Collector’s edition

I know a lot of geeks! And it  seems that most of them are in SL.

A ridiculous number of my inworld acquaintances are experts on everything and anything to do with Doctor Who, Marvel Comics, Star Trek, Star Wars, Gerry Anderson, Batman, Northern Soul, model trains, planes and automobiles, scooters, computers, childhood TV programmes… Actually, the list could go on forever and I’d still miss something out! Now that I think about it, some of my friends could probably rank themselves as experts and speak with authority in regard to pretty much each and every one of those subject areas that appear in the list above – quite remarkable!

It does make for some fascinating conversations, and – although some might think an in-depth discussion comparing the desirable characteristics of a variety of classic cars, and their requisite Airfix models could well be the most tedious and boring of topics that could ever be raised, I find that geeks, buffs and enthusiasts are amongst the most fascinating and engaging odds people when indulging their interests, and I love to listen in.

Inevitably there will be times when the conversation turns to that most geekish aspect of geekism: Collectables.

There is, of course a whole culture of collecting that underpins the vast range of geek topics. Whether it’s models, franchised objects, original pieces or surrounding paraphernalia, the lengths enthusiasts will go to in order to acquire and own their own particular objects of desire can be extraordinary. Today, thanks to the internet, there’s even more in the way of collectables that can be found – usually at a hefty price – and a huge array of specialist sites where such things can be paraded, traded, swapped and sold. To the outsider, it can all be a bit weird and may even be considered silly, but one person’s treasure is another person’s trash, and for every hoarder of handbags or He Man action figures, there will always be someone who simply cannot see the point.

That’s something that we, as SL residents, can often be all too conscious of. On the Seren Haven Geekological Scale SL scores pretty highly since it’s a classic example of compounded geekism, scoring points for being computerish; internetty; niche; virtual; alternative life; complex; multi-player; and, unlikely to be something you’d admit to amongst friends and family. The real acid test however is that when you do talk to others about SL, the only people who really understand what you’re on about, or can relate to you, are those who are themselves into SL.

With that in mind, it’s somewhat surprising that there is little, in the way of collectables and other paraphernalia associated with SL, available to those of us who have a leaning towards such things. It’s difficult, of course, to come up with physical mementos and the sort of items that lead themselves to collectability when we’re dealing with a virtual world, but no more difficult, really, than giving a cartoon character or comic franchise the same treatment. Where perhaps SL falls down in this respect is that, unlike other media, where those who own the rights and have control have seized upon opportunities for marketing and monetisation, outside of the core product. This is something that Linden Lab have never done, and probably never will, and that leaves very little for those who wish to gather together something more concrete about their SL experience.

The other essential aspect that makes a collectable something of value is its age, quality and scarcity. Again, in terms of SL, this is something that requires something of a stretch of the imagination to come up with anything at all. Here I’ll admit to having amassed my own collection of – now defunct – SL viewers, all of them utterly useless, of course, but I feel a certain sense of nostalgia from firing up an ancient V1 viewer, even though I’ll never get any further than the login screen.

Perhaps then, the real collectables are the intangibles – and surely, for a virtual world, it’s only logical that those things with the most intrinsic geek value should themselves be virtual. Ever since I’ve been inworld, I’ve unconsciously (at least, until recently, when it’s become a more concerted effort) collected virtual artefacts that are ‘old’, in terms of SL; hard to come by and, are significant to the virtual journey. In my inventory you will find folders stuffed with a host of virtual treasures, some of which are simply unobtainable any more… Ancient avatars, greenies, Linden bears, time capsule fillers and – possibly my most treasured possessions – a couple of Lightwaves’ sculptures. There are gaps: I’d sell my virtual soul to get my hands on a Starax’ Wand, a bit of a futile hope for a no-trans object, but anything can happen in SL! It wouldn’t even bother me that it wouldn’t work any more, it’s part of virtual history, and that’s where the value lies for me.

And there you have it… Seren Haven: Virtual geek, enthusiast, and bore!

But you knew that already!

s. x

Because we’re all so very twenty first century,
You’re probably listening to me on some kind of portable stereo
Maybe you’re sitting on the back of the bus
Frank Turner – Four Simple Words

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Today: The virtual world… Tomorrow: The universe?

Just when you thought Linden Lab’s intentions for SL lacked ambition, they sneak a choice phrase into an overly-wordy document that few people will ever read, and go from one extreme to another. The document in question is the utterly mind-numblingly over-cautious lawyer-speak spiel that they felt it necessary to produce for the recent Creepy Crawl Costume Contest; the Lab’s annual round up of all things Halloweenish.

