even when the ‘physical’ manifestation of a person’s characteristics is entirely a construct, completely removed from reality.

With this in mind, it’s would be wise not to underestimate the power of SL when it comes to the forging of friendships and all that it entails and represents. It’s all too easy to make the assumption that a virtual friendship is of a lower order than the more traditional kind, yet the depth of understanding and connection that is clearly demonstrable between friends inworld – even those who might just consider themselves as acquaintances – must surely be evidence that people can identify with each other at a far deeper level than perhaps we credit?

It certainly pays to remember that there is a person behind the avatar, not merely because that person has feelings and those same frailties and sensitivities as we ourselves, but also because the connections we build with those around us run far deeper and are far stronger than we might imagine. When people are that closely connected in the real world, it’s important that we cultivate and care for that relationship… And maybe we should pay the same care and attention to our virtual relationships too?

s. x

Well, who are you?
I really wanna know
Tell me, who are you?
‘Cause I really wanna know
The Who – Who Are You?

Posted in Philosophicalisticality, RL, SL | Leave a comment

Architectural flaws

architecture_quoteOne of the ‘fun’ things about owning a home is the seemingly unending flow of maintenance that you have to carry out just to prevent the place falling down around your ears. Some will be essential, like sorting out that rotten piece of decking before Aunt Mavis falls through it again, whilst others fall into the category of ‘non-essential, but somebody’s got to do it sometime’. If you’re into DIY, relish the thought of decorating, have way too much money, or happen to derive masochistic pleasure from stabbing yourself with screwdrivers, or dropping hammers on your toes, then it’s no big deal, otherwise those non-essential tasks have a habit of becoming just a little more essential over time.

It’s one of the things you learn to accept and live with – part of the general wear and tear of life. It’s not so much fun when you’ve just moved into a brand new build however, where you’d expect everything to be perfect. However some find that even brand new homes can be less than perfect, by a long way, thanks to shoddy workmanship and poor quality.

Personally I think we’re seeing the demise of real craftsmen in favour of cheap, factory produced, prefabricated and poor quality constructions. And the same is true of design too – modern architecture, even when it’s described as edgy, adventurous and daring, tends to be bland, uninspiring and ugly. Vast expanses of glass, steel and concrete, jammed together at weird angles rarely makes for a pretty sight – and whilst architects slap each other on the backs and win awards for designing buildings that look like toasters and dustbins, all I see is urban blight and ugliness.

Travel back a couple of hundred years or more and you see something very different… Take a stroll through Rome, Paris or any place with any architectural heritage and you’ll see majestic stone-built edifices, festooned with flourishes, columns, colonnades and statuary – beautiful buildings that speak of civic pride, sophistication and craftsmanship. These are places that enhance our surroundings, rather than detract from them – yet, for some reason, we no longer build anything stately or inspirational, preferring utilitarian, functional and ugly instead.

Why? Have we lost the skills and ability to build like we used to? Is it too costly? Or are we simply arrogantly thinking we can do things better today than in the past?

anarchy5_001I honestly think that most of our real architects today can be found not in our cities and towns, but in places like SL – where we have far fewer constraints and impositions, and no town planners demanding that we comply with modern standards of design and desirability. Here the creative and artistic spirit flourishes, giving us whimsical, inspiring and beautiful buildings that we want to photograph, explore and own. Here you will also find those who wish to recreate the best of real world architecture in virtual form, complete with gargoyles, art deco finery, and artistic folly.

I’ve seen some pretty amazing architecture inworld: garish and wildly implausible cartoon constructions, grandiose gothic castles, recreations of great Renaissance cathedrals and stately homes, many of which have shown a blatant disregard for their surroundings and location – which I think is fun, and exactly the way it should be. Great architecture, whether real or virtual should be able to stand on its own merit, without any reference to its location or provenance and still manage to look good, unlike some of the monstrosities currently filling our city vistas.

Maybe one day we’ll learn from those builders of our virtual living spaces and start to, once again, apply the principles of craftsmanship and an eye for aesthetics that somehow, along the way, we’ve ditched in favour of appearing ‘modern’.

italy2_001

s. x

Five miles out of London on the Western Avenue
Must have been a wonder when it was brand new
Talkin’ ’bout the splendor of the Hoover factory
I know that you’d agree if you had seen it too
Elvis Costello – Hoover Factory

Posted in Builder's bum, Philosophicalisticality, Rants, RL, SL | Leave a comment

NotPC or NPC?

arnieThe Feds are watching me!

