Chew bubblegum and kick ass

I’ve gained a wealth of interesting, (some would say, worthless), knowledge as a result of my time in SL. I’m not talking the sort of academic or technical knowledge that you might think I’d value and would be of some use to me either inworld or in RL; rather, it’s the trivia and cultural curiosities that tend to stick in my mind.

It helps that my circle of friends encompasses a diversity of people from all walks of life and from all four corners of the globe, (has it every occurred to you what a meaningless and inappropriate expression that is?) – so I regularly have the opportunity to engage with people on a variety of subjects about which I can be somewhat ignorant or which might otherwise struggle to cross cultural, generational and geographical boundaries. Then again  it can simply be that SL exposes me to people a wider variety of backgrounds, circumstances and situations than I would normally come across in the real world, and I frequently find that many things that I myself, or those with whom I associate inworld take for granted are, in fact, not quite as universal as we imagined.

A friend asked me the other day if I’d turned up to chew bubblegum and kick ass… It was clearly a reference to something that they assumed I would instantly have grasped, but on this particular occasion, I had absolutely no idea – helpfully, she later emailed me a link to the movie in question, and all became clear, but it is something that happens fairly frequently and it’s especially noticeable when spending time with friends from the States. It’s natural to assume that because we speak the same language and have a fair amount of things in common, that the everyday references, nuances of speech, pop culture and even everyday words and activities will be understood, but frequently, confusion can set in, often with moments of hilarity due to misunderstandings and misinterpretation. To borrow an error message from my Basic coding days, we can often ‘fail to parse’ the concepts that are being communicated.

That’s by no means a bad thing: Aside from the aforementioned humour, it can provide a wealth of fascinating topics for discussion and insights into other cultures, and it can highlight just how different our individual world view can be, even in comparison to our peers and contemporaries. So often, I’ve been in discussions when friends have brought up the topics of music, television programmes or movies they grew up with and assumed, quite naturally, that my own experience and formative memories would be much the same; and, equally often, it’s turned out that they’re not, and the divide grows even more noticeable when having that sort of conversation with those in different countries, even when we share seemingly similar backgrounds.

So many things fail to successfully cross cultural and geographical boundaries, at least initially – many, of course, do subsequently make the transition, sometimes years later, and often thanks to the influence of the internet or television, but even then there’s a huge difference between reminiscing over something that is intimately connected with your past, and discovering it for the first time in later life. Nevertheless, talking about those things can provide a fascinating and illuminating window into the lives of those around us and the cultural differences about which we might otherwise remain ignorant. There’s also the weird way in which the most unlikely things can influence the thinking of a whole generation too…  It never fails to surprise me just how frequently the theme music from a children’s television programme can trigger a wealth of memories within a group of people, or how a classic zombie B-movie can colour our perceptions.

So much for the real world, but as SL enters its mid teens, I’m starting to see a similar parallel inworld too. Perhaps the most noticeable social milestone is defined by the pre/post last name divide – although that may lose some of its importance, now we know last names are coming back – although the Lindens have made it clear that the old, legacy last names will never be re-used, preserving that essential nolstalgic element for those of us who have them. Beyond that, comparative noobs, like myself at a mere ten years, can spot clear differences between ourselves and the pioneer virtual generation. They are the ones who look back misty-eyed to Wednesday restarts and Grid downtime; weekly town hall meetings; teleport hubs and flying penis griefer attacks, and sometimes its all too obvious that I lack that shared experience. They talk of sims that have closed down forever – but at the time, were the place to be seen – glitches that saw your head stuck up your butt and bodies that came with underwear baked on: Experiences and situations that they will often assume to have been part of my own experience too, but sadly not.

Then again just as in RL, such conversations can be enormous fun, satisfyingly revealing and offer a brilliant insight into not only the historical Grid, but also those things that influenced and shaped the virtual lives of the avatars around me.

In a way, it reveals the hidden side to them that I wouldn’t otherwise see… They live!

And I’m all out of bubblegum!

s. x

Images of broken light which dance before me like a million eyes,
That call me on and on across the universe,
Thoughts meander like a restless wind inside a letter box they
Tumble blindly as they make their way
Across the universe
The Beatles – Across The Universe

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

Football crazy

Whether you’re into sport or not, there’s a fairly good chance – no matter where you are in the world – that you’ll be aware the football world cup is currently in progress. If, like me, you’re a UK resident, there is absolutely no escaping it. (Note for American readers: This isn’t football as you know it, rather it is what I believe you call soccer, and unlike your ‘world series’, which is notable for the fact that the rest of the world isn’t remotely involved or interested, the world cup is – I’m told – an international event).

Now, I’m not hugely into sport at the best of times. I have an interest in one or two activities, in which I’ve personally participated, and I can occasionally stir some sort of interest in the odd rugby union match, but other than that there’s very little in the world of sport that I can get enthused about, much less to a degree where I might be persuaded to follow a particular team or participant. If, for example you were to pick a sport and ask me which team I support, my answer will invariably be ‘I don’t’.