Quite why it’s deemed necessary that a simple fancy dress competition should merit a set of rules and regulations that would put a small country’s constitution to shame is beyond me; maybe it’s an American thing, rather than a Lab thing, but to any reasonable person it really is overkill of gargantuan proportions. Back in the day when I might have considered participating in fancy dress competitions myself, we had far simpler rules, usually along the lines of:

  1. Dress up
  2. Don’t pinch your sister

Short, sweet and simple.

However, buried amongst all that litigation-speak, is a short phrase that I’ve never come across before in connection with SL – a phrase that, when used in such an official document, is presumably achnowledged and endorsed by the Lab. What, I imagine I hear you ask, is the phrase in question?

Brace yourselves…

‘the Second Life universe’

If ever there was a phrase that promised greater things, that is it. In four simple words, SL it seems has joined the rarefied heights of, amongst others, the Marvel Universe, the Tolkien Universe, the Harry Potter Universe, and so on. All of which is a bit weird, I would submit, for the following reasons:

  1. SL is clearly a single, virtual world. There are no Linden endorsed or tolerated alternatives, derivatives or parallels. To suggest it’s a universe is like saying that the Earth is the universe. Whilst, philosophically that might be argued to be true, in real, practical terms it is not. The Earth, and SL, are both worlds by any definition and therefore are a part of the greater universal whole, not its entirety.
  2. SL is not canonical. Within those other fictional universes mentioned above, canon is everything. Each related story, account, character or situation is a jigsaw piece that is clearly linked to the big picture. Let’s face it, even inworld SL is not canonical – as you wander from sim to sim, the one thing that strikes you like a slap across the face with a wet cod is the complete anarchic disarray and disconnectedness of each individual’s personal interpretation of the virtual world. Even if there were alternatives, it would be a nightmare task to try and create anything like a cohesive big picture.
  3. Where is the evidence? Much as it’s pretty easy to make big claims about practically anything, the proof of the pudding lies in the eating. You can argue until you’re blue in any part of your body you choose that there is life on Mars, but if you can’t back that up with solid proof, it’s just an unfounded statement. If there truly is an SL Universe, then where the heck is it? Where’s the fanfiction, the alternative timelines, the contextual reassignment and the crossovers? And please don’t try to argue that blogs, vlogs and such like count in this regard, because the vast majority of them are just a regurgitation of what we already know, or at best, opinion. I’ve yet to find anything out there that seriously attempts to take SL and develop new themes, contexts and dimensions.
  4. This is Linden Lab speaking. You just know that some junior staffer came up with ‘the Second Life Universe’ on a whim, thought it would look good in legalese, and nobody’s noticed it until just now, when I pointed it out (you don’t read The Lab’s legal stuff, you don’t honestly believe that they can be bothered to read it themselves?). It’s a bit like the inspiritaneous way I randomly invent words – unless they’re adopted by the world at large, or they form the vanguard of a planned, strategic plan to create something noteworthy, they mean very little. Much as I would love to think that this first glimpsoid of ‘the Second Life Universe’ is a hint of greater things to come, I know that it’s not; more’s the pity.

Such a shame really, because just imagine how amazing it could be? The collectables, the movie franchises, the conventions and cons… but frankly, this is SL and all it will ever really be is a small, unregarded world somewhere in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the virtual arm of the metaverse.

And personally, I’m just fine with that.

s. x

Our universe itself keeps on expanding and expanding,
In all of the directions it can whiz;
As fast as it can go, at the speed of light, you know,
Twelve million miles a minute and that’s the fastest speed there is.
Monty Python’s Flying Circus – The Galaxy Song

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Degrees of separation

I recently came across a fascinating article introducing me to the concept of the Erdos Number; possibly not the most useful academic device for everyday life, but nonetheless a principle that can be applied in a multiplicity of interesting ways. Erdos led me to the Bacon Number, and perhaps predictably to the more commonly known, and far less esoteric principle of six degrees of separation.

It’s a crazy, but often accurate observation that any one of us could – in theory – make contact with one another through a network of no more than six connected people. In some ways it’s also a bit worrying that someone like Donald Trump is connected that closely to me, even if it is only by way of a friend of a friend, of a friend! It may not even take six connections… Some studies have posited that in the US, the connection between any two people could be as few as three, or even two links distant.

Such connections have, of course, become a lot closer as a result of the growth of travel and technology, and the information age – go back a hundred years or so, and I’d suggest that the degree of separation between two people would be much greater; a few hundred years further back than that and you’d likely have stronger genetic links with strangers than you would as a result of any other connection. Today however, easy international travel and especially the spread of social networking via the internet have brought us ever closer. And, in our case, that also includes SL.