OK, so I’m a Brit, and we don’t have the Feds, but it sounds so much cooler than saying there’s a policeman looking at me. Even then, I’m being a little creative with the truth: It’s not really a cop, it’s one of those lifesize cardboard cutouts that they put in shop windows to hoodwink potential shoplifters into trying their luck elsewhere. They’re usually accompanied by a sign saying something like ‘Free ride in a police car for all thieves’, ‘Go ahead punk, make my day!’, or perhaps, ‘Face down on the floor and spread’ em, you slaaaag!’, (although that last one might equally well apply to one of your more lurid fantasies!). It always struck me as a bit unfair that it’s always the criminals who get a free ride in a police car – I know loads of people, myself included, who’d thoroughly enjoy the thrill of a high speed chase with sirens blaring!

But I digress.

I’m not sure how effective fake rozzers are, but they do seem to be a popular, cheap, and legal alternative to employing gun-toting maverick guards at the entrance to Mothercare. They’re not a particularly modern innovation – in the past, we’ve seen empty police cars stationed at the side of roads, and the army have been in on the act for decades, deploying everything from inflatable tanks to entire fake cities as a ploy to deceive the enemy. Even that bastion of truth and honesty – the Bible – contains accounts of God encouraging his mates to lie to their enemies by populating their city walls with fake soldiers. And scarecrows have been plying their trade every since humankind got bored with hunter-gathering and decided to try their hand at growing stuff instead.

There appears to be a growing population of fake people in SL too. I’m not referring to those who delight in deceit and insincerity, neither do I refer to bots – or avatars without souls – as I prefer to think of them. Instead, I refer to the proliferation of static, statuesque representations of people that have started cluttering up sims, right across the Grid.

ashemi_012You know what I mean – those mesh creations that sim owners scatter around their properties to give the illusion of a vibrant and homely populace. Unfortunately, to my mind anyway, they tend to have the opposite effect, giving a surreal and otherworldly, and somewhat unnerving feel to what would otherwise be a perfectly normal location. I’m not sure why people choose to decorate their little piece of SL in this particular manner, but whenever I turn up in a new location to find myself surrounded by immobile, overly-lifelike, but undeniably unreal people, I find it rather a disquieting experience.

It doesn’t help that a huge number of these infernal things are quite obviously meshes ripped from game platforms, raising all sorts of questions about IP rights and content theft, but at the same time, it’s a bit weird seeing recognisable characters from other franchises populating SL.

You might think it odd, but I never experience the same freaky feelings when I run across bots inworld. Perhaps it’s because they at least give the impression of sentience – especially those imbued with an degree of AI scripting – they’re almost, but not quite, non player characters – NPCs – an established part of many game platforms that serve to make for a realistic environment and, engage with participants and enhance game play, or – at their most utilitarian – provide someone to shoot at! SL hasn’t really pursued that route to date, and I’m not entirely sure that it should: First and foremost, SL is about people interacting with each other and their environment, and without wishing to get into the whole ‘is it a game or not?’ argument, it’s a lack of NPCs and structured interaction with any set game plan that does help to set SL aside as something different. Even so, I can’t help wondering whether these silent, unmoving copycat people that I keep coming across on my travels are the thin end of the wedge – do people really want a virtual world where 7 out of every 10 people you come across are statues?

carnage23_001Maybe they do, but I frankly don’t… And the next time I come across one somewhere where I have rez rights, you can bet your bottom dollar that I’m going to put a traffic cone on its head, even if there is a policeman watching from across the street!

s. x

Our bones forever in stone
Monuments of life
To dust, as everything must
We fade away in time, oh
Foo Fighters – Statues

Posted in Rants, RL, SL | Leave a comment

Pussy?

11084784_1593505587574934_1389729501_nYou will know by now that I’m just a little bit weird; I do things that normal people don’t. One of those things that I do, and which I really can’t give a logical explanation for, is that I frequently read any interesting spam email that my mail client carefully filters out of my inbox for the express reason that I don’t need to read it. I do anyway – it often gives me a good laugh – and, after being inspired by the madness of James Veitch I’m even considering responding to some of it too! I’ll let you know how that goes.

