Life in low resolution

Despite our love affair with technology, it doesn’t matter how good, groundbreaking or high-quality it is, unless completely autonomous and self-programming, it will always suffer from one fatal flaw. Whether we’re talking cameras, phones, cars or virtual worlds, even the very best of them can deliver disappointly poor performance and results, and often produce outcomes that are completely botched, as soon as you introduce the human component.

We have smartphones now equipped with cameras that are on a par with a decent DSLR, and a whole suite of features and filters offering stiff competition with much of the basic photo editing software on the market, yet a quick trawl of any social media stream will reveal the stark truth: Thousands of poorly-composed, badly-lit, blurred, out-of-focus, rubbish photos. We’ve hardly progressed from the point-and-shoot classic cameras of the ’70s and ’80s that produced the sort of over-exposed, ‘oh dear, mum’s cut your head off again’ shots that fill my parents’ photo albums. The big difference is that hardly anyone sees those albums, whilst the whole world is able to view Jennie’s drunken night out duckface selfies, should they wish to do so, (but, why would you?).

Another pet peeve of mine is people listening to high-quality audio on tiny bluetooth speakers, paying no attention to placement, channel separation, environment or anything at all that is going to make music sound good. Better still, walking through the streets, blasting out distorted sounds from a phone, turne dup to full volume, clasped in a sweaty hand. They may as well be listening to music from a cheap cassette-tape played over a single mono PA speaker, for all the loss of quality they’re experiencing.

Then there are those – please tell me you’re not one of them – who insist on downloading movies in 1080p, or even 4K, and then watch them on a tiny laptop screen incapable of displaying HD. All that bandwidth, data and storage for absolutely no gain whatsoever!

What really galls me though is that it’s often the very same people who insist on having the latest tech, which they then misuse, who complain the most vociferously when things don’t turn out quite as expected. Like, for example, one of my more neanderthal relatives who thought they were the dog’s gonads for spending a fortune on a 60-inch, gesture-controlled 4K TV. They learned quickly that gesture-control doesn’t play nicely if you tend to ‘talk with your hands’ and that 4K programming is practically non-existent at the moment. So, a vast sum of money wasted on something that lets them watch Coronation Street at the same quality as everybody else, albeit on a massive screen that they have to sit too close to because the room was never designed for something that size. Oh, they also moan that movies look like daytime soap operas – a consequence of not reading the manual, and not adjusting the factory settings so that frame-interpolation wasn’t permanently switched on. I laughed at them, a lot!

Inevitably, the same issues occur in SL. The more features we get and the more capable the virtual environment becomes, the less that capability is understood and utilised, and the more people complain that it’s not working as they think it should – mainly as a result of their own ineptitude and unwillingness to set it up properly. I’ve even made the effort to prepare a proper scientific and exhaustively researched graph to illustrate the problem:

You may think I’ve been a little harsh in my estimation of SL user savvy, but trust me, I’m not. There are still masses of people out there happy to splash out on high-end gaming PCs and laptops, expensive graphics cards and super-fast internet who complain bitterly that they’re still only getting average performance from SL, because – no matter how many times you tell them that SL is incapable of capitalising on many of the features of modern technology because its architecture is so ancient – they still think throwing more money and tech at it from their end is going to improve their lot. That’s like giving a old, clapped-out car an expensive new coat of paint and alloy wheels, and expecting it to run smoother, faster and better than it did before!

It’s those same users who will jump on the latest inworld trendy bandwagon, without understanding how it will impact performance. The ‘must own the latest mesh body’ brigade, with all their accompanying HUDs and attachments – the ones who look glorious, but spend twenty minutes stood in one place complaining that nothing has rezzed yet. Heaven forbid that it might be something to do with that horribly un-optimised mesh body and head you’ve spent a fortune on, sweetheart.

And why, oh why, spend a month’s worth of poledancing tips on something that you then can’t be bothered to tweak to get the best from it? I still see mesh people walking round that have clearly had their head severed and sewn back on (or, in desperation, have resorted to the ‘unsuccessfully-hide-the-join-choker’), and I can’t help but stifle a laugh when I see people tottering around barefoot on tip-toe – I mean, it’s a couple of clicks at most to fix your feet; how hard can that be? Too hard, apparently, since some creators are catching on and now providing footwear not conventionally associated with standing on tip-toe, and no doubt, making a handsome profit from it. Easier to shell out on a new pair of shoes than fuss around making your feet look realistic.

Moving aside from those who want the newest and best inworld, then fail to understand or even try to make the most of it, we have the vast numbers of residents who are completely unaware of viewer functionality, any of the new and shiny features that the Lab has introduced over the last couple of years, or how to adjust their settings to optimise their inworld experience. I’m betting that ALM, EEP, animesh, pathfinding and so on, are barely on the radar for the vast majority of users, let alone understood, and they are hardly ever put to use – if at all – hence my graph above. The more features the Lab gives us, the less likely they are to see widespread use. Sometimes, it’s because of a lack of clear communication, often it’s because of poor design and complexity, but mostly it’s because of apathy from the user base.

Invariably, once again, those who do not want to try to improve their experience are the first to complain when things don’t work, lag and perform poorly. Now, I’m not saying that everybody needs to be an SL nerd, but if you’re not even prepared to read the friendly manual, take advice from those who do understand about how to improve your SLife, or make any effort to try to find out why things aren’t working for you, I don’t want to hear you whining on about how ‘broken’ SL is!

I’ll be brutal, I think that most SL residents fall into three categories:

  • Those who try and work the problems, or at least ask for help
  • Those who can’t be arsed, and whinge
  • Those who haven’t a clue, and whinge

The first group I respect and will happily associate with, the others are those who’ll be on the receiving end of much eye-rolling and sighing. No doubt, the whingeing groups will argue that they should be able to log in to SL and have everything work perfectly; and, in a perfect world, we’d be able to do just that, but – like real life – SL is not, by any measure, a perfect world and therefore to expect it to work perfectly is unreasonable. I’d argue, however, that to stick one’s virtual head in the sand and not at least try to improve one’s own experience, and then complain, is also pretty unreasonable.

SL is insanely complex, and whilst it may not exactly be cutting-edge technology, it’s still pretty clever by anyone’s reckoning. That, by definition, means instability, challenges and unexpected outcomes, it also means there will be something of a learning curve if you wish to attain a degree of mastery or get the best from it, and if you don’t want to learn, well that’s your decision, but you then have to put up and shut up when it comes to the consequences. I’m not being mean, that’s just the way it is.

So, if we’re stuck with unhappy users who don’t want the bother of having to mess with settings or try to help themselves, is there anything that could be done from a design perspective to assist? Well, yes – we could have a two-tier viewer with separate modes: Numpty/Expert. In fact, the Lab tried this back in 2011, albeit with modes not quite as cynically named as I would have done, instead we had Basic and Advanced modes, and it bombed. Nobody liked it, nobody wanted it. The problem is that if you’re asking those who want all the bells and whistles, but not the hassle, to log in to a ‘no hassle mode’ that limits functionality, lowers performance and sets the bar at a height lower than they’re already used to, they won’t be interested, and they’ll just go back to using the higher-performance, but glitchier version and continue moaning about it. And that’s exactly what happened – nobody, apart from the most noobish of users wanted a basic viewer and it quietly slipped away to the digital trash heap.