I still find it a bit weird that I can know people as friends and acquaintances in the virtual world and become pretty close to them, yet know little of their real lives, or even what they look or sound like in the real world – it’s entirely possible that I could live in the same street, work with or spend my time with someone in RL, with whom I have strong connections in the virtual world, yet have no idea that we share that connection. We might pass each other on the street without acknowledging the other’s presence, without any inkling that we are best friends inworld. We may be worlds apart in real life, yet separated by no distance at all in the virtual world.

And who exactly are we anyway? The anonymity afforded by SL means that fame, fortune and position have little meaning once we’re inworld – a king and a commoner can consort with each other in ways that their worldly degrees of separation could never permit in RL. I may hold any station in the real world, but unless I tell you who I am, you will remain blissfully unaware of my circumstances.

Even so, we a remain connected at a fundamental level. In the same way that we may never meet in SL, yet share a common bond – our participation in the virtual world – so it is, that no matter how far apart our real lives may be, we share the common bond of being a part of the human race. There may be many degrees of separation between us – perhaps through choice – but there is one common bond we all share that we cannot distance ourselves from – we are all human beings.

Not so long ago, I fulfilled a lifetime’s ambition when I paid a visit to Nairobi National Museum to see one exhibit in particular: Australopithecus afarensis, otherwise known as ‘Lucy’. Many have suggested that Lucy can be considered the mother of us all, and as I gazed at the preserved remains of that tiny 4 foot tall, 3.2 million year old woman, I struggled to contain my emotions. Even now, thinking about it, I find it hard to describe the feelings that I experienced. It was something I’d never experienced before, and never will again.

The simple truth is that there really are no degrees of separation between any of us. No matter what our physical, location, social standing, beliefs, sexuality, gender or colour, we are all related; all members of the same family…

And I’m very happy to have you as my relative!

s. x

Look for the girl with the sun in her eyes
And she’s gone
The Beatles – Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds

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Shut up!

I’m generally pretty good when it comes to multitasking – I can keep a multitude of balls in the air, whilst rubbing my tummy, patting my head and cooking dinner, all at the same time. I can have multiple conversations too, whether in the real world – which comes in terribly handy at frought meetings, where the ability to grab a deal-clincher in the midst of a morass of meaningless waffle can be very handy – or in SL, where amongst those with whom I associate the norm tends to be conducting eleventy-six different conversions in open chat at once!

Indeed, I might even go as far as saying that my communication skills have noticeably improved since joining SL, although I can’t necessarily say the same about the content!

However, there is one thing that’s guaranteed to mess me up almost every time: It can hijack my attention, destroy my concentration and totally derail my thought processes. It’s one thing about SL that I find incredibly irritating, horribly annoying and immensely frustrating. It is the uninvited IM, or – even worse – group chat.

I’ll deal with the IM first: I tend to not communicate all that much by IM. As far as I’m concerned, it’s a bit like the telephone: Great for a quick ‘hello’ and catch up, useful for exchanging information over a distance or for a discrete private exchange, and handy for getting a message to someone when there are other distractions vying for their attention. Other than that, I view them as mostly redundant at best; a pain in the backside, at their worst.

The most annoying aspect of the intrusive IM is that they almost always come from someone you know, someone who should know better. It will invariably be an acquaintance – one of those on your friends list that doesn’t really need to be there – and someone who knows you well enough to have a good general idea of when you’re most likely to be hanging out with friends, busy, or unlikely to want to be disturbed, (like, for example, within 5 minutes of logging in!) Despite this, they will invariably message you out of the blue, and then try to engage you in a rambling conversation. There are a number of irritant elements to this conversation: a) it will completely distract you from whatever you were doing at the time; b) it will be full of content that utterly bores you; c) you will nevertheless feel compelled to respond – albeit with hidden homicidal undertones – because they are, of course, a ‘friend’; d) it will contain long, heavy silences, during which you vainly hope that the whole thing has finally petered out, only for the next instalment to jump out at you, just at the point you were starting to relax; e) it will be randomly peppered with URLs, images and LMs that you have no interest in, and are probably a little bit wary of opening… Just in case, and f) at some point, you will consider feigning a crash, but you know that no matter how long you give it, they’ll still be there waiting for you when you return.