Before you send for the men in white coats, I should point out that I don’t read all my spam email, and the daily churn of endless marketing emails rarely grabs my attention sufficiently to merit even a quick skim through, other than to seek out the ‘unsubscribe’ link, which I have to say has resulted in the bulk out this rubbish never finding its way into my mail at all. I will however admit to reading almost every comment that gets trapped by the spam filter on this blog – the official reason is that very occasionally it might hoover up a legitimate comment, but it’s really because most of the spam I get here is – to my warped and twisted mind – uproariously funny.

I’m impressed by the pseudo-intelligence of spam bots: They’re getting better all the time. And I’m sure that if they were to be targeting a sensible blog, you could even mistake some of them for real people commenting, but with a blog as eclectic and weird as this one, they tend to stand out a mile.

My favourite fake comment this week was made by somebody apparently called ‘Pussy’, entitled ‘Pussy’ and read as follows:

‘At last! Someone writing about pussy!’

Actually, no. The post in question was certainly not on that topic, and to the best of my knowledge I’ve never written about, or even mentioned ‘pussy’ ever when blogging (until now), so just a little bit wide of the mark there! I’d like to think that this particular errant bot had all the best of intentions and was perhaps celebrating those cute furry, four-pawed critters that eventually turn into cats and ruin run the internet, but somehow I have my doubts… And that’s why the Internet and I are not always best friends.

You see, I’m no prude – not in the slightest actually, but that doesn’t mean that that I don’t have certain standards and consider that there’s a time and place for everything – there are some things that I really don’t want or need all the time, no matter what the context. I appreciate that the Internet is obsessed with porn, but it irritates me that a) there’s so much of it, and b) it’s so – if you’ll excuse the innuendo – in your face. Even with the most robust controls and careful surfing, it’s almost inevitable that you’re going to come across, (again, excuse any innuendo), something that you really wouldn’t be happy for your mum to see. However, that really is the way it is and the only sure solution to that is to stay offline, or develop a thick skin.

toilet_001What I do find irritating is that sex is such an all-consuming part of SL. Please don’t think that I object to anybody getting their rocks off to pixel porn, or virtual stimulation; I don’t, and I imagine that most have tried it at some time or other… It’s just that sometimes I’d like to spend my downtime in SL, without having to be constantly reminded of that fact. It would be lovely, for example, to randomly take a glance at somebody’s profile and not find their group membership comprised of a range of virtual titillation and liberally punctuated by the word ‘sluts’; and, if I’m honest, I really don’t want to know your roleplay limits – do you really think there’s nothing weird about telling the world and his wife that you’re not into bonking animals or having your limbs amputated for sexual pleasure? I mean, is that the sort of thing you’d consider writing in your CV or Facebook profile?

Are decorum and discretion qualities that no longer exist? I only ask because it’s perfectly possible to enjoy whatever variety of virtual naughtiness you wish, without inflicting it upon innocent bystanders. Groups can be hidden, (and if you want to argue that that way you’ll never meet compatible friends, I’m pretty sure you’ll find plenty of them at your regular haunts anyway), and what’s wrong with outlining your roleplay limits and fantasies on a notecard in all their gory detail, with just a simple note in your Picks directing those interested to ask for a notecard? Perhaps you’d like to offer copies of your lurid photo’s, all pouty lips and equally pouty boobies, to enquirers in the same manner, rather than displaying them for the world to see as your profile and RL pictures too?

As for inworld search, I’m starting to think that it’s impossible to to use any keyword in either general or location search without turning up a multitude of strip joints, rape alleyways or BDSM dungeons, none of which have any link to what I’m looking for.

Please don’t think I’m being a spoilsport – you’re more than welcome to enjoy whatever you like inworld, and I’ve no objection to anything that goes on, within reason, but sometimes, just occasionally, it would be lovely if I could spend some time in SL escaping completely from such things – a short time of pure, innocent, child-like fun, without any of the adult garbage and nonsense that is so prevalent elsewhere in RL and on the internet.

Just sayin’

s. x

You are hardcore, you make me hard.
You name the drama and I’ll play the part.
It seems I saw you in some teenage wet dream.
I like your get up if you know what I mean.
Pulp – This Is Hardcore

Posted in Rants, RL, SL | Leave a comment

Hacked off

lifehackApparently, I’ve been shelling pistachios wrongly all my life.

There’s an awful lot of other simple skills that I lack too, if the accumulated knowhow of a variety of self-styled internet gurus is to be believed. Such diverse pursuits as enjoying a bag of crisps, drinking from a can with a straw, peeling fruit, curing squeaky hinges and eating spaghetti, all fall into the ‘fail’ category of things that I’ve been doing incorrectly since time immemorial.