Personally, I’m of the opinion that people will always complain, no matter how good things are; they will always use smart technology in a dumb way; and they will never look to themselves when it comes to finding solutions.

So, if there’s anything flawed with SL, it’s primarily the people using it!

s. x

Change your heart
Look around you
Change your heart
It will astound you

Beck – Everybody’s Got To Learn Sometime

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

Boring!

Second Life has become boring!

Let me clarify that statement. I don’t mean that SL bores me, quite the contrary, in fact – even after over a decade inworld, I can still find plenty to keep me occupied, a wealth of places to explore and photograph, and a never-ending supply of activities to keep me busy. However, if I compare the SL I knew when I first signed up, with the SL I experience today, I have to conclude that much of what made virtual living exciting, edgy, weird, wonderful and wacky has either disappeared or been sidelined, to be replaced by a homogenised, bland and, yes – boring, environment.

If you hunt down an ‘old-timer’ in SL and ask them about the good old days, way back when SL was young and new, you’ll invariably see them become digitally misty-eyed, before rambling on for hours about the ‘Frontier Days’, when virtual life was more raw, wilder, wackier and smellier than anything else that had previously hit the internet, a bastion of political-incorrectness, opportunity and diversity.

Now, I’m not saying that it was all good, clean fun, and not without its downside: Whilst there was an element of excitement in never quite knowing what to expect around the next corner, you also had to grow a fairly thick skin and keep your wits about you if you wanted to survive unscathed – it was no place for millennial snowflakes, that’s for sure – and being acosted by vampires wishing to chow down on your neck, random naked people and griefers spewing flying penises around just for the hell of it, wasn’t everybody’s cup of tea.

SL wasn’t nearly so slick and reliable as we’re used to today, either. Yes, I know that most people will complain that SL is hardly cutting-edge in terms of performance, but back in the day, dealing with bugs, glitches and technical hassles was all part of the fun of virtual life. You haven’t experienced SL at its borky best until you’ve unexpectedly ended up with your head up your bum, been rubber-banded across a whole sim, or been forced to ‘Ruth’ yourself, clear cache, replace your eyeballs, scatter salt over your left shoulder and sacrifice your first-born just to become visible. All things that are pretty rare occurrences in today’s SL, but back then were likely to occur many times over the course of a session. Oh, and there were scheduled downtimes too… Just imagine not being able to log into SL on Thursday because the Grid was being updated?

Yet, despite all these obstacles, whimsies and tribulations – and, in many ways, because of them – SL managed to be a fun and engaging place to be. You never quite knew what to expect, and every day was surprising and ‘educational’!

So, what do I think has changed, and what has gone wrong along the way to prompt me to describe SL as boring? Surely I’m not saying that improved stability and performance, and the smoothing-out of some of the rougher edges of SLociety are bad things? No, of course not, but along with those visible changes, there are some cultural, aesthetic and policy changes that have diluted the vitality of SL and stripped it of some of the joy that the unexpected, the uninhibited and the unfettered can produce. What we have today is a more sanitised and standardised, McDonaldised version of SL, and as a consequence, it’s lost some of its va-va-voom!

Let’s consider each of those in turn, starting with sanitation…

Nobody can really argue that some sort of moderation in terms of acceptable behaviours is necessary in a virtual environment as open and inclusive as SL, and whilst everyone is free to pursue their latex reptilian biscuit stuffing fetish and enjoy themselves as they choose to inworld, it is equally important to recognise that others who don’t relish the thought of having biscuits stuffed into their underwear, shouldn’t be confronted by such behaviour if it can be reasonably avoided. Nobody should be concerned about accidentally stumbling across another avatar with their dangly bits hanging out if they’d prefer not to, and similarly, anyone who does enjoy wandering round in their birthday suit shouldn’t have to be concerned they might expose themselves (literally) to someone who is going to take offence and fire off a complaint ticket to the Lab. That’s a good thing, but it does mean that those on the fringes can become marginalised – those who perhaps like to dabble in a bit of naughtiness, from time to time, now find themselves in a position where they can’t just retire to somewhere discrete, but instead have to head out to the wholesale debauchery of Zindra; it’s either famine or feast, with no middle ground, and whilst it does mean that those of fragile sensibilities are insulated from any carnal contact, I think that everyday SL has become a good deal less interesting as a result.

Which brings us to standardisation…

Back in the Frontier Days, people took a very relaxed approach to their appearance and activities. Hanging out at a teleport hub, or an arrivals area, provided an often rude awakening to the wide variety of characters and types that inhabited the virtual world. Certainly, some were unsavory, but all were interesting, sometimes intriguing and often confusing. It was a lot of fun!

Somewhere along the line though, partly because of mesh clothing, and then mesh bodies, and partly because of the Lab focussing less on ‘Your world – Your imagination’ and more on ‘Let’s make everything glossy and cool’, we saw the evolution of the ‘standard’ avatar. We’ve gone from 90% weird, wacky and wonderful, to 90% humanoid, toned body, (made by one of maybe six creators), all displaying the same standard expressions, wearing the same standard clothing, as featured on the latest slew of fashion ‘blogs’, and spending an inordinate amount of time in the standard pursuits of shopping for, and trying-on said clothing, rather than travelling the Grid and marvelling at its wonders.

Once again, this ethos tends to marginalise those who don’t fit the standard model. There was a time you couldn’t go for a walk inworld without stepping in furry poop, being bitten by a vampire, or getting accosted by a noob in a badly-fitting body wanting to do teh sex. These days, you’d be lucky to find anyone who doesn’t subscribe to the norm, without actively seeking them out… Actually, in some locations, you’d be lucky to find anyone at all – they’re all out shopping, or furnishing their standardised Linden homes. So many of the various subcultures have been relegated to their own little corners of the Grid: Furries, littles, roleplayers, nekos, tinies, Goreans… All seeking the company of their own kind, because they just don’t fit into the standard cookie-cutter template that SL culture now deems to be ‘normal’. But, surely SL is nothing to do with being normal, and everything to do with being long-haired, freaky, cyber-monkeys?

Finally, we come to McDonaldisation – maybe not a term you’re familiar with, but basically, it’s the McDonalds’ effect: Fast, standardised pap that looks and tastes the same, is presented and executed in exactly the same way, no matter where you are, and is gradually taking over the world. It’s bland, it’s boring, it’s all-encompassing.

SL is fast becoming McDonaldised. People can log in, slot into their respective template for the day, and pretty much spend hours inworld without thinking, interacting or otherwise having to bother – essentially just plugging into the hive mind and becoming a drone. It’s becoming a lot like Facebook, where you see your ‘friends’ and spend the next few hours scrolling through your feed, barely noticing what’s going on around you, and absorbing next to nothing of what you’re looking at. You move from club to club, knowing exactly what to expect, doing the same dance as everyone else, go shopping to the same stores, buy the same clothes, then log out and wonder what on earth you’ve been doing for the last three hours.