I understand, of course, that I’m possibly in the minority here and that most people can whip up at least some enthusiasm come Wimbledon, the cup final, the golfing thing, the formula 1 thing, the Olympic thing, and so on; and I have no argument with that. I’m all for people being allowed to enjoy their own particular sport, or sports, and even to get a bit riotous and emotional about it at times. However, everything in moderation, I say, and there comes a time when I really don’t want to know about it. Football in particular is a sport that I give very short shrift – I fail to see any real skill required to play; I abhor the crassness and posturing of the ridiculously overpaid prima donnas that prance around the field; and I’m appalled by the offensive and thug like behaviour of so many of those who profess to be football supporters.

I used to live opposite the main entrance to a rugby stadium which was also used to host football matches. Even during the most high profile rugby matches, the atmosphere was fun and friendly and there was never any trouble. Never. Football matches were a different matter altogether – the hostility and tension was palpable, the chants of the crowds were ugly, busloads of police officers would arrive with dogs, horses and riot shields, fans would be separated at the railway station and marched through town under police escort, never allowed to cross paths with their rivals. On those days, I stayed indoors and kept a low profile.

I can’t see that the behaviour has improved at all with the world cup – what sort of mentality drives someone to celebrate a win by chanting anti-semitic songs, performing nazi salutes and trashing ambulances?

Unfortunately, I’ve been unable to avoid the blasted thing, especially inworld, where it seems that wherever I go, whoever I’m with and whatever I’m doing, there is only one thing worth talking about, ad nauseum. Every day. Every venue. Every avatar. It is boring, immensely irritating and at times, downright ignorant and offensive. The other aspect of this whole thing that I find particularly annoying is that – being a UK resident – everybody seems to think that I should be pleased because England are, apparently, doing quite well. I am, however, not English and – if I did support any team – I would invariably support whoever was playing against England. In point of fact, I couldn’t give a camel’s rotten snot ball whether they win, lose or get marched off to the salt mines for crimes against humanity. I just don’t care. But, let’s get one thing straight – it’s not my team and I don’t care to be lumped into the collective ‘we’ when it comes to celebrating their success.

Nevertheless, I still have to put up with the constant wittering on about this ridiculous tournament and its equally ridiculous teams wherever I am in SL, and it’s reached the point where it’s actually spoiling the things I should really be enjoying. If I’m at an inworld music event, I’m there for the music and dancing and the fun exchanges with friends, not to be barraged by a constant flow of chat about last night’s game; and not to have to suffer the DJ’s fawning monologues on the merits of his team, ad infinitum; and quite definitely not to be subjected to a relentless playlist of awful, talentless and meaningless football songs, extolling the virtues of a team that I have not even a passing interest in.

I have therefore taken the rather draconian step of muting people on my friends list who insist on talking about football; should the audio stream take a turn towards that subject matter, I reach for the off button and resort to Youtube instead, and should this blasted affair go on for much longer, I’ll be absenting myself from any event where the subject is likely to be mentioned. Because, basically, I’m not having fun right now as a result of it.

Hey, if you’re into football: Fine. But build yourself a little football sim, where you can invite all your football friends to chat about football to their hearts’ content, whilst listening to football themed music and wearing football themed clothing – but don’t bother inviting me, because I’ll be somewhere else.

And I’m not coming back until it’s all over.

s. x

White man came across the sea
He brought us pain and misery
He killed our tribes he killed our creed
He took our game for his own need
Hellsongs – Run To The Hills

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Much ado… With nothing about

A great deal has been happening in and around SL in recent weeks, although reading this blog  you wouldn’t know it!

On the technical side, the white-coated geeks at Linden Lab, (or  more accurately, the trendy, beardy-faced, jeans and t-shirt chaps and chapesses), have been industriously sprinting, scrumming, coding and drinking cappuccino to bring SL kicking and screaming – or rather its users kicking and screaming – into an approximation of modern technology. Bento is now settling in for the long haul, Animesh Has finally hit at least some parts of the Main Grid, EEP is on the horizon and a start has been made on moving some of the back end functionality to the cloud. If you’re one of the aforementioned white-coated, bearded, coffee drinking geekettes, these are exciting times!

Elsewhere, the 15th birthday celebrations have come and gone, along with all the usual events, parties, rare interviews with the Linden overlords and fun and games that usually accompanies the event. This has also, notably been the trigger for a host of offers and press releases that you’d imagine would be seen as good news by the inworld community, (no guarantees though, this is the inworld community, after all!). Reduced tier and setup fees for private land, introductory offers for anyone wanting to take the plunge into premium – an offer that surfaces almost as frequently as the DFS sale – you have to wonder why they don’t just permanently lower the cost; and hints of more interesting things to come.

And there’s been the usual helping of drama too, with DMCs and content theft allegations doing the rounds once more.

Such a lot of things happening, and yet, nothing – not a word of it reported on these pages. How peculiar.