If that wasn’t bad enough, it appears that there are a whole host of simple things I could have been doing to simplify my life, using such everyday objects as paper clips, lipstick, elastic bands and balloons… I dread to think just how much of my time and energy I’ve wasted by taking the difficult option, and how much easier my day to day activities could have been.

Alternatively, I could also come to the conclusion that the abundance of ‘life hacks’ doled out by well-meaning, but deluded, YouTubers are in fact mostly crap!

I’m a great believer in hints and tips for making life easier, whether in the kitchen, when driving, working or in the realm of technology, but I have to question people’s sanity when they feel that the world at large needs to know a new and ‘simple’ method for changing a duvet cover, or how to make a miniature blowtorch from a cigarette lighter. And what’s worse, after you’ve sat through ’10 incredible life hacks using a toothbrush’, ‘7 ways to save time using a pencil’ and ’10 hidden hacks you never knew about your TV remote’ – that’s 30 minutes of your life wasted, rather than time saved, and you end up feeling annoyed, frustrated and ever so slightly soiled and tarnished in much the same way you might feel after suffering somebody’s armpit at face level whilst standing during a crowded train journey.

I have lots of my own life hacks that work really well for me… If I’ve an early start, I prepare my coffee the night before, so I just have to heat the water and pour; I put my recycling box inside my wheelie bin so that I can put out the rubbish in a single trip; and I collect my rail tickets on the journey home so I don’t have to queue for them the following morning – but nobody ever told me to do these things, I worked them out all by myself and that’s pretty much how I expect other people to function too.

I apply the same principle to SL, where there is plenty of scope for finding short cuts, tweaks and hacks that make virtual life more enjoyable, simple and straightforward, whether it’s a case of the best way to organise an inventory or quick fixes for viewer problems. It goes without saying that I’m more than happy to share my own knowledge of these little snippets of inside information if I’m asked, or where it would be churlish not to, but I’m also firmly off the opinion that there’s nothing wrong with having to find out these things for yourself rather than being handed it on a plate, and that part of the fun of SL is discovering and learning how to solve problems and improve the inworld experience off your own back.

ashemi_009One of the major ‘selling points’ of SL is its freeform nature – its an environment that’s highly conducive to learning, discovery and developing problem solving techniques. In the real world, we’d call these ‘life skills’, and they are very much the sort of thing we have to develop on our own, although sometimes with a little support, encouragement and the occasional steer in the right direction from our friends. They lose their value, however, if we are not left to learn them by ourselves. We need to do this to develop critical thinking, decisiveness, and analytical skills, and along the way we build our world view and our place within it. Those are not the sort of things that some plonker on YouTube can equip us with through the expedient of spoon feeding us their own – or more likely, recycled from another YouTube guru – wisdom on how to prepare a mango for consumption using a soup spoon and potato peeler!

By removing any motivation for learning or development, those who would seek to illuminate us in the ways of living a better life are, in fact, depriving us of that most rewarding of experiences – self improvement, the pursuit of knowledge and the joy of discovery. I would never want to feel that I had prevented anyone from discovering those same achievements in the virtual world any more than I would in RL, and so I’d encourage anyone who finds SL a challenge, rather than seeking easy solutions, why not rise to the challenge instead and find the answers your own way instead of simply turning to the knowledge of others as your first port of call… I’m sure your virtual life will be the better for it, and I’m certain that the knowledge and understanding you gain will mean far more to you than any second hand hints and tips ever would.

s. x

When we all give the power
We all give the best
Every minute of an hour
Don’t think about a rest
Then you all get the power
You all get the best
Opus – Live Is Life

Posted in Philosophicalisticality, Rants, RL, SL | Leave a comment

USBroken

techTechnology is a wonderful thing… When it works. When it doesn’t, it’s a pain in the bum!

I tend to be rather impatient when tech doesn’t do what it’s designed to do; I’m not so bothered if it all goes pear-shaped when pushed to extremes or made to do things it was never designed for – and I have a terrible habit of doing that sort of thing – but when something is designed for a particular purpose and fails to achieve it, I do feel somewhat aggrieved, especially when the end result conspires to cause me problems beyond reasonable limits.