So much inworld now looks and feels like everywhere else, and once again, I believe it’s down to that loss of vision. It’s no longer ‘Your world – Your imagination’, it’s more a case of the imagination of a corporate, privileged few who control the land, the fashion, the trends and the parties, with everybody else tagging-along, caught up in the net and the misguided belief that they’re doing something unique, when actually they’re doing exactly the same as everybody else is doing.

And that’s boring!

Thankfully, not everybody toes the corporate line, myself included – I guess it makes us misfits to some extent, but personally, I always side with the misfits and the underdogs, and give me character, charisma and creativity over bland and boring any day!

s. x

This one’s for the freaks
For you’re so beautiful
For all the devotion
Written in your soul

Manic Street Preachers – Underdogs

Posted in Philosophicalisticality, Rants, SL, SLarcheology | 5 Comments

WB!

It was only just in my last post that I refused to try and predict what might happen for SL in 2022, but if I had attempted to do so, I would never in a million years have predicted yesterday’s news that Philip Rosedale would be returning to Linden Lab as both an investor and strategic adviser. Additionally, along with his cash injection, Philip will be bringing with him team members from his own company, High Fidelity, and a bunch of proprietry software and solutions that High Fidelity has developed.

This is big news. Here’s a quick potted history for those unfamiliar with Rosedale, or as he was better known, back in the day – Philip Linden. Some time in the early 1990s, Rosedale – already an experienced entrepeneur in the IT industry, had a vision whilst taking a shower – if the legends are to be believed – of limitless rolling green digital countryside, an endless vista for expression, and decided to build it. In a 2002 Wall Street Journal interview, he stated “I dream about this place I’m trying to build, I can see it.” He formed Linden Lab to realise that vision and, in 1999, Second Life was born. The rest, as they say, is history.

In 2008, Rosedale stepped down as the Lab’s CEO, to assume the role of Chairman of the Board, and then, in early 2013, he left Linden Lab to set up a new business – High Fidelity – which many thought, incorrectly, would be something akin to SL Mk2. Instead, Philip’s aim with High Fidelity has been to develop immersive virtual environments built around real-time spatial audio: Think, multiple avatars experiencing Dolby 7.1 sound, from their own individual perspective, and with imperceptible latency.

And now, he’s back, bringing all sorts of goodies with him!

Now, I’ll admit to being a fan of Philip, but not everybody is. Some would say he’s all mouth and no trousers, whilst others might criticise him for being a dreamer, rather than a realist. Personally, I think the facts speak for themselves: He’s built more than one successful company over the years in an intensely competitive and cutthroat industry, and developed new technology that has gone on to stand the test of time. His vision for Second Life is still going strong, and the platform has weathered a huge amount of change since it first burst into life, yet still it persists and grows. I’ve personally been writing about it since 2010, and logging-in almost daily for longer than that, and I’m still finding new things to do and write about. And, of course, Linden Lab’s new owners obviously think he’s an asset that they need to develop an even stronger presence in the future. The guy must have something going for him!

The big question is what does this mean for SL? And, in many ways, that’s a tricky one.

When Philip left the Lab, it felt as if things had lost their sense of direction, we were on a rudderless ship, with no real idea of where we were heading, (some would say, up the proverbial creek, without a paddle). Slowly, things seemed to get back on track under the leadership of Rod Humble and, later Ebbe Altberg, but I think that many feel that Linden Lab is now following a completely different pathway to that original vision. The – now deprecated – slogan, ‘Your world, your imagination’, doesn’t seem to quite ring as true as it once did, and I know from talking to others inworld, that there’s a real feeling that SL has lost it’s ‘frontier town’ feel: It’s no longer edgy, exciting or as creative as it once was. SL today feels a little too safe, too polished, homogenised and – at times – bland and corporate.

Certainly, the Lab has made some sound decisions that have probably secured its foundations for the foreseable future, and to that end, Tilia definitely has the potential to be a game-changer, but the emphasis has subtly shifted away from SL, and that to me is where a timely restorative injection of strategic advice from the guy who dreamed it all up in the first place is sorely needed.

Where it gets complicated lies with what else Philip brings to the SL table. On the face of it, having a slew of High Fidelity developers join the Lab, bringing with them a host of new-fangled techy stuff sounds like a good thing, but you have to appreciate that SL infrastructure and the cutting-edge High Fidelity tech are – quite literally – worlds apart, and there is a vast gulf between which means it is going to be both difficult and painful to bring the two together.The technology that SL is built on was top notch back in the 90s; now it’s practically geriatric. SL, in its current form, is incapable of making the most of modern CPUs and graphics cards, relies on architecture that is paleolithic in terms of performance, and then there’s the content. Let’s not forget that almost all SL content is user-created, by geniuses like myself who make it up as they go along, and a bunch of content creators who are only in it for the money, and who wouldn’t bother to optimise a mesh if their lives depended on it. In effect, incorporating High Fidelity architecture into SL will be a bit like mashing together the latest iPhone motherboard and a Nokia 3310 you found knocking about in the back of your knicker drawer, and expecting it all to work seamlessly.

At best, I think there will be some things that can be bolted on to SL that will be of benefit: For a start, High Fidelity being what it is, it would be daft not to incorporate all-singing, all-dancing audio bells and whistles into SL, particularly since this will also do away with the Lab’s reliance on Vivox for voice services, but beyond that, unless we are to face wholesale and savage breaking of content, and a move to entirely new physics and graphics engines – something the Lab has always avoided for all the obvious reasons – any benefits are going to be fairly limited; tweaking and tuning is probably the best we can hope for. Unless, of course, the Holy Grail of SL2.0 eventually appears… Along with all the massively complex questions about porting existing content, cash, scripts, and everything else we hold dear inworld to a new environment, or possibly, starting all over again from scratch!

Those are not simple issues to resolve, just look at all the angst and soul-searching that went on when people realised that they wouldn’t be able to take their virtual worldly goods with them into Sansar, which – among a whole load of other issues – was no doubt what stopped the anticipated, but never realised, wholesale abandonment of SL for the Lab’s brave new virtual world… And a good thing too, if you ask me!

Then there are thorny questions around the use and licencing of High Fidelity tech that’s already been developed and has a wide range of commercial applications: Are the Lab, Rosedale, High Fidelity and all its stakeholders willing to farm all that cash-generating, proprietry code out to third party developers? If they won’t, then are we going to see the demise of our favourite alternatives to the official viewer… Is this the beginning of the end for the likes of Firestorm, Black Dragon and Alchemy, and – horror of horrors – RLV?

Second best thing to having Philip in the driving seat – me in the driving seat, of his car!

Who knows?

We’ll find out, eventually.

Don’t worry, the sky isn’t about to fall just yet, or maybe it never will, but Rosedale’s return may be a double-edged sword, and we can only hope it’s wielded with caution. One thing’s for sure, Philip is going to need more than his famed magical underpants in order to make it all happen… But, you never know!