Just as distracting is the group chat. That little icon pops up on your screen and, try as you might to avoid it, you just have to open it – fatal mistake. Invariably, bizarrely, you never get notified at the start of a group chat session, so you always end up with a randomly confusing response to an ongoing conversation for which you have no context. The typical group chat tends to follow one or more clearly defined paths: a) the argumentative slanging match, complete with well-meaning, but totally inflammatory voice of reason attempting to pour oil on troubled water; b) the call for assistance – “Can somebody help me?”; c) the gushing flattery dished out by a satisfied customer, no doubt going for a freebie or gift card in return, or d) the scam link to a dodgy ‘marketplace’ page, followed by a stream of ‘don’t click that link’ messages.

The trouble is, with all this white noise going on in the background, I find it difficult to concentrate on my immediate surroundings. Yes, I know I can just ignore it, switch it off or simply choose not to open that chat window when the icon pops up, but somehow it compels me to take a look, and once I’ve taken that fateful step, I find it difficult to escape. And therein lies my downfall

I know I don’t have to take any notice and that it’s really my own responsibility to opt out, but I just wish that sometimes people would shut the hell up!

It’s just noise – nasty, annoying, intrusive, unwelcome, distracting, irritating, attention-grabbing, interfering noise. Like lawnmowers on a sunny afternoon in the garden, people eating crisps on the train, and the overly loud conversation in the corner of the coffee shop. It gets in the way of what you want to be doing and drags your attention away from the things that matter.

Maybe I should just take a leaf out of the book of a friend who has made a point of stating in his profile that he doesn’t answer IMs, refuses to acknowledge them and gets on with his SLife without those annoying interruptions. Then again, some messages aren’t all that bad, and some are necessary, so that seems like overkill really.

What I need is a bot that can deal with all my messages: One that filters out the rubbish and is capable of engaging in private conversation at a basic level – which is somewhat more than I’m capable of doing! Perhaps then, no longer plagued by the noise drowning out the important stuff, I can at least make something of an effort to be sociable…

Then again, perhaps not!

s. x

Shut up
Just shut up
Shut up
Black Eyed Peas – Shut Up

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Off Grid

It was Douglas Adams who coined the phrase, ‘the long, dark teatime of the soul’ – that interminable, soulless void that occurs around about late Sunday afternoon, when lunch is done and frustrated desperation sets in. It’s a feeling that I hate, and once it’s taken hold, no matter what you try in order to break free seems of little avail. It’s not just a feature of Sunday afternoons either – any time that prevailing conditions are conducive to an episode of TLDOTS it can strike without warning: That listless, agonising combination of lethargy, indecision, tedium and moroseness which sees us reading the same paragraph for the fifteenth time without absorbing it; flicking between channels on the TV from ad break to ad break, ad nauseum; sighing deeply every few minutes, and berating ourselves for being incapable of getting up and doing something, anything, just to escape the downward spiral we seem so hell bent on descending.

It sucks.

However, Sunday afternoon, or any time on any day, when TLDOTS strikes or whenever I simply need to do something worthwhile with my time, there’s always SL. It’s the universal panacea for boredom, filling spare moments or procrastination whilst pretending to yourself that you’re not. If it weren’t for SL, I don’t like to think what I’d do with my evenings… Probably spend my time perusing cat memes on t’internet, or – horror of horrors – joining a gym and trying to keep fit, or such like!

That, would definitely suck.

Thankfully, barring power cuts, natural disasters or ‘unscheduled maintenance’, it’s a rare occasion that I’m unable to combat the depressing monotony of the slowest time in the universe that fills the gaps between all the important stuff, which Einstein for some unexplained reason, failed to incorporate into any of his theories of relativity, (perhaps it was a Sunday afternoon, and he was just feeling too listless to bother?)

That, however, is going to change for me – and will probably have done so by the time this post hits the streets. I’m off on my travels… Not in the fun and enjoyable, away for a jaunt in the sun, nor is it the enticing call of the open road, the hearkening of the unexplored wilderness, or the allure of foreign cultures that I’m succumbing to. It’s far more prosaic than any of that, I’m afraid. It’s business, and with it the necessity to be away from home during the week, until – wait for it – the end of time! Alright, it’s not really the end of time, it just feels that way, and at the moment next March may as well be the end of time – I will certainly feel very, very much older and far more tired that I do now, when it finally comes around. Then, at the end of it? Well, it could be the long dark teatime of my career, since at the moment there are no plans, and that distant future in three months could well herald the end of my job, or a recycling into some nameless, boring, soul-destroying office role – which is pretty much the same thing.