And, for some reason, it’s the simplest things that can give me the most grief. Take the ubiquitous and unassuming USB port – the problems it’s caused me are frankly ridiculous, and I’m not talking about how a plug that can only fit into its socket in one of two ways will always take three attempts to get right, either!

If I could beat the same odds at doing the lottery as I manage to do with USB, I’d be writing this post from the beach, whilst sipping a mojito; but sadly it seems I’m fated to experience the incredibly rare and unlikely in terms of tech failure, rather than seeing my numbers coming up. Who else in the world, for example, has had a hard disk fried as a result of a USB cable suddenly, and without warning, catastrophically failing? /me puts my hand up grumpily.

And then, last night, I experienced a sickening sense of deja vu, as it all started to fall apart again. At first, my PC began a frantic chorus of bing bongs and bong bings, as my hub decided to randomly and furiously disconnect, then immediately reconnect all my peripheral devices continuously. This included my two month old 2TB external hard drive, which after a restart and removal to another port, stubbornly refused to do anything other than click and buzz, which – as anyone who has ever been in this situation will tell you – is bad, very bad… It’s never going to work again bad, in fact.

Well, I’m not one too give up that easily, so I did all the usual things, fiddled about with the disk management console, consulted the accumulated wisdom of the interweb, prayed and so on… But I knew it was hopeless. So, driven to desperation – after many hours of fruitless effort – I fell back on that old standby – more urban legend than scientific principle – and the drive went into the freezer for a few hours.

It didn’t work… I never thought it would. So, with nothing to lose, I did that thing you should never do: I unplugged, gave it a good hard tap on the underside, and plugged back in. It was nothing short of a miracle… The disk burst into life and I leapt into action, copying the precious data I thought I’d lost forever to a place of safety. Sometimes, when all else fails, it’s the low-tech solution that saves the day.

computer_001Now before you start berating me about not backing up my work, I should say that I do. I routinely back up once a month, a process that ties up my resources for a good three hours – it’s not something I’d contemplate doing any more frequently and, as luck would have it, I hadn’t got around to this month’s run. Of course, this was also the one month I’d done masses of work on several gigs of photos, along with an inworld project requiring a pile of research and textures; and you can guess what I’d bought the disk for in the first place… Yep, photos and SL files! So whilst it wouldn’t have been the end of the world to lose a month’s worth of data, the amount of work I’d need to do as a result was pretty substantial.

Now I have to buy a new USB hub and a new hard disk, and the whole sorry story highlights for me that you simply can’t plan for everything: There’s always something that can go wrong, no matter how robust your systems and processes, in fact it’s incredible that some things work at all.

It’s made me think that, just maybe, I’ve now an inkling about what it must be like to be a Linden Lab technician, and I think, to be honest, it’s really not a job I’d want under any circumstances!

s. x

A billion balconies facing the sun
A billion faces turned to their screens
The perfect answer to camouflage our screams
A billion lies becoming the truth
An ecstasy of the eye
As wide as eternity tonight
Manic Street Preachers – A Billion Balconies Facing The Sun

Posted in Rants, RL, SL, Techietalk | 2 Comments

Nostalgia: It ain’t what it used to be

memoriesI’ve been away from SL for a whole week, and whenever I’ve not been inworld for a while it’s always a bit of a surprise to log back in and find that everything is pretty much the same as when I left it. In fact this time things were almost spookily unchanged – my first half hour back after a break is generally taken up by putting right any mayhem that’s unfolded in my absence: Rounding up escaped animals, sorting out the aftermath of train crashes and dealing with a million unwanted group messages. This time, everything – apart from the inevitable avalanche of messages – required no attention at all. It seems that SL is capable of looking after itself after all!

So I was able to head out for a spot of exploring instead, to kill the time before friends began to log in; and, when they did, it seemed that everyone was in something of a nostalgic mood. We danced to some of the music of our youth, whilst chatting about the past – both in our real and virtual lives.

Some talked about their childhood and family, whilst others recalled their past in SL, reminiscing about the sims they spent their time at in the past, places, people and activities – some long gone, but fondly remembered. We pulled out old calling cards and were surprised at how long ago we first met, and we chatted about the circumstances under which we first crossed paths.

governor_001It gave me an opportunity to do something I rarely do. I have a folder in my inventory titled ‘SL Heritage’, in it are a whole bunch of items that I’ve accumulated, some of which hail from the virtual world’s dim and distant past, and amongst them are a collection of old avatars, from the early years of SL that I simply had to dig out and play with. It was fun! “That was my first avatar”, said one friend, as I donned the harajuku girl from 2004; “I remember that one”, when out came Governor Linden, aka ‘Ruth’ from 2003. I even dragged out a primitar, complete with jetpack, from the pre-beta Linden World – it’s astonishing just how far avatars have come in the intervening years.