Welcome home, Philip!

s. x

Back in black
I hit the sack
I’ve been too long,

I’m glad to be back
Yes, I’m let loose
From the noose
That’s kept me hanging about

AC/DC – Back In Black

Posted in 2.0, HiFi, Linden Love, RL, SL, SLarcheology, Techietalk | 2 Comments

That’s a wrap!

We’ve come to that time of the year when I traditionally review whether or not my predictions for the last 12 months for SL were accurate, and it’s also when I take a punt at guessing what we can expect in the coming year. However, with the exception of two rather broad expectations, I declined to make any predictions for 2021, so there’s not a lot to review there; and, in terms of what’s to come, well the Lab have stolen my thunder in that respect and already published some spoilers about what we can expect next year… More about that later, however.

Although I avoided specific predictions for the last year, I did say the following:

I think we will see changes, both expected and otherwise, inworld; but what these will be, I’d hesitate to suggest. There are two significant influences that need to be considered – the SL migration to the cloud, and the acquisition of the Lab: The first, I think, will result in noteworthy changes, the second, maybe not. Either way, whatever happens, I’d say there’s a strong likelihood that I’ll still be writing about SL, come next December.

So, how did I do? Well, pretty much as I expected, really. We did indeed see some changes/ improvements as a result of the cloud migration, but nothing really to write home about and probably not at all as noteworthy as I’d hoped for; as for the change of ownership – as I predicted – nothing at all, really, despite all the angst that still seems to surface now and again that SL is a terminally doomed ship.

What I couldn’t and didn’t predict, was the loss of two Lab stalwarts – Ebbe Altberg, taken from us far too soon, and Oz Linden who retired after many years as part of the Linden family. I had the privilege of crossing paths with both on a number of occasions inworld, and found them to truly be ‘men of the people’. They’ll be missed for a long time to come.

In terms of successes, you could say that the cloud migration was Oz Linden’s legacy to SL. Other than that, the two big success stories as far as the Lab was concerned, were monumental sales of Linden Homes – resulting in demand far-outstripping availability for a time, and the new-style last names. The latter is something that still baffles me somewhat… When it costs significantly more to change one’s name in a virtual world than in real life, and even then you can only choose from a limited pool being offered, (a bit like North Korean hairstyles), I find the ongoing success of last names a bit odd. It’s not as if they’re status symbols, or anything like that.

So, what lies ahead?

Well, the Lindens have already given us a teaser of new features we can expect to see rolled out next year, some good, some bad, some bonkers.

Let’s start with the bad: Premium Plus, with added features and extras. Presumably this is firmly aimed at those with more money than sense. If I’m reading this correctly, once you’ve paid for your premium subscription, possibly paid for tier on top, then a bit extra to have your own second name, you can then pay even more for unspecified ‘added features and extras’. That all comes at a pretty hefty monthly outlay, so – unlike the existing premium – it had better have features worth having! Now, I know there are those who think that having a Linden home, ‘exclusive’ sandboxes, the ability to buy mainland, a paltry stipend, more than a mere 42 group memberships, and the occasional high-prim, low-impressiveness gift are well-worth the additional bucks, but I still don’t think the cost is justified by the content. Feel free to disagree though.

Let’s look at the good stuff now: Improved chat reliability, Marketplace improvements, better viewer and script responsiveness – all perennial favourites that we’ve been promised every year since the world came into being. As for a mobile viewer… Well, I’m in two minds. I’ve used Lumiya, on and off, for years – but given the choice between my dual-screen desktop, or even a basic laptop, I know which I’d go for every time. Certainly, anyone born this millennium may fervently believe that life (SL or RL) can’t go on unless it’s via a portable, 6-inch screen, but I’m pretty sure that anyone older than that, or with less than 20/20 vision, or who enjoys decent audio, builds inworld or does anything creative is going to see mobile SL as nothing more than a novelty, or something to fall back on in case of emergency.

I’m not sure what ‘adding Marketplace web variants’ means; yes please, to improving mesh optimisation, (especially if this is going to force creators to stop using a billion triangles per eyelash); however, I’m a little confused about what ‘new user avatar customisation and improvements’ might be – does this mean we’ll be able to have 2 heads and animated mesh faces? Who knows? I’ll be interested to see where this leads. It sounds good, anyway!

Then, there’s the bonkers stuff: Camera-based, ‘avatar expressiveness’. What on earth could this mean? Reading between the lines, I’d say that the Lab have well and truly, (and quite correctly, in my opinion), thrown 3D onto the scrapheap and are instead concentrating on its less-glamorous sidekick: Camera-based gesture recognition and interpretation. Which sounds great, but definitely falls under the bonkers heading, as will no doubt be confirmed the first time somebody expressively throws up their hands in RL to say ‘Yay!’ knocking their precariously-placed, expensive laptop from their knees in the process!

You know how I, and most others who don’t routinely use voice inworld communicate? We type. And, because we are spending most of our time communicating via the keyboard, we’re not exactly going to be concentrating overmuch on expressive body-language. Even those who prefer voice, probably won’t benefit much from this feature – since I reckon they spend much of the time watching TV, surfing the web, or doing the ironing at the same time and dancing in SL. Prepare also to see avatars constantly raising non-existent glasses to their faces, or licking their fingers clean from cheesy puff dust, or – heaven forbid – far worse ‘gestures’ being captured when they don’t realise their movements are being picked up and shared with everyone in the room.

I can’t quite see how this will work with mobile SL either, and if it doesn’t, then how does that fit with Linden Lab’s over-riding objective that constantly punishes third-party developers: “Thou shalt not introduce functions that ‘break’ the user-experience for other residents”? Beats me. What I do know is that this will introduce a whole new headache for content creators, and further extend the creative monopoly enjoyed by those who have the time, resources and equipment to enable them to harness the new features that your everyday avatar will never be able to master. Just like mesh and bento.

On the other hand, it may just end up in the trash pile, along with pathfinding, experience keys and EEP – used and understood by a tiny minority, and mostly ignored by the great-unwashed.

So, now it’s time to round off, and since I won’t be making any predictions for next year, I’m going to make a wishlist instead.

Dear Linden developers, please can I have:

  • The ability to make payments to other residents without logging-in – if I can make Marketplace purchases whilst offline, surely this isn’t such a big deal?
  • Offline inventory management – again, I can do this with OpenSim, why on earth can’t I do it with SL?
  • Set to appear offline, before I go online – Sometimes I just want to log in to pay a bill or organise some inventory, (see above), without friends and passers-by bothering me simply because they’ve seen me log in and think I’m there to be social.
  • Bring back Windlight – EEP is appalling and ruins so much of SL, for so many. At least give the option to use either one or the other.
  • Reduce the LI of animesh, or expect to see it die a slow and untimely death.
  • Unconstrained popout windows (DUI) – The Firestorm dev team showed it’s possible, and for anyone who uses multiple monitors, it would be a gamechanger.

It’s not a big list, but I predict, I’ll never see any of those happen. One can dream though!