Has our intrepid reporter been living under a stone. Have I been the subject of some mystery gagging order, perhaps? Lost interest, my grip on virtual reality, or my sanity? Nope none of those.

In all honesty  I’m not really sure what the story is, other than to say I’m feeling a little washed up on the shore of discontent, without even a nearby ice-cream stall of mental refreshment to give me solace.

Real life, as it occasionally does, has contrived to be awkward of late, with work and other commitments being less conducive to spending time inworld as well as providing fewer opportunities for writing about it. In real terms that’s translated to posts going from 3 or 4 a week to just the occasional one when I get the chance. It’s true that I recently had a couple of weeks off, but I spent the first week being ill, and the second being incredibly lazy – so almost nothing written at all. Then again, I’m not feeling particularly inspired anyway, despite everything that should have engaged my attention mentioned at the start of today’s post. Also, I’m finding it difficult to become enthused about SL right now, there’s been a shift in inworld dynamics within my established routines and circles that has been discomforting, and which I’ve yet to reconcile in my mind. That, in itself, has prompted some virtual soul searching, adjustment and reappraisal – a process that I’m still working my way through.

That does not make for a sunny, happy-go-lucky, Seren. Instead, I’ve become a bit rebellious, snarky and have tended towards an attitude of ‘don’t care’, and that’s where you find me right now. I’m trying hard to get a grip but you’re not really missing out: All the lowdown on any of the subjects I’ve mentioned above is freely available if you want to look for it, and I haven’t dropped off the face of the earth entirely, even if my output has reduced… You can’t escape me that easily!

I sure that at some point in the future I’ll manage to conquer my current virtual demons and revert back the to old, lovable, quirky, only slightly despotic and misanthropic, friendly and neighbourly Dippyplodocus, once things have resolved themselves. Then again, for all I know this maybe the new me for the foreseeable future. In which case we’re all in trouble.

Deep, deep trouble!

s. x

Well if you wanted honesty, that’s all you had to say
I never want to let you down or have you go, it’s better off this way
My Chemical Romance – I’m Not Okay (I Promise)

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

A better place

What the hell is going on in the world?

Back in the good old days – which don’t seem all that long ago – there were few things to worry about from day to day. The most we had to be concerned over was that we were wearing clean underwear to cover the remote possibility that we might be run over by a bus… I’ve consequently spent a good proportion of my life doing my utmost to avoid clashing with public service vehicles, not so much because I don’t have clean underwear on, (of course I do!), but more as a result of a morbid fear that death by bus is one of the major causes of mortality for the average human being.

To get shot, blown up, stabbed, or maliciously mown down took a special effort: And joining the armed forces was never particularly something I was inclined to do.

In recent times, however, it seems you don’t have to make any special effort at all to be unceremoniously shuffled off your mortal coil in horrible fashion. Being run over by a lorry, van or any other type of vehicle is now far more likely than the proverbial bus, and sticking to pedestrian areas is no guarantee of safety. Only recently, in my own town, four people were mown down in a ‘roadrage’ incident by a driver hellbent on murder. It doesn’t matter if you’re just going about your own everyday business – shopping, taking it easy, enjoying a concert, sporting activity or simply walking down the street, there’s no guarantee that someone isn’t going to try and spoil your day with a dose of life-changing, or worse, injuries – and you will be the innocent victim.

Never used to happen, at least not in this part of the world.

That aside, life in general feels a lot more threatening than I recall. I took a wander down into the city centre recently – it’s something I’ve not done for quite a while, mainly because I never have the time and I’m never in the area. It was like a cross between The Purge, and Doomsday! I actually felt physically intimidated – druggies, rough sleepers, drunks, dirty dishevelled yobs in hoodies and sweatpants lumbering down the street, shouting obscenities at each other, roaming gangs of youths showing no respect for people, property or each other… And not a sign of law enforcement anywhere. This added to the general sense of decay, and the closed down shops and air of depression did not make for a happy shopping experience!

I really don’t think I’ll be heading into town again any time soon. I’m sure it’s not just my own hometown that is suffering these kind of indignities, and that this overall fall of society is replicated in city centres across the UK, and possibly the rest of the world too, but I can’t help questioning where it all went wrong, because – even with rose tinted specs, my memories of the world as it used to be not so long ago, are of a very different environment.

I’ve always taken issue with people who pronounce SL to be better than the real thing, but I’m starting to come around to the view that they may well be right after all. Certainly, the virtual world is by no means perfect and the flaws of humanity are often just as apparent as they are outside SL, but nobody dies violently because of some sick individual or doctrine, nobody gets stabbed or receives a street acid bath, just for kicks, and we can go shopping, listen to music and generally get on with the business of living, without having it abruptly and rudely snatched from us. In many ways, SL is the Utopia we once enjoyed and took for granted in the physical world, and yes, it is better!