And then I did something that I hardly ever do – I resurrected Mae – my original avatar that I first started my adventures in earnest with in SL. Apart from the very occasional outing, she’s exactly as I left her seven years ago, complete with bloodstained death-dealer trench coat and defiant attitude. She didn’t stay long, and will probably not see the light of day for some considerable time, but it was fun to see her again.

When I say that Mae was my original avatar, that’s not strictly true. I have an older, considerably older, avatar with whom I first made a foray into SL. She didn’t get much of an outing, I’m afraid: Neither my PC nor Internet connection at the time were up to the demands of the virtual world, and after a short while, I gave up trying and quit SL, not to return again until a good couple of years later. She’s still out there, somewhere, in her polka-dot dress and bad hair, but I’m very much afraid that she’ll never see active service again… I no longer remember her name, and she was created under an email account that no longer exists (even if I could remember what it was!), so my chances of ever recovering her are a big fat zero. 😦

It’s a shame because it’s a little bit of my personal SL history that I’d love to recover, but that’s simply not going to happen, and so this little bit of virtual nostalgia is one that is destined to remain just a dim memory.

Ah well, these things happen, and there’s little that can be done about them. Instead I’ll content myself with the knowledge that in another 10 years time, I’ll probably be writing another one of these, reminiscing about the good times we enjoyed back in the halcyon days of 2017!

Here’s hoping .

s. x

Those were such happy times and not so long ago
How I wondered where they’d gone
But they’re back again just like a long lost friend
All the songs I loved so well
The Carpenters – Yesterday Once More

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Snapshots of life

snapshotI’m sat on a train (again) for the next three hours and we’re currently held at a signal, (‘Arriva Trains Wales would like to apologise for the delay to your journey – this is due to the line being blocked following an incident’). Having nothing better to do whilst they decide how they are going to shift this particular incident, I’m gazing out of the window at a gorse bush covered in yellow flowers and a willow loaded with catkins and wondering how they have become so deluded that they think it’s spring, even though it’s barely February, (OK, March – I wrote this a month ago!). Beyond the befuddled foliage, a rotten and broken-down pier stretches or into a grey and misty sea – a relic of Victorian grandeur now long past.

It’s a snapshot – a moment in time and place, briefly captured in time. I gather together a great many of these mental snapshots on my journeys; glimpses and fleeting impressions of places and people, framed in train windows, and always, tantalisingly, just beyond my reach. I may never see the full picture or the who, where or what of what is passing before me, but each in its own way, is a moment of recollection, a memory and a record of the places I’ve been and the circumstances surrounding them.

Maybe these things stand out in my mind because I’m a very visually-oriented person. I take many, many photographs and, almost without exception, I’m able to conjure up the precise details of the circumstances in which they were taken, right down to the most intimate details. For me, a photograph has the power to transport me back to the moment it was captured, with every detail crystal clear, along with the events, people, sights, sounds and even smells that accompanied it.

I also take lots of photographs in SL, perhaps not as many as I used too, but even so, they take up a sizeable chunk of hard disk space and, in figures, I’m well into four digits now. However the reasons that I photograph SL are different to those in the real world. It’s true that I do grab the occasional image as a reminder of an event or memento of a special location or occasion; at times I may produce a portrait or group photo of friends; but the vast majority of the pictures I save are for entirely different reasons and hold far less of an emotional connection.

train-window_001My inworld images tend to be purely documentary in origin and style. Their only real purpose is to capture and document the incredible diversity and fecundity of our virtual world – the scenery, the creativity and madness of a user-created virtual environment and ecosystem. Certainly, they are a record of the places that I’ve been and explored, but I don’t see them in that way, instead I’m more interested in maintaining a record of SL itself, than what it means to me. Although, if pushed, I’d probably find it hard to explain why I feel the need to do this… It’s not as if the images have any intrinsic value, and it’s unlikely that anyone but myself will ever even see the majority of them, it’s just that I feel a need to record and preserve, even if there’s no real reason to do so.