Happy New Year, everyone!

s. x

All play the game
Existence to the end
Of the beginning

The Beatles – Tomorrow Never Knows

Posted in Linden Love, SL, Techietalk | 1 Comment

Growing old gracefully

Learning is important: Every day for me is a school day, and I’ve always enjoyed the learning process because I have a relentlessly enquiring mind. That might surprise some of my teachers from my schooldays, who might have preferred to describe me as a dreamer and disinterested, but that was more the fault of the methods employed and boredom, rather than a desire not to learn.

In later years, I’ve pursued a wide range of learning opportunities and qualifications, both vocational and academic, not necessarily for the reward at the end, but primarily because I thoroughly enjoy learning, and that’s something that underpins a lot of what I do in everyday life, and also in SL too.

There are some however, who would say that academic knowledge, without application, is of limited use. I don’t necesarily agree with that view, because I think that even blue-skies, purely academic pursuits serve a purpose in broadening understanding, developing capability and provoking enquiry, all of which can lead to capability and application far beyond those initial limited constraints. Even so, we are occasionally blessed with research of such breath-taking weirdness, we can’t help but wonder how on earth the funding for such things could ever have been countenanced. A wealth of examples can be found at The Annals of Improbable Research, and of course the greatest of these are celebrated with the prestigious Ig Nobel Prize.

Usually, no matter how weird or way out, I can see some justification for such unusual topics for enquiry, but this week I came across a paper that caused even my eyebrows to raise in surprise, and I found it in no less august a publication than the British Medical Journal. Yes, this stalwart of medical research, more usually associated with research into drugs, medicine and surgery, appears to have branched out into the absurd with the publication of ‘Anticipating the ageing trajectories of superheroes in the Marvel cinematic universe’ (Hubbard et al, BMJ 2021;375:e068001, doi:https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj-2021-068001)

Now, I’ll be the first to admit that when it comes to the Marvel universe, I am a complete numpty. Much to the frustration of all the comic book geeks I’ve ever met in SL, (and there have been a great many), whenever the discussion turns to superheroes and their ilk, my expression glazes over and I begin to wonder how grown-up people can be so obsessed with such things. I have learned – thanks to unwilling exposure to such discussions, and from snippets gleaned from The Big Bang Theory – that there are apparently two universes, Marvel and DC, but don’t ask me what that even means, let alone who might be part of it. I do know that Superman can’t handle kryptonite, but apart from that, I have absolutely no idea about any of those other characters, other than the babes are, without exception, super cool and sassy. One fact about which I am certain, however, without a shadow of a doubt, is that superheroes from any made-up universe are, quite definitely, fictional characters, and therefore the aforementioned paper squarely sits within the realms of ‘completely bonkers’. Clearly though, if you’re a comic book nerd and PhD candidate/post-doctoral professor, with too much time on your hands during lockdown given the opportunity to watch 50 hours of fantasy movies, you’re not going to want to turn it down!

It does make a somewhat interesting read though. And, it got me thinking…

Ageing is unavoidable, despite all humanity’s efforts over the centuries and our own personal endevours, whether we like it or not, the longer we live the more decrepit and wonky we become. No matter how youthful we may feel inside, our bodies conspire against us to keep us mindful that we’re no longer as young as we’d like to be. We begin to accept that aches and pains are part of everyday life and that bit-by-bit, parts of our body are going to misbehave and start to do their own thing, whether we like it or not. There’s that horrible moment we realise that we just don’t look good naked any more, and even fully-clothed, there’s an unpleasant degree of sagginess and softness where once there was firm, toned flesh. Suddenly we’re spending more time at the doctor’s than seems strictly necessary, we’re up all night for all the wrong reasons, and the exfolients, fragrances and beauty products in the bathroom cabinet now jostle for space with the ever-increasing dispensary of medicines, pills and potions that are apparently necessary for us to get through the day, without grinding to a halt, or popping our clogs.

Getting old sucks. Seriously.

Which is almost certainly why the overwhelming majority of SL residents choose to style their avatars as fresh-faced, twenty or thirty-somethings, in the prime of life and with all their faculties and charms, unspoiled by the ravages of time.

This does, of course, lead to some unrealistic traits… Cookie-cutter, shiny plastic skin; perfect hair; perky breasts; unblemished bottoms and not a muffin-top, love handle, bat flap or hint of sagging in sight. The men are tanned, lean, muscle-bound hunks, with broad shoulders, pert butts and a distinct lack of beer-bellies, middle-age spread or male-pattern baldness. Even those of us who choose realistic over romanticised and try to replicate the authentic real-life self, will choose a younger, fitter, better depiction of ourselves than the reality. And, who cane blame us?

Whilst there are those who choose to wander around as virtual pensioners, they are few and far between, and – based on avatar alone – you’d be forgiven for thinking that the bulk of SL users are relatively young. Experience though, tells another story, and I’ve lost count of the number of times that I’ve found myself surprised to learn that the mental picture I’ve built up of an acquaintance has been based on a completely wrong assumption that they’re much younger than the reality; indeed, many have turned out to be quite advanced in years, yet inworld they look – and more importantly act – as somebody much younger… As young, in fact, as they feel inside!

It’s another of the great benefits of being part of a virtual world like SL: We can be ourselves, but crucially, ourselves in what we would consider to be our prime. We don’t have to be constantly reminded that we’re not getting any younger by having to be popping virtual pills, and avoiding the mirror because we’d rather not see ourselves slipping into decrepitude. Instead, we can look as young as we feel, we can dance to the music of our youth, act irresponsibly and mess about in ways that, as adults, we might pretend to frown upon. And it’s so liberating and joyous that it does us good back in the real world too!

Welcome to the SL universe, a place where we all have a remarkable and wonderful super-power… The power to re-capture our youth!

s. x

You can tell by the way
She talks she woos the world
You can see in her eyes
That no one is her change
She’s my girl
My supergirl

Reamonn – Supergirl

Posted in Philosophicalisticality, RL, SL | Leave a comment

Disgoransitiaon

My life is a pretty well-ordered affair, most of the time, but like many of us, there are times when circumstances are such that things can get a little messy and confused. If ever there was a time that organisational skills should come to the fore, it’s when things are busy, time is short, or I’m juggling priorities, but sometimes the less pressing matters get put to one side or are simply put off until some time in the future, and it’s then that I can find myself storing up hassles for later that I’d normally not have to contend with.

That’s when I end up running out of clean dishes, find myself getting irritated with floors that need a good cleaning, surfaces accumulating dust and my to-do list creeps into double figures.

Unfortunately, escaping to SL just occupies more of that valuable time when I should be otherwise gainfully employed with a stack of unfinished or yet-to-be-started real world tasks. However, that doesn’t stop me logging in! Sadly, SL itself is not immune to the curse of disorganisation either, and there are occasions – thankfully they don’t arise too frequently – when I have to stop, take stock, and basically sort out my virtual life, before it becomes one huge, virtual mess.