Now, you may take issue with me and argue that SL isn’t like the real world at all, and yet there are many who would disagree and say that much of what happens inworld mirrors the real world, and there’s probably equal merit in both arguments. Could it be however that many of us inworld are of a generation that was more familiar with concepts like discipline, social conscience and moral fortitude? There are young people inworld, but I’d venture to say that they are in the minority, whereas those of us who grew up knowing the world to be a better place, understanding how we should behave and conduct ourselves, without feeling the entitlement that seems to pervade the world today, and not having succumbed to political correctness gone mad, all the hand-wringing over cultural appropriation and other such nonsense, make the virtual world a better place.

I do honestly believe that the tide can be turned, but to do so will mean that toes will have to be trodden on, noses will be put out of joint and occasional civil liberties and human rights will be denied to those who – let’s be honest – couldn’t give a toss about the rights of others; but I can’t see it happening, and I fear for the next generation and the world that they’ll inherit.

Unfortunately, although I’m now coming around to the idea that SL may indeed be better that the real world in many ways, I’m stuck with living in the less friendly one, and that concerns me.

But, what can you do?

s. x

All around me are familiar faces
Worn out places, worn out faces
Bright and early for their daily races
Going nowhere, going nowhere
Their tears are filling up their glasses
No expression, no expression
Hide my head, I want to drown my sorrow
No tomorrow, no tomorrow
Rob Falsini – Mad World

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Off the grid

A friend recently mentioned to me that they’d effectively committed social media suicide: Closing their FaceBook account, shutting down all but their most valued Twitter feeds, deleting Instagram and removing themselves from LinkedIn. They told me that, initially it was a frightening prospect, but since doing so, they’ve felt almost as if a burden has been lifted from their shoulders. Whether it lasts is another matter entirely, but so far, so good.

To me, I can’t see what the big deal is. Not having accounts of that sort myself, and finding little, if anything, that would induce me to open one, I can’t really see what the big deal is. Maybe, having not partaken myself, I can’t really put myself in a position to voice an opinion, but from the outside looking in, I can’t find much in the way of attraction – I’ve little to no interest in the boring minutiae of other people’s lives, photo’s of their ugly, snotty kids, gloating posts about their latest tropical getaway, and a seemingly endless stream of pointless videos, irritating memes, and banal re-postings of non-events and articles. All wrapped up in a thick coating of advertising and – as we all know now, all too well – a good helping of data snooping and clandestine sharing.

Then there’s the interconnectedness of everything. I genuinely get paranoid about the invisible links that exist in almost everything we do online. It’s bad enough that I only need to do a search for fence panels or jelly vibrators on Amazon, and find myself bombarded with unasked for ads for those self-same items on completely unrelated websites for the next six months, and for Google to know enough about my travel plans to be able to intrude with uncanny accuracy with apposite advice during any journey.

However, that paranoia is increased exponentially when I consider the information that can be, and is, routinely shared on social media platforms. Take Facebook, for example: If I become friends with someone, I’m automatically thrust into the wider circle of friends and acquaintances that revolve around their online presence… I’ll pop up in the friend suggestions of their friend of a family member’s acquaintance, who I may not know, but a whole bunch of people who I wouldn’t want to mingle with may know – suddenly, all those people from school that I’ve managed to avoid for decades know that I’m alive and well, and have an easy means of establishing contact. And that frightens me.

Why not set up a FB account in your SL avatar’s name, people ask? Whilst, I agree this does set up a layer of anonymity, it’s certainly not watertight, and I know that a simple slip up – a name or location disclosed, an image shared, or a link to a friend who may not be quite as shy or careful as yourself, and you can find your cover blown, or at least, severely compromised. I really don’t want to risk it.

Part of the appeal of SL for me, is the degree of anonymity it affords to its residents. What you know about me is entirely dependent on what I choose to share about myself, and if I choose not to share, you don’t get to find out. There’s nothing nefarious or underhand about this, it’s simply a case of being careful with what I share online and, as far as I’m concerned there’s really little difference in having reservations about handing out personal information to people inworld, from doing the same with people in RL. I work on a strictly ‘need to know’ basis: I’m careful about what I disclose outside of SL, and I’m careful with what I disclose inworld too, not only because it’s nobody else’s business, but also because I don’t think that it’s particularly interesting either.

I wonder do participants in WoW or Minecraft feel it necessary to tell those around them personal details – I don’t know, since I’ve never played either, but I imagine they don’t. Surely the whole point of escaping the real world to a ‘second life’ is that we can leave who we are in the real world behind us, and instead adopt a virtual persona and a presence that is separate and distinct from that reality – there’s no obligation to share and no real reason to, because it serves no purpose in that particular context.

We can, of course, choose to create a connection between the real and virtual, but that’s something that I think we should only do with caution – the same anonymity that protects us can work both ways and can hide a multitude of sins; do you really know to whom you’re opening up your heart and soul?

All of which begs the question: Do you really know what lurks on the other side of my avatar? And is it really something you want to know?

s. x.