That aside, (which I’m really not that bothered about at this moment in time, to be honest), there is a practical upshot to the situation which, in simple terms, means my ability to get inworld and do anything other that stand in a corner and try – usually unsuccessfully – to make some sort of conversation is going to be severely compromised.

Even if I owned a laptop that’s capable of running SL, I’m going to be reliant on what will almost certainly be utterly rubbish hotel WiFi, whilst away from home. If I’m fortunate and can manage to get inworld, it’s going to be on a tablet via Lumiya, which although it’s a great viewer, frustrates me endlessly – I am, at heart, a keyboard person who avidly follows local chat, always ready to throw my own contribution into the mix and I just can’t do that on a tablet interface – it just isn’t suited to such things. Then there’s all the other things that I fill my virtual time with: building, hosting events, exploring; all of which become considerably more challenging, if not impossible, when I’m not sat at home with all the technological wizardry that I’ve become accustomed to.

It’s going to suck, big time!

It’s not so much the long dark teatime of the soul, but the long, unhappy descent back to the dark ages of the soul, and I’m really not looking forward to it.

At least I’ll still be able to blog.

s. x

I look to the future it makes me cry
And I just hope that you can forgive us
But everything must go… Go… Go… Go…
Chemical Brothers – Everything Must Go

 

 

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Money tree

Today I saw a money tree in real life!

Not a real money tree, obviously – imagine how cool that would be – but a tree that closely resembled that inworld peculiarity that, as a noob, was one of my primary goals to hunt down and plunder.

Those of you unfamiliar with money trees may wonder what on earth I’m wittering on about… We know for a fact that money doesn’t grow on trees: It’s something our parents drummed into us from an early age, and no doubt, it’s a mantra we’ve repeated ourselves, many times, as we’ve gone through our lives. However, in SL, money does just that, and if you’re fortunate enough to be virtually young, have time on your hands, and patience, persistence and luck on your side, you can harvest these most desirable products of nature’s bounty to boost your linden bank balance.

The curious nature of the money tree means that apples, cherries, even bananas and linden dollar notes can all happily jostle for space on the same branches, but not all fruits are equal, with a juicy cherry worth a princely L$20. Even better, a single money tree is selected at any one time to produce a golden ticket, potentially worth mega bucks! The catch, only fresh-faced noobs can get their grubby mitts on the booty, and finding the trees, and then the fruit itself takes time and effort, but to a newbie it’s a great way to make a little bit of cash, whilst exploring the Grid at the same time, and it can be a lot of fun too. It’s a also a cool way for established residents to lend a hand to newcomers, without having to get too close to them in the process, since all that free cash is the result of benevolent donations. I even own a money tree myself, but I’ve never managed to get around to planting it!

You don’t see as many money trees around today as there once were, or maybe that’s just because I no longer frequent the sort of locations where you’d expect to find them, but when I do spot them, they bring back fond memories of those good old days when I first sallied forth across the Grid in search of adventure, fresh fruit, and that elusive golden ticket.

Seeing that lookalike tree in the real world brought it all flooding back, and I couldn’t help thinking how such a thing would work in the real world. Just imagine a tree that dispensed hard cash… You’d struggle to get anywhere near it; there would be people permanently camped out beneath it, whilst others would dangle from the branches. Just imagine the ensuing scrum when a new banana or apple made its appearance! Somehow, I just can’t imagine it turning out well.

Like so many things in SL, it’s something that simply wouldn’t translate too well to anything other than a virtual setting. Taking human nature into account, greed, the lack of effective controls and management tools and the sheer cost and effort involved in setting up and maintaining a real life money tree would make the very idea preposterous, even though – in the main – the actual sums of money that would be harvested would be very small. I’m pretty sure too that the very people meant to benefit from the generosity of others would soon be muscled out by opportunists and big business… And I think we actually have a RL equivalent already: Bitcoin.

If you think about it, there are clear parallels – free money for the taking, but you have to invest the time and effort to find it, and the more resources you throw at it, the greater the potential rewards. However, the block chains are more and more frequently the province of huge, anonymous far Eastern collectives, with their vast warehouses of specialised mining rigs, gobbling up massive amounts of power at huge cost – hardly the free and easy currency that the average hobbyist can gain access to for a small outlay.

Of course, in the real world, money really doesn’t grow on trees, and for the vast majority of us, it will always be a challenge to juggle our finances effectively – that, unfortunately is the way the world works.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go and buy a lottery ticket!

s. x

Money, get away
Get a good job with more pay and you’re okay
Money, it’s a gas
Grab that cash with both hands and make a stash
Pink Floyd – Money

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Identity crisis

My thanks to Aston Mindes for the idea for today’s post 🙂

It’s now quite some time since The Lab introduced screen names – mainly, I suspect, in response to the uproar generated by the cessation of last names – and although they are now part and parcel of virtual living, they’ve never appealed to me and I’ve always had screen names turned off by default.