I’m rapidly reaching that crisis point at the moment…

The last time this happened, it was my inventory that needed a good old shake-down. It’s a pretty organised beast, usually. Well-ordered folders, everything in it’s place, sorted neatly and properly classified. I even have a ‘temporary’ folder, into which my random winnings, purchases and other miscellaneia that I seem to have an astounding capacity to accrue whilst travelling the Grid are dropped until I can take a closer look at them. Even this folder is broken into a number of sub-sections: Clothing, vehicles, landscaping etc. And items languish in there until I have the opportunity to try them out before deciding whether they are keepers, at which point they get moved to their forever home in my inventory.

All of that is contingent on me being disciplined enough to deal with new acquisitions as they come my way, and finding the time and opportunity to then sort them out. This has not been happening for a while. It doesn’t help that Halloween, with Christmas coming hard on its heels, has generated a slew of gifts, freebies and other bits and pieces to clog up the available space, and I’ve looked at virtually none of them since they arrived there. To make matters worse, I’ve been creating a range of new bits and pieces to get onto Marketplace, whilst – at the same time – trialling, tweaking and customising them inworld on my parcel, resulting in a pile of different versions of the same items, none of which have any rhyme or reason to them, and again, none of them are where they should be in my inventory, (neither are any of them anywhere near being prepped to go on sale yet).

The end result of this disorganised chaos is an inventory split into three component parts: The neat and tidy structured section, the pile of carefully organised ‘temporary’ items that I’ve yet to make any sense of, and the nightmarish morass of unsorted, disorganised mayhem that is left over. The only solution, as I have learned from previous excursions down this particular avenue, is to lock myself away in the equivalent of virtual isolation and spend tedious hours identifying, evaluating, classifying and sorting the mess, until – once again – I can bear to look at my inventory. That’s not a prospect I’m looking forward to .

There’s more: My inworld factory space is a complete mess too. I must have in the region of a couple of hundred prims worth of projects and creations, all in varying states of completion, just cluttering up the place. Again, it’s more time and effort, of the most mundane kind; but necessary if sanity is to be preserved. And, let’s not forget all that stuff I need to get onto Marketplace, along with the commensurate, mind-numbingly dull process of creating product images, descriptions and all the rest of the necessary and irritating activities that go along with actually getting something into the store.

I reckon there’s a good day’s worth of work that needs to be done, just to get back onto an even keel, and if the truth be known, I’d much rather be having fun, but I guess that’s just how it is. I can’t have it both ways – I can either not have stuff and never make anything, which would be tidy but boring; or I have to knuckle down and sort out the mess: Tedious, but ultimately satisfying. I could, of course, do the sensible thing and tidy up as a I go along, but somehow, as with all the best intentions, that always starts well, but over time life gets in the way, and I end up having to deal with a mess.

Ah well, I think I know what I’m going to be doing over Christmas!

s. x

It’s getting faster, moving faster now
It’s getting out of hand

Joy Division – Disorder

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

Small talk

I may have mentioned in the past that I’m dreadfully anti-social. Where others are more than happy to pass the time exchanging pleasantries, chatting about all and sundry and sharing the minutiae of their daily lives on every sort of social media available, it’s something that leaves me cold, and at times, downright frosty!

I’m like it in real life too, but unlike the real world, where it’s relatively easy to avoid casual social interaction, should I so choose, it’s not so easy in SL, where everyone knows when you’re around and – sometimes, it seems – everyone has a desperate need to engage in small talk with you. Usually, seconds after you’ve logged in, whilst still an unresolved curry cloud, and trying to clear away the myriad of offers, sales flyers, and group notices that have found their way through your virtual letter box whilst you’ve been away. That’s one of my personal gripes, and there’s nothing like a friendly ‘Hello, how are you?’, pinging in the corner of my screen whilst I’m still grappling with the task of identifying if all of my body parts and clothes have appeared, whilst surrounded by a world rendered in 50 shades of grey, to put me in a bad mood right from the outset of landing inworld.

Those of us socially-challenged sorts do, of course, have a range of options open to us. We can choose to simply ignore those friendly greetings, which is a bit rude and will inevitably be taken by those initiating the conversation as being horribly rude, ignorant, and will consequently result in instant defriending and blocking by the offended party. A better approach, and the one I tend to take, is auto-reply – particularly useful when I’m doing something important and mentally demanding, like shopping; however, people will often take offence at this too, considering it horribly rude, ignorant and a good opportunity for an instant defriending and blocking. Or, we can simply go on the offensive and act first by doing the defriending and blocking for them… Which might also come across as a bit rude and ignorant.

It’s not just the moment-you-log-in messages that cause me grief. I’m simply not generally a chatty person, even with close friends and family, most social exchanges I have with anyone, even in RL, are purely utilitarian: An opportunity to exchange important information, rather than pass the time of day. A typical conversation with me would go something along the lines of:

Them: Hi, just checking you’re not dead, since I’ve not heard from you for weeks/months/years/decades
Me: I’m fine, thanks
Them: So, what have you been up to?
Me: The usual
Them: Any news?
Me: Nope
Them: So…
Me: …
Them: …
Me: Bye then!

My conversations in SL tend to be along much the same lines, in fact there are some people who’ve been on my friends’ list for years that I’ve probably spoken to, on maybe three occasions in all that time, and it’ll never be me who’s initiated that conversation.

It’s not that I don’t value friendship, or that I don’t care about other people and what’s happening in their lives, it’s just that I’m rubbish at small talk, passing the time of day, gossiping, chatting, corresponding, conversing or generally talking with anybody on a one-to-one basis. Some people might find that weird (myself, for example), when you consider the mass of verbosity that I splurge on the pages of this blog, or – if you’ve ever met me inworld – the nonsense I continually spout when in a group of friends. It’s partly due to my inbuilt reserve and reticence to connect with others on a personal basis, but – in the case of SL – it’s also a by-product of the nature of inworld relationships.

I’m not the sort of person who engages in casual conversation, so if I’m going to chat with someone, the conversation has to have some substance, there have to be commonalities and connections between us, and shared interests, but since the vast majority of people likely to call me up inworld are only – in real terms – casual acquaintances, there’s really very little that I can find in terms of topics of conversation that are going to go anywhere. What on earth do you talk about when you’ve only known someone for a short while, and the only personal interaction you’ve had with them is for a couple of hours a week, as someone you’ve shared the same dancefloor with, or maybe traded the odd joke?

There are just a couple of people however that I can talk to with ease, about pretty much any topic, and I don’t even mind if they spring something on me as soon as I log in. The number of these people – those who I’d say I’m properly close to inworld – is very small indeed however, definitely in the single figures… The lower single figures, at that. These are those with whom I’ve had very longstanding friendships that have developed over time and nurtured through good times and bad, and all the ups and downs of both the real and virtual worlds. I have time for these people, because they have time for me – we have a mutual understanding of each other, there is trust and commitment, and – above all – we don’t take offence if one of us needs time to ourselves, isn’t in the mood to talk, or is simply busy doing something else.

It is these people that I never struggle to chat to, and it’s never small talk, inconsequential, or pointless. These conversations are never spawned out of politeness, obligation or convention, because they don’t need to be: They are spontaneous, enjoyable, fun and occasionally weighty and serious, but always worthwhile.