People are strange when you’re a stranger
Faces look ugly when you’re alone
Women seem wicked when you’re unwanted
Streets are uneven when you’re down
The Doors – People Are Strange

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Stoned

I’m in the fortunate position of possessing a decent sized patch of garden, which – if I’m to gloss over the fact that I haven’t touched it since moving in over three years ago – has lain fallow for some time. It is not a pretty sight and you’d struggle really to give it the description of ‘garden’, it’s considerably less ordered and well maintained than would warrant that description.

To be fair, I’ve had a busy couple of years, and I’ve concentrated my efforts on making a start at redecorating and getting the interior of the house up to scratch, rather than apply my efforts to the outdoors. However, its time has come, and progress is not going to be at all rapid.

Successfully replacing a garden fence that not only suffered terminal damage during storms earlier this year, but had also apparently – and quite bizarrely – been erected a couple of feet away from the actual boundary was the kickstarter for what has followed.

Now, gardening is not one of those areas with which I’m inexperienced. Over the years, I’ve tamed and maintained at least five outdoor spaces, in various states of repair, and worked four allotments, so this latest venture shouldn’t have been a huge challenge… Unless, of course, the previous incumbent had been a complete plonker.

He was a complete plonker.

Clearly, at some point, the idiot had been introduced to the joys of weed control matting, and gravel – consisting of the sort of stones they use as railway track ballast. This he’d used copiously throughout the garden, including – inexplicably – a number of what initially appeared to be flower beds covering the lawn, but were actually rectangular sandwiches of rotten plant material, matting and gravel, all topped off with a thick layer of grass and deeply rooted brambles. It’s very slow work indeed, firstly clearing them of vegetation, followed by removing tons of stones – I am not enjoying it, and I know that if I don’t do a decent job of clearing the gravel layer – although heaven knows what I’m going to do with all that rock – I’m going to spend the next 10 years removing stones from the ground every time I plant, weed or harvest.

Not for the first time, I’ve wished that some RL undertakings were as simple and straightforward as they are inworld. No matter how extensive the virtual landscaping and gardening may be, it takes no physical strength or undue exertion, you’re highly unlikely to suffer from heatstroke, pulled and aching muscles, splinters, cuts and bruises; and you’re not going to be attacked by wasps or creepy crawlies. All very good, as far as I’m concerned. Then there’s the ease with which you can manipulate the scenery: Unlike the real world, where undigging a hole can be as difficult as digging it in the first place, and moving a plant, water feature or flower bed because you realise it just looks wrong in the place you’d originally planned, is usually not something that can be easily achieved. Such things are a simple matter in SL – and virtual gardening is more a matter of aesthetics than it is about being green-fingered, with most of us opting for the scientific approach of ‘plonking things down and seeing how they look’, rather than careful planning and preparation.

Conversely, that’s where things can also go badly wrong in SL… I’m sure we’ve all come across landscapes that really do look as if they’ve been thrown together, incoherent, inconsistent messes of undergrowth and features that follow no particular rhyme or reason and, frankly, look worse than if the ground had just been left bare and empty. Just as in RL, there is a skill to good landscape design in SL, and not everyone has it.

I would hope that’s a criticism that couldn’t be levelled at me: Although I may be a little whimsical in my choice of landscaping options, I do try to make things look good and aesthetically pleasing, and even my most enduring garden creations get the occasional tweak and reconfiguring when I feel something doesn’t look right – and that’s another huge advantage the virtual world has over the real one – once established, making changes is a doddle, not so in RL, as I can wholeheartedly testify!

Still, there’s no rush, and I’m sure I’ll get there in the end. In the meantime, if anyone wants a load of gravel for free… Please pop round, and help yourself!

s. x

Your leaves fade to brown
And i watch you die
In my torture garden
Under black sunshine
My Ruin – My Beautiful Flower

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Turn left?

Walking down the platform this afternoon, before catching my train, I caught a glimpse through an open doorway, of the rarefied and exclusive atmosphere of the first class lounge. It’s not somewhere that you’re ever likely to find me hanging out – most of my lounging whilst waiting for trains is done on hard, usually damp, wooden seats  out in the cold, and when I do board you’ll find me heading in the opposite direction to the leather upholstery and complementry snacks, towards the more bohemian preserves of cattle class. The same is true of flying. Never once for me the exclusive smugness of turning left on boarding; instead you’ll find me slumming it with the rest of the duty free and tacky souvenir brigade at the tail end of the plane.

It’s not just a case of social standing or the expense of living the first class lifestyle that prevents me from indulging, and – like I imagine most of us who are not in the position where we can avail ourselves of such luxury – have felt the urge to just have a taste of it, if only once in a lifetime.

Although, such things are relative. I have indeed had the pleasure of travelling first class by rail, and what an experience it was – albeit not quite what you may be expecting. The rail operator in question was ONCF, and the journey itself was between Nador and Fes, Morocco, via Taourirt. I guess there was a certain magic and romance about such a trip, and I succumbed to the allure of opting for a first class ticket, mainly due to the fact that it would cost me a whole £4 more than travelling hobo class, which seemed a remarkably good deal at the time. Getting a ticket at all was something of a challenge, since I spoke no Arabic, and the lovely lady in the ticket office, spoke no English, Spanish or French, all of which I’d been assured would serve me well in the wilds of Northern Africa – absolute nonsense, of course.