This can lead to confusion, and occasional awkwardness, for example when Cobra754 Resident turns up and I welcome them as ‘Cobra’, only to realise from the responses of those around me that ‘Cobra’ is actually ‘Kimberley’! The situation becomes even more confusing when I open their profile to find ‘Call me Betty or Stinky – I answer to both’. And people wonder why I get confused?

I can understand why why people might on occasion what to be known by a different name: When committing to a partner, for example, I can see the merits of becoming ‘Mrs Voom’ as opposed to ‘Miss Parx’, or maybe that horribly embarrassing name you gave up with at sign up, after becoming frustrated that your first 764 choices had already been taken wasn’t such a great idea after all… ‘Sxdmrzzzy5197 Resident’ is, after all a bit of a mouthful!

Selecting an alternative screen name for any other reason has always struck me as being a bit unnecessary. To me it’s like having a vanity plate for your car registration… ‘D4 VID’ stuck on the ends of a car for example, tells me three things about you: Your name, you’re a knob, and I’m going to struggle to take you seriously. Maybe screen names aren’t quite in the same league, but you get my point.

Perhaps they annoy me because they mess up one of the more sensible aspects of SL – having one’s name clearly displayed over one’s head. This is an inworld innovation that I wish we could have in the real world. Imagine how useful it would be if we knew the name of that jerk who cut you up at the junction on the way to work this morning? Imagine how much crime could be solved or simply wouldn’t happen if the bank robber’s name was plastered above his stockinged had? How much more fun would stalking be if you knew the name of that hot girl/guy who boards your train every day? OK, maybe it wouldn’t all be desirable, but it wouldn’t all be bad either.

Inworld, of course, it’s massively useful, and even with the proliferation of screen names, you’d imagine that there would rarely be cases of virtual mistaken identity. Then again, if anything is possible – no matter how unlikely – it’s pretty much guaranteed to happen to me!

I am, in fact, becoming a little paranoid. I’ve lost count of the number of times my name gets substituted for the names of any number of different people, whether they’re also present or not. I’m all too frequently being credited with comments or actions that are clearly those of another person, and I’ve even been mistaken for members of the opposite sex on occasion. I wouldn’t be quite so aware of it, if it wasn’t for the fact that I’ve rarely, If ever, seen the same thing occur with other people. It’s just a little bit weird, if you ask me.

It’s not as if you could call me nondescript or generic – for a start, I’m not 9 feet tall, which tends to set me apart from most – I’m 5’9″, which I think is a reasonable height for anyone in any life. That aside, I do tend towards the ‘outspoken’ in terms of attire and hair, so it’s relatively difficult to mistake me for anyone on that basis. I’d to think that I have my own particular characteristics that set me apart from everyone else and which are distinctly ‘me’, yet despite what I like to think of as at least a degree of uniqueness, it wouldn’t be an exageration to say that I find myself in one of the scenarios mentioned above at least a couple of times a week.

Is it all some sort of conspiracy to make SL even weirder for me than it should be? It feels like it, but it probably isn’t. Perhaps though – and this is the way I like to think of it – I’m just so wonderful that everyone wants to be me!

Yeah right!

s. x

I think about you all the time
But I don’t need the same
It’s lonely where you are
Come back down
And I won’t tell ’em your name
Goo Goo Dolls – Name

Posted in Rants, SL | 2 Comments

Let’s do lunch

One of the things I love about SL is the intermingling of cultures that occurs routinely every time we log in. There can be few platforms or situations that are comparable – perhaps working an international airline check-in desk is the closest you can get – where you have the opportunity to spend time in the company of so many people with backgrounds, nationalities and cultures so very different to one’s own. Even if we’re not directly interacting with those around us, it’s surprising how much we subconsciously learn about how others interpret and relate to the world around them.

Simply spending time in the company of those from other countries and cultures allows us to develop an understanding of complex cultural traits – humour, language, perceptions and social norms, for example. All hard to appreciate and explain from a purely academic perspective, but when we spend time with and amongst people with a background different to our own, it’s amazing how – even in a virtual environment – we are able to pick up and begin to understand even subtle cultural differences and we can even learn how to take these into account and adapt accordingly.