So, don’t be offended if I never seem to want to chat about the weather, what sort of day you’ve had, or give my opinions on the latest political nonsense. It’s not that I don’t care, or that you’re not important to me… It’s just that I don’t know you well enough to feel entirely comfortable chatting about inconsequentials.

But stick around for maybe 10 years or so, and I’ll chat to you about anything.

By then though, you might want me to shut up!

s. x

“Don’t speak
I know just what you’re saying
So please stop explaining
It’s nothing new that I’ve heard”

No Doubt – Don’t Speak

Posted in Philosophicalisticality, Rants, RL, SL | 1 Comment

One of those days

Ever had one of those days that just doesn’t want to play ball? You know what I’m talking about, not exactly the end of the world, nothing too extreme or life-changing, but just a whole pile of annoyances that somehow all decide that today is the day they’re going to give you a bashing.

It all starts when the alarm fails to go off, or you hit the off button by mistake instead of the snooze button. Invariably it follows that your blouse buttons fail to match up with the right holes, your good pair of socks will have mysteriously developed a hole in the left heel overnight, and you’ll stub your toe on the bed post. And that’s just the start of the day, which from that moment on is doomed to try your patience and sanity until the moment you fall back into bed (for which, incidentally, you forgot to turn on the electric blanket), and as you shiver under the cold covers it occurs to you that you should never have got out of bed in the first place.

That was my yesterday. It was a day of dropping things, bumping into things, losing things and generally not getting on with things that needed to be got on with. A day of wandering upstairs, and then wandering back downstairs again, only to realise that I hadn’t done the very thing I’d wandered upstairs to do in the first place. It was a day of realising I’d run out of milk, of flat batteries and being constantly perishingly cold no matter how high I cranked the heating up or the number of layers I kept throwing on to fight it.

Work was rubbish: Not a particularly tough day, but distinctly unchallenging in exactly the manner that is calculated to make me feel bored and annoyed in equal measure. A day of unfinished reports, unanswered emails and problems that – whilst not being spectacularly disastrous – managed to be time-consuming, irritating and constant. An intended early finish, turned out not to be, and at the end of it all it was a blessed relief to close down the laptop with the fervent hope that before I had to open it again, with any luck, a mountain-sized meteorite might have smashed into the earth, thereby removing any need for me to have to do the same all over again the next day.

And so, eventually, to supper time. Did you know it’s possible to have the wrong rice? You didn’t? Well, take it from me, throwing a handful of arborio rice into a pan, under the impression it’s basmati, does not result in a perfect complement to kung po chicken! The soggy gloop I finished up with did however make a great complement to the compost bin. So, now fighting off the hunger pangs, there was nothing for it but to start another pan of rice. My cuppa, by now, had of course gone cold, and I’d forgotten the sugar too.

It was the sort of day that left me rattled, irritable and in dire need of decompression, which is when – dear reader – I retreat to the sanctuary of SL. Of course, being that sort of day, SL was going to be as much of a pain as the real world had proven to be. I really should have known better.

What better inworld pursuit to take out ones’ frustrations than doing a spot of creative building? Well, I was wrong! Idiot that I am, I made the most basic of noob building errors by ignoring the rules. ‘What’s the worst that can happen?’ I thought to myself, as I wantonly uploaded a texture of completely random dimensions. Obviously, the worst did happen and I spent the next half hour trying to make a texture that SL had mangled to suit its own preferences, fit properly onto my new and lovingly crafted mesh object. It didn’t work… Irritation number 743 of the day added to the list.

Thoroughly peeved, I had a sit down. Yes, I quite literally sat down in a virtual chair and let the virtual waves of virtual annoyance flood over me, vainly hoping that things might suddenly virtually improve. After a while, it struck me that the real me was now passing time, sat in a real chair, in the real world, watching the virtual me passing time, sat in a virtual chair, in the virtual world. Not exactly food for the soul! It was time to wander off and find some friends to irritate, rather than hang about like Billy-no-mates, irrating just myself.

I’ll admit, I wasn’t the best company last night, but I have forgiving friends. (I hope).

The night was drawing to an end, and foolishly, rather than simply logging out and heading off to the aforementioned frost-coated bed, I thought I’d try to wrestle at least some productivity from the day and do a bit more tinkering. Bad idea.

There is a magical and extraordinary thing that SL can foist upon the unwary content creator, without warning, and without apparent reason. I don’t know if it’s a bug, my own stupidity, or an exciting and hidden ‘feature’ designed to make SLife more interesting, but I really could have done without it last night! I swear that all I did was add a simple 512×512 normal map to a simple, 8LI object… And pow! My 8 prim robot was suddenly a mind-boggling 503LI. My screen flooded with messages about objects being despatched to Lost & Found, and I’m left standing bemused in a landscape where a random half of my stuff was now missing, neatly packaged in coalesced prims back in my inventory.

I may have cursed a little.

If there is a lesson to be learned from this, it’s that if you’re having a bad day, trust me… SL isn’t going to fix it!

s. x

Just a perfect day
You made me forget myself
I thought I was someone else
Someone good
Perfect Day – Various Artists

Posted in Philosophicalisticality, RL, SL | Leave a comment

Alt. life: Aardvark

Words, and language, fascinate me. Long time readers of this blog will probably have an inkling of that, since I’ll often play with both in my posts. I tend to wobble between being a grammar pedant and language anarchist – at times, fretting over an aberrant apostrophe, whilst at the same time purposely breaking convention to make a point, cause outrage or simply to have a bit of fun.

The manner in which we employ words can have unexpected outcomes, as we’ve all found to our cost, from time to time, and can also be a powerful tool for communicating and shaping our world, whether by way of the spoken word, or in writing.

Some words, and the way in which we use them, are more important than others; but really, we shouldn’t leave it all to chance… Someone, should should hold the role of custodian, surely?

Alt. life: Aardvark

s. x

Waste-bin full of paper
Clever rhymes, see you later

Natasha Bedingfield – These Words

Posted in Alt. life:, Unlikely stories | Leave a comment

Hive mind

Gloria was one of those creative people, you know the sort. She’d be the one staring out of the window, lost in her own thoughts, when she should have been working; her notepad was covered in more doodles than notes, and her home was filled with items she’d crafted, colour, and vibrancy. She was a weird mix of extrovert and introvert: You’d imagine that her sometimes quirky taste in makeup and clothing that made her stand out in a crowd, were signs that she had an outgoing personality, but in reality she tended to be reserved and a little self-absorbed, and wasn’t particularly comfortable in social settings.

Gloria was endlessly fascinated with the world around her, she loved to explore and interact with everything she encountered and she was always taking photos, poring over Google Earth and planning trips around her local area. Even taking a walk to town was full of surprises, and she’d follow a different route home every time, even if it was a longer way round, just to discover new things. She loved music and would joke that her collection was so eclectic that even she sometimes found herself questioning her taste, and in so many things she’d take an inventive and unconventional approach to what she did, whether it was cooking an evening meal, or shopping for a birthday present.