Let’s just say ONCF rural first class, is not exactly salubrious. There are no complementary snacks, drinks, newspapers, leather seats, air conditioning, ventilation, tables or – for that matter – any of the uncomplementary versions of same. Neither, as I discovered to my cost, are there toilets you would wish to even attempt to use, locks on those toilet doors, which was unsurprising since there were also no locks, or any other means of securing the carriage doors to prevent one from plummeting from the moving train in the middle of the vast Saharan expanse of nothingness. Neither were there any other passengers availing themselves of this first class luxury – they having elected to enjoy the rather more convivial delights of standard class, where they were assured companionship, victuals and possibly even working toilets. Sadly, I was unable to join them during the first non-stop, six hours of the journey, due to the separating door being the only one that was actually sealed shut. The second leg from Taourirt was even more fun, crammed into a heaving carriage in 30 degree heat with 17 Omid Djalili lookalikes, whose only languages were Arabic and bemusement, and not a clue where, who, or why I was!

That however is not a factor in influencing my reticence to indulge in first class, rather it is that I really see no point in throwing away money for something that, I grant you, may be a little bit special, but is – in my opinion – vastly overrated, vastly overhyped and ridiculously overpriced. How can anyone accept that a little bit more legroom, a little bit more comfort, a decent meal and a bottle of bubbly could possibly justify inflating the cost of a journey by somewhere in the region of 450% or more? It always consoles me to know that those in first class are watching the same movies as me, breathing the same stale air and will probably be the first to hit the ground if we crash… Best of all, they are paying through the nose to be my crashmat!

I’m afraid I apply the same logic to SL – I’ve been inworld 10 years now, and never once have I considered it necessary to become a premium member. Yes, I know there are some bonuses to be had, and there are those who will argue until the cows come home that it’s a good deal that more than pays for itself, but I really can’t justify the additional expense. I have everything I could possibly want in SL without spending extra cash for the luxury of ‘exclusive’ experiences and sandboxes, tacky Linden Homes, rubbish gifts, and I’ve never been desperate to get into a crowded sim so much that I’m willing to pay for the privilege of being allowed in over the limit. Those to me are not ‘Premium’ benefits, they are just extras that I’m being asked to pay for, and I don’t particularly want those extras, neither do I think they offer value for my money.

And that’s the bottom line, for first class or premium to entice me into its charms, it needs to offer something above and beyond just a bit extra, and it has to give me something that I value – without either, it’s simply something that I consider superfluous to requirements and not worth investing in.

And, what’s wrong with second class anyway?

s. x

You asked for some advice
And a sad man calls you a fool
He said “too many times you missed the sun
Who swaps with the moon”
Twisted Wheel – Let Them Have It All

Posted in Philosophicalisticality, RL, SL | Leave a comment

What’s in a name?

I travel a lot, an awful lot, and I’m frequently puzzled and intrigued by the names of many of the places I pass through. Quakers’ Yard; Devil’s Bridge; Hope; Hobbiton (OK, maybe not that last one!)… Evocative and sometimes perplexing names that demand explanation – always an interesting pursuit on a long trip! When it comes to this challenge, Google is my friend, and I’ve learned some fascinating facts about the places I’ve visited and passed through, as well as a fair bit of of folklore, legend, industrial heritage and historical fact, simply from researching how places came to be known by the names they bear today.

Today, we are seldom afforded the privilege of bestowing a name upon a place, other than perhaps the property we live in, and even then, the choice tends to be steeped more in personal preference and vanity than history or locale. I hate, with a passion, those twee corruptions of the names of joint owners… ‘Jimsara’ ; ‘Danibelle’ ; ‘Arthrita’ ; and the plain awful ‘Crofters Cottage’; ‘Traveller’s Rest’; ‘Seaview’, and of course,  the classic and utterly dire, ‘Chez Nous’ – bleaaarghh!

The less said about those, the better… However it would be rather fun if we could be a little more creative with such things, and those of us who own land in SL have all the opportunity in the world to do so.

A quick squint at the world map reveals that SL place names can be equally as quirky, obscure and interesting as those we come across in RL, and it can be as fascinating a pursuit to delve into the origins and reasons behind some of the location names we come across inworld as it can be in real life.

Having to name just a single, or small number of parcels can pose its own difficulties for the imaginatively challenged, and it’s clear that some give up fairly rapidly and succumb to the somewhat lazy approach that we often see employed by land barons: ‘Spongeworth Estates #14’ might well be a perfectly reasonable utilitarian approach to the problem, but it certainly doesn’t have the appeal of ‘Butterfly Meadows’ or ‘Marshmallow Creek’, and I know that either of the latter would be a far more desirable inworld address for me, than the former.