I suppose it could be, in some way, connected to my personality – I tend to be well-ordered, methodical and meticulous, with a thirst for knowledge and information. Since this is me in the real world, it’s no surprise that I might want to document and accumulate data about the virtual world, even if it is of little relevance to anyone but myself. That’s just the way I am, and it’s unlikely that I’ll ever change.

And maybe, at this point, you’re wondering whether I’m human after all… Maybe I’m really an AI – some sort of Android, programmed to gather data and store it for some higher purpose.

And sometimes, that’s something that I wonder myself!

s. x

Looking at the trees on the roadside
Feeling it’s a holiday
You and I should ride the coast
And wind up in our favourite coats just miles away
Ocean Colour Scene – The Day We Caught The Train

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Illusion

pantoneIt’s either the most bonkers or brilliant scientific theory I’ve heard in a very long time, and if it did by any chance, prove to be true then it’s going to change everything, forever.

The universe, apparently, is a hologram! Forget three dimensions, it’s all an illusion that we’ve taught ourselves to believe is real. An illusion that we have convinced ourselves possesses depth and substance, can be measured, touched and felt and yet, if the theory is correct, it has no more substance than a movie seen through polarising glasses.

There was a time when I would have scoffed at such an outlandish proposition and laughed it off as nonsense, but now I know, from experience, just how convincing and tangible a virtual universe can be. I’ve seen how the illusion of 3-dimensional space can be maintained in a physically 2-dimensional environment, and I can appreciate how the mind can be fooled into believing that a world can have depth and physicality, even when neither actually exists.

We call this Second Life, and whilst few of us could actually be convinced that it is at all real in the same sense that you and I are physical entities, it does a damn good job at mimicking those things that we rely upon to distinguish reality from the mere illusory. So, why shouldn’t the universe and everything that is, be something similar, albeit rather more convincing than our own favourite virtual world?

ashemi_005Personally, it’s still going to take a lot to convince me that everything I know and experience through my worldly senses and rational logic is nothing more than a hologram and about as substantial as a projected image – it’s just too perverse an idea to comprehend. On the other hand, I’m perfectly comfortable with treating SL as if it were another dimension of the real world, even though I know and understand full well that – aside from the interaction between avatars, (which may itself be entirely fictitious in content and spurious in nature) – none of it is ‘real’ in any tangible sense. The things I ‘do’ and the virtual environment in which I undertake them are no more real than a 2-dimensional representation of a non-existent reality, no more substantial than a hologram, yet like a hologram, I perceive SL as having three dimensions, depth and substance, which it clearly does not.

At times, I almost feel I can reach out and touch SL – and I daresay that if somebody ever develops some sort of virtual world haptic force-feedback device, it would be relatively easy to fool my mind into thinking the the virtual world is as real as the world around me, (unless that really is a hologram!), in which I’m sitting and typing this post.

That the mind can be misled so easily introduces an element, however small, in the proposition that the universe, and therefore everything, is simply a 2-dimensional veneer that is only pretending – extremely well – to be something that it is not. If that is the case, then what the heck is really happening? Is life, the universe and everything simply the result of some cosmic accident and a complete illusion, or is everything we think we know a deliberate lie and we ourselves are the white mice in some bizarre experiment? It’s tempting to think, if we’re going to pursue that line of enquiry, that we are merely avatars in some godlike version of SL… Freaky stuff!

devin1_005Utter nonsense, of course – but then again, if we believe in a multiverse where everything is possible, as some physicists would have us believe, there will quite definitely be at least one holoverse that breaks all those rules of physics that, until now, we presumed were inviolate. And it would be just my luck to be stuck in it!

Then again, maybe SL is the holoverse… And our avatars, right now are puzzling over the same sort of questions?

Gosh, this is confusing – I think I need a lie down, although how the heck do I do that if I’m a 2-dimensional being in a 2-dimensional universe?


Well, I’ve had my lie down – somehow I achieved it – and I’ve re-visited the original scientific paper, and it turns out that those researchers weren’t suggesting that our current universe is a hologram at all: Their model was an early, just-after-the-Big-Bang-universe, which suggested that the early universe could have indeed been holographic in nature, just for a teeny weeny moment, and in a way that doesn’t break the laws of physics – a universe with only two, rather than three, spatial dimensions, and a time dimension – simple!

Phew.

s. x

“The world is your exercise book, the pages on which you do your sums. It is not reality, though you may express reality there if you wish. You are also free to write lies, or nonsense, or to tear the pages.”
Richard Bach – Illusions: The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah

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