Then, one day, Gloria discovered Second Life!

And, it blew her mind!

Gloria had tried computer games before, everything from driving simulators to the mega online multi-user experiences, but they’d never really appealed to her. They all seemed a bit pointless and limiting, and she’d never really enjoyed having to work her way through levels and ranks, completing challenges and finishing quests. And, with depressing regularity, she’d find herself getting killed and having to start all over again. Not her idea of fun, at all.

However, SL was different – here there were no rules to be followed or levels to ascend, no bosses to defeat or alliances to be forged; instead there was a whole world of possibility, ready to be explored, photographed and enjoyed. Certainly, it could be challenging, and there were times she found it frustrating, but the more she learned about it, the more captivated she became. She discovered building tools, places she could make a virtual home, and the joys of customising her look and expressing herself in some of the craziest ways possible. And then there was the music! If she’d thought her tastes eclectic before discovering SL, she was now realising there was far more that she’d been missing than she’d ever imagined, and there were clubs and music venues wherever she cared to look that catered for every possible musical taste, many of which were entirely new to her.

It was at Benny’s Blues Bar that she first met Sophie, and after chatting for a while they became friends. Sophie was one of those girls who always seemed to be the centre of attention: She had a posse that always seemed to surround her, and Gloria – the socially-awkward girl who struggled to make friends in the real world, suddenly found herself part of the social elite, one of the cool girls, the in-crowd. It wasn’t something she wasn’t used to, but now that she’d somehow broken through, she was determinded to make the most of it.

It was a little unfortunate that her new-found friends didn’t share quite the same enthusiasm for exploring and spending time seeking out new and interesting places as she did, if any at all, really. Instead they seemed to spend most of their time flitting from club to club, and when they weren’t clubbing they were shopping. Still, she figured there would be plenty of time for exploring in the future, and the important thing at the moment was to try to fit in and develop her new relationships. This wasn’t quite as easy as it might have been, and it wasn’t long before she realised that – despite being familiar faces at any number of dance clubs – the little circle of friends never really wanted to seem to connect with those around them. Gloria had always enjoyed chatting to new people, but she found it difficult when trying to contend with the constant stream of IMs that would pass between their little group; and often the conversations made her feel a little uncomfortable – in-jokes and criticism about the venue, other clubgoers and the DJ, but for friendship’s sake, she tolerated it. It felt odd to be dancing, seemingly mute, amongst a group of people, and she she couldn’t help feeling she was being ignorant, but no-one else seemed that bothered.

Gloria wasn’t a huge fan of the type of music that her new friends preferred either. It all seemed rather pedestrian and boring to someone who used to happily flit from baroque classical to thrash metal as the mood took her, but now it seemed – for the time being, at least – she’d have to suffer the likes of Kylie and Billy Irish, or whatever her name was! She did mention a few times that maybe they should try some new venues with more interesting music, but Sophie had taken her aside and told her, in no uncertain terms, that she was being silly, and that this was their type of music, “so stop being a whiny bitch, and get the fuck with the programme!”

That had shocked Gloria, and terrified that she’d be ousted from the group, she kept her mouth shut and put up with the awful tunes. When things calmed down a bit, she could always slip off now and again and indulge in some proper music elsewhere, on her own.

“Now that you’re one of the gang”, suggested Sophie one evening out of the blue, “I think you should consider changing your body. I mean, you do stand out a bit, when we’re all rocking size 10 Legacy, and you’re tagging along in your size 16, well… What is that, anyway? Is it even mesh?” Gloria was taken aback. One of the things she’d always loved about SL was that she could tailor her look to her own unique and individual tastes, and if the truth be known, she’d always been a little freaked out by the the girls’ matching bodies. “Hey, just think, you’d be able to get a whole new wardrobe too, like us,” continued Sophie, “I’ve got a friend who makes all our clothes, I’m sure she could kit you out. Actually, maybe we could do something about that hair of yours too. Yes, let’s do it – a complete makeover for frumpy, weirdy-looking Gloria!”

‘Is that what people really think of me?’, wondered Gloria. Up until now, she’d celebrated her individuality, and cherished her unique look, but it seemed that what she had thought of as intriguing and quirky, others considered weird and frumpy. It did pose her with something of a dilemma, she was struggling to make ends meet lately, with all the tips she was shelling out every night at numerous clubs, although she had noticed that Sophie and the rest of the gang didn’t seem to bother, that just seemed wrong to her. Now, if she had to spend thousands on a complete new look, she had some tough choices to make. There was nothing else for it, she’d have to give up her little plot of land, even though she loved having her own space that she’d styled in her own unique way; somewhere where she could put together her building projects and designs, although she hadn’t really had any time to do any of that since she’d started hanging around with Sophie. In the end, that’s what made her mind up – she could always find some land sometime in the future, and maybe it would be fun to start again from scratch!

Gloria hated her new look, even though the girls all fawned and gushed over her. “You look just like one of us now!” But that was the whole point: Gloria wanted to look like herself, not like all the other cookie-cutter model bimbos that she saw at every club in SL. ‘Give it time,’ she thought to herself, ‘you’ll get used to it, eventually, maybe?’

Despite all that had changed, Sophie still wasn’t satisfied. One night, at Gloria’s most-disliked dance club, whilst trying desperately to enjoy herself, despite being broke, feeling out of place, and hating the music and the constant off-key chatter in IMs, Sophie insisted on having a quiet word with her. “Gloria, there’s one thing that really bugs me about you. How come you’re always doing everything you can not to fit in? Every time we’re out together I send you an invite to join my dance HUD, and never once have you accepted!”

“But, don’t you think it looks silly, Sophie, all of us doing the same dance together, like a bunch of clones?”

“Don’t be ridiculous, Gloria! I thought you wanted to be part of our group, but here you are, not even wanting to do things our way. Sometimes I wonder why I bother!”

What could she do? Miserably, Gloria accepted the offer, and fell into step with the rest of the gang.

oooOOooo

It’s been a while since we’ve seen Gloria around these parts. She used to have land here and some lovely, interesting builds, but these days all she ever does is hang around with Sophie and her crew. I’m sure you’d get along with her – or at least, back in the day, you would have. She used to dress a bit like you and have that crazy streak and adventurous spirit that you have, I’m not so sure now though. Tell you what, I know that she’ll be at Zack’s Tavern tonight for the ‘Best in Bland’ event – if you can stand an hour of Ed Sheeran and the likes, why don’t we head on over there and check it out? You will? Great! I’ll send you a TP.

Hey, you made it! And Gloria’s here, as predicted. That’s her, over there with Sophie and the others… She’s the slim one, in the group with the matching dresses and hairstyles, well – yes, they are all slim – she’s the one doing the slinky, butt-slap dance, like er… all the rest of them.

Actually, to be absolutely honest, I’m struggling a bit to work out which one is Gloria!

s. x

How I tried to please you
Live the way you said
Do the things that you do
Like the living dead

Twisted Sister – I Am, I’m Me

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