Thankfully, whatever their other faults may be, the Lindens took a creative approach to naming their own land, right from the start. It’s quite fun to explore the mainland and trace the age of sim based on the naming convention it follows. The starting point of the Grid, and many would argue, the first piece of land created in SL (although SL started with 16 sims) – ‘Da Boom’ – is somewhat enigmatic… A corruption of ‘De Boom’, a road in the Linden Street area of San Francisco: There are unavoidable – although never officially confirmed – allusions to the Big Bang; the singularity from which the virtual universe was created and started to expand outwards.

In fact, all of the first group of sims had names taken from San Francisco streets: ‘Welsh’; ‘Stillman’; ‘Ahern’… And so on, and if you take a look at the SF Street map, it can be a fun exercise to locate your favourite proto-sims from SL in their real world locations! The Lindens were to return to the Bay Area some time later, with the creation of the Bay City Regions, but in the interim, colours became all the rage, and the next generation of sims are clearly identifiable by their colour coded nomenclature.

There are other themes the Lindens took to heart as well.. But I’ll let you do your own exploring to discover them for yourselves!

There’s also a fascinating array of place names to be found among the private regions too. Some, purely descriptive, others give clues about what’s to be found within; some are completely bonkers – flights of fancy and the products of a wild imagination; whilst others can be evocative and intriguing.

I do like to see people taking an idea, and running with it. Take my home sim, for example – ‘Penny Lane’. Clearly, the owner has a fondness for The Beatles, but what lends the whole place a sense of coherence and adds to the enjoyment is that the individual landowners on the sim have entered into the spirit and given their own parcels a Beatles twist, or some variation on the theme. So we have ‘Nowhere Land’; ‘Dear Prudence Rock Club’; ‘Strawberry Field’… It’s great fun and it adds something to the overall sense of community.

I think there’s something very important about having a sense of place, especially in a virtual world, and a well considered, thought provoking name can provide just that… And, if you’re stuck for inspiration, then you’re very welcome to join me on one of my journeys any time, and steal some inspiration from the peculiar places I pass through in RL!

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 Linden Love, RL, SL, SLarcheology, Tales of the Road, Tour Guide | Leave a comment

Replicant

I don’t know about you, but I find that my avatar will often mirror my real world physical situation in ways that make no real sense.

Last night, for example, my feet were sore and aching, thanks to an unexpectedly long, and tiring walk. By the time I arrived home, all I wanted to do was get my shoes off, and put my feet up… Even the thought of walking to the kitchen to make a desperately needed cuppa, was a bit too much! Eventually, by the time I logged in to SL, after a couple of hours recovery time, food and copious amounts of tea, my energy levels were somewhat restored, but my feet were still protesting and it seemed that my avatar was sympathising.

Meeting up with some friends for a spot of socialising, the evening fell into a familiar pattern: chat, music and dancing, except on this occasion, I wasn’t dancing. Instead, I rezzed a chair and did some serious lounging instead. When asked what was up, my answer was simple – “My feet are tired” – and in my mind, it really did feel that my pixelated form just wasn’t up to jigging around, just like the real me on the other side of the keyboard.

It’s odd, because in the past I’ve spoken about how SL allows us the freedom to overcome real world limitations, and indeed, in my circle of friends, and all across the Grid, there are those who will testify to the enabling power of virtual life that permits us to overcome pretty much any worldly stricture, from illness and disability to age, ability and physical situation. Yet last night, I had aching feet, and so did my avatar, and that changed how I interacted inworld.

This happens to me frequently. Sometimes, it’s a case of cause and effect – if I’m tired or ill, that is likely to affect how I behave in SL, it’s logical that should be the case. However, there are other circumstances that my avatar will mirror real world things when really there’s no reason to do so, and if I was to follow my own philosophy, SL in those circumstances should be an enabler, allowing me to rise above my circumstances, rather than perpetuate them inworld. There was the time, for example, when I injured my arm and felt the need to make a virtual sling, which I then wore for the duration of my real world recuperation; and I know that I’m not the only person who sometimes feels this odd need to replicate real life in their online activities.

I suppose it could be a case of us feeling a little sorry for ourselves – a subtle attention-seeking exercise that makes others aware that we are suffering and would like a little sympathy: It’s a prompt, designed to elicit a caring enquiry into what’s up? Rather than the alternative of stomping into SL and forthrightly declaring, “I’m feeling a bit crap and want you to make me feel better”!

Whilst there may well be an element of that contained within our behaviour, I think it may be a more deeply-seated need that it could be fulfilling, especially for those of us who strongly identify with our virtual selves and who have been around SL for a number of years. I’d suggest that, outwardly, our avatar tends towards an idealised version of what the real person would like to be – the look, the style, the activities and the persona may be widely divergent from the real person behind the avatar, but it is essentially our fantasy self. However, particularly for those who’ve been part of SL for a while, there’s also a significant element of the real self that becomes part of the virtual self, so our avatar, although idealised, will not be perfect: It will have quirks and failings, inadequacies and issues, just like the real person – but there’s always the possibility that our avatar can become almost an entity in itself, a completely separated persona that we observe in the third person, rather than being an intrinsic part of what we have created. Consequently, we may feel the need to connect, on a very human level, with our creation in order to again become one with it.