We can also gain fascinating insights into how the rest of the world differs from our own way of life by taking a more direct approach. Just recently, a group of us were gathered together – roughly a 50/50 split between Brits and Americans, along with one person who can lay claim to being a bit of both – and our conversation explored the differences between our two cultures. Starting with music and popular TV shows of our youth, it was surprising to see just how little we knew of the formative influences for our cousins on the other side of The Pond. Then we talked about humour and language, especially how is so easy to accidentally cause offence simply because words have different connotations and meanings, depending on where you’re from.

Then the conversation turned to one of my favorite topics: Food!

I don’t know whether my fellow Brits are as guilty as me when it comes to food, but until I discovered SL and gained a few transatlantic friends, I’d always assumed that there wasn’t a huge amount of difference between food in the UK and food in the US, apart from portion size and a difference of opinion over how turkey should be cooked (us Brits prefer the methods that don’t burn down the house!) How wrong I was!

There’s a vast array of foodstuffs that are everyday fare in the States, but are scarcely even heard of around these parts, and the same is true of British food too. And it’s not always as straightforward as you might think to explain. It’s as difficult, for example, to explain mushy peas and Yorkshire pudding to an American as it is for an American to explain grits and creamed corn to a Brit. Interesting and a lot of fun though. There is one thing, however, that I do feel a little jealous over, and that’s the vast range of authentic regional and ethnic foods available in the States – everything from Cajun and Creole to Mexican. Yes, we do have pale imitations of those delights over here, but they’re nothing like the real thing. I’ve always been of the opinion that proper Brit food is in a class of its own, but for some reason we’re incapable of delivering a decent curry, Chinese, Thai, French or Italian meal – for some reason, when it comes to foreign or anything that’s not purely British, the main ingredient we tend to throw in is blandness, and I feel that’s a great loss.

When an American friend raves about burritos, I can nod appreciatively, but I know that the UK version is going to be nothing like it, and it’s disappointing. So I have to admit to just a hint of jealousy!

And there’s another thing that I’m jealous about when it comes to America and food… Those little fold-open cartons of Chinese takeaway that come with their own chopsticks. I’ve rarely seen them over here, and I can’t help thinking I missing out in some way. Alright, I’ll be the first to admit it’s hardly a big deal, but I reckon it’s a key part of the takeaway experience… Not forgetting, of course, that one is the best ways to understand a culture, or a cuisine, is to immerse yourself in it. So, to forge stronger cultural relations across international and virtual borders, I’m more than willing to make sacrifices – and if that means gorging myself, American style, on delicious Chinese food, then I’m game.

And you’re welcome to join me for lunch too!

s. x

“Food, in the end, in our own tradition, is something holy. It’s not about nutrients and calories. It’s about sharing. It’s about honesty. It’s about identity.” – Louise Fresco

Posted in Half-Baked, Philosophicalisticality, RL, SL | Leave a comment

Autumn song

I like the Autumn, although its arrival always brings mixed feelings. On the one hand, the quality of the light and sheer gamut of colours can’t be beaten, and although the weather inevitably takes a downward turn, we still have the odd glorious day of sunshine, which because of its timing, feels even better that the Summer sun. Then there are stunning sunrises and sunsets, and with the new harvest, we start to see our dinner tables graced by the likes of fruit crumbles, hearty stews and the first bottles of last year’s country wines.

On the other hand, there’s a distinct chill in the air, the rain showers are nowhere near as pleasant as they were in warmer weather, and the shorter days confine us indoors, whilst those of us who have to commute, do so in darkness. Alfresco meals are set aside – the barbecue packed away for its long Winter sojourn, and beneath it all we know the colourful display of leaves on the trees will soon be replaced by stark, leafless branches and that it’s only a matter of time before the bleakness and frosts set in.

Autumn is also a reminder that the end of another year is just around the corner – a realisation that always catches me by surprise. How did the time pass so quickly?

Speaking of time passing… Next year marks my tenth year in SL, and it really doesn’t seem that long. My relationship with this crazy virtual world has outlasted any of my RL relationships with people, by a good margin; it’s survived five house moves, three changes of job, numerous crises and challenges and a vast number of life changes. It’s also survived a fair few changes inworld too: Three avatar’s, four changes of home location, two partnerings, and many, many opportunities, successes and failures. Yet, despite everything, most days when I’m able, I’m still logging in.

In a weird twist of reality, SL has perhaps been one of the most stable and persistent constants in my life for nearly ten years.