So, our avatar gets sore feet and doesn’t feel like dancing.

It’s a connection on a very mundane, but very real, human, level – one that puts us squarely back under the skin of our avatar, allowing us to engage with the virtual environment at a level that goes beyond mere observer and re-establishes our connection as part of what we see unfolding on the screen in front of us.

But the sympathy can be welcome, too!

s. x

Are we human or are we dancer?
My sign is vital, my hands are cold
And I’m on my knees
Looking for the answer
Are we human or are we dancer?
The Killers – Human

Posted in Philosophicalisticality, RL, SL | Leave a comment

Service with a snarl

I read a lot of profiles. I find them a brilliant source of information, not only about the person to whom they relate, but they’re also a gold mine when it comes to discovering new groups, locations to visit and stores to discover. In fact, with more and more stores heading to Marketplace, rather than having an inworld presence, I’m increasingly finding that using search is less productive than gleaning alternatives from the content of profile picks of fellow shoppers at the sort of places I like to frequent.

Inevitably, a number of profiles I come across will be those of content creators and often these will be a mine of useful information, with pointers to stores, collections and events, all handily gathered in one place. Almost always, there will also be ‘customer service’ information, either directing enquiries to other avatars, stores, websites or asking for customers to contact the creator directly: ‘Please send me a notecard, my IMs are always capped’.

With increasing frequency, however, I’m starting to see a whole new approach to customer service. It’s an approach more along the lines of: ‘Don’t contact me if you have issues… Store policy is clearly displayed on the premises, with every item and in my profile… If you bought something twice by accident, tough luck!… If it doesn’t fit and you didn’t try the demo, it’s your problem’, and so on. I can’t help wondering whether this is a reaction to a culture that, almost without question, insists that the customer is always right, even when they’re not, and are often totally barking mad!

It’s not a culture that, as a Brit, I’d experienced much before coming to SL – here in the United Colonies of Britland, the stance normally taken is that the customer is occasionally right. If the customer is wrong, yet they’re polite, reasonable and friendly, then we may bend a little. However, any other sort of attitude, (even if they’re right), is likely to result in a refusal, or a punch in the face. This is well understood around this part of the world, and works remarkably well.

Inworld, however, the overwhelmingly prevailing concept is the American model of customer service, requiring dedicated customer service representatives for every business, whose only role it seems is to perpetuate the myth that the customer is not only always right, but deserves over and above whatever their right is, and that if you should in anyway disagree with their overly-entitled right to anything they think is due recompense for any real or perceived slight, you are a big, steaming pile of dog turd!

I grant you, this is only my own jaded evaluation of what I see around me, but I’d argue that it is well substantiated by much of what I see being argued in SL forums, group chats and message boards, and I also see exactly the same nonsense being touted in their real world equivalents too.

It’s one of the reasons I don’t think that I’ll ever go into any sort of commercial venture inworld, because the moment that first conversation takes place, is the moment I’ll feel driven to commit avacide!

EntitledPrat Resident: You don’t make this item in the precise colour of sky blue pink that I want. I demand you immediately send me a bespoke version, full perm and free of charge for the inconvenience you’ve put me to, and I want a gift card and a full apology for your incompetence. And I am the customer, so I am always right!

Me: No

/Me mutes, ejects and permabans EntitledPrat Resident, hacks their account and rends their avatar into tiny pixel fragments, destroys their reputation, hunts them down in RL and punches them in the face, very hard, repeatedly.

Where did we get this weird idea that the customer is always right, that the customer always knows best and that we should treat everybody to the platinum standard, even if they are treating us like the aforementioned canine excrement? It’s nonsense, and it’s plain wrong, and I speak as somebody whose job for many years involved handling customer complaints and improving service. Then, as now, the customer was only right, when they were right, and even then it didn’t automatically entitle them to anything in return:

Customer: This paint is the wrong colour, it doesn’t match my bathroom.

Retailer: Have you used the paint?

Customer: Yes

Retailer: Then there’s nothing I can do. You should have checked first.

The above conversation would never happen in SL, and it’s a great pity because I think when creators treat their customers as if they were demi-gods, rather than just customers, it devalues the hard work, time and effort that has been put into making those objects of desire that those very customers want – if the customer wants better, then perhaps they should try doing it themselves. Certainly, you might see the odd customer go off in a huff and badmouth you to anyone who wants to listen, but who needs customers like that anyway?

Personally, I’m with those creators with the snarky profiles on this issue.

And, if I ever join their ranks, my profile will be snarking with the best of them!

s. x

I can’t get no satisfaction, I can’t get no satisfaction
‘Cause I try and I try and I try and I try
I can’t get no, I can’t get no
Otis Redding – I Can’t Get No Satisfaction

Posted in Rants, RL, SL | Leave a comment