There have, of course, been changes – there have been times when I’ve spent hours inworld for days on end because I had the time, the inclination and – dare I say it – the necessity. Inworld events and activities that were once sacrosanct, have had to be sacrificed to make way for the real world; some things virtual have taken off in ways I never anticipated, whilst others have died a natural death. Sometimes it’s been a roller-coaster, at other times it’s been a sedate amble.

At the moment though, it feels something like autumn in SL too. It seems to be a time of fruitfulness and reaping the rewards of the time and effort that I’ve expended in the course of my virtual life over the past ten years – I’m starting to see things come to fruition that wouldn’t have been possible in the past and I’m enjoying the results of my efforts. Then again, there’s also a sense of winding down – a settling into a routine that feels comfortable and homely, although that’s not to say that I don’t have a clear feeling that there’s always the chance of inclement weather and sometimes the path of virtual life – like the real thing – can suddenly become harsh, cold and frosty. Of course, we all hope that it won’t, but I think it’s wise to be pragmatic, because you never quite know what’s around the corner, no matter how well you think you’re prepared.

Not that I’m too worried about the future: Almost every year I’ve been in SL there have been unexpected challenges, dire warnings that the virtual world is about to end, and a whole load of messiness that’s inevitable when you put diverse people together in an environment that encourages creativity and individuality… And so far, I seem to have survived!

So, it may be Autumn, but I’m ready for it, and for whatever follows too. How about you?

s. x

So when you hear this autumn song
Clear your heads and get ready to run
So when you hear this autumn song
Remember the best times are yet to come
Manic Street Preachers – Autumnsong

Posted in Philosophicalisticality, RL, SL | 1 Comment

Homeless

Unexpectedly, for the last three days, I’ve been homeless!

Perhaps I should clarify that… I’ve been virtually homeless, since my home sim is apparently – for reasons unknown – unreachable. It’s one of those unfortunate states of affair that occasionally rears its ugly head, about which there’s little you can do. The philosophical amongst us just shrug and get in with things, whilst those of a less laid back disposition grow angry and ragequit in a huff.

The first I knew of my new state of vagrancy was logging in to the unexpected chaos of an arrival hub – always a fun experience – and a pile of increasingly apologetic IMs from the landlady, assuring tenants that the Lindens were on the case and the matter would soon be resolved (ever the optimist!). My repeated attempts to teleport home merely served to confirm the sad news and so, for the first time in some six years, I found myself without place inworld to call my own, for an extended period, and it felt very weird indeed.

I’m at an advanced stage of a build currently, which has been taking up a large chunk of my SL time, but it’s quite a complex thing, which I haven’t taken into my inventory as a whole, meaning that most of the construction has taken place in situ – and is, of course, currently unavailable. That was most annoying, but I’m ahead of myself and much of what is left to do is tweaking and snagging, so it’s not the end of the world. That aside, it’s surprising how much of a base for operations one’s inworld home is, and without it, so many things we tend to take for granted become a bit of a chore. It’s been a long, long time since I last had to find myself a quiet and secluded parcel of land, or sky, or water, merely to permit myself to change outfits without being disturbed – (yes, I’m one of that strange breed who’s never quite mastered the art of changing clothes in the middle of a crowded place without creating a memorable moment of indecent exposure). Then there’s all the other things that I get up to – so simple and straightforward when at home – that have regressed me, with little effort, to my second noobhood.

The simple things we take for granted – rezzing new purchases to unpack; trying out animations; or just finding a quiet place to relax for as long as I like, whilst I go off and do something else in RL, without being hassled, all become a bit more of a challenge and the truth is, even after all my years inworld, it’s still something that I’ve found takes time, effort and skill. Heaven knows how I got by as an SL youngster.

Oddly, there has been a positive side to being SL homeless, and again it’s very much a reversion to the way things were in the good old days before I had my own plot or any real base of operations. I like to think that I’m pretty good when it comes to exploring the Grid, but the truth is, of late, my sphere of travel has depended to a large extent on the time I’ve had available – and when a large amount of my time is tied up with creating, building, breaking and organising stuff, centered around my own home parcel, it’s surprising just how little I actually do manage to get out and about. So, for the past couple of days, with nothing else to occupy my time, I’ve been digging out all those old landmarks, heading off into the ether and rediscovering the virtual wanderlust that once filled most of the time I’d spend inworld.

And, it’s been fabulous!

Gotta say, home may well be where the heart is… but there’s a lot to be said for the hobo lifestyle too!

s. x

And we are homeless, homeless
Moonlight sleeping on a midnight lake
Ladysmith Black Mambazo – Homeless

Posted in Builder's bum, Linden Love, Philosophicalisticality, SL, Tales of the Road | Leave a comment