Mugged!

There are many things that contrive to irritate and bug me about SL: The still-prevailing, but completely incorrect belief that the virtual world revolves entirely around rampant sex; the way that those who profess in their profiles to abhor drama, yet somehow manage to be the cause of it; some of the idiotic, counter-productive decisions the Lab continues to make in the management of SL… Frankly, I could go on, ad-nauseum and compile a list of niggles that runs to many pages, but by and large, I can live with most of them and put them down to SLife’s rich pageant.

There is, however, one extremely annoying practice that some people seem to be under the impression is a perfectly acceptable way to behave, that drives me to distraction whenever I’m on the receiving end of it: The login mugging!

Perhaps I should offer some context, before heading off on a full-blown rant. Logging into SL is often one of the last activities of the day that I generally undertake, and – weekdays in particular – I’m usually tired after a long slog in work, and looking forward to switching my brain off for a while. It’s time to unwind and relax and, more importantly, it’s a chance for some ‘me’ time: No deadlines, no hassling, and – unlike the rest of the day – no demands on my time from other people.

My first 10-15 minutes inworld are like stepping into a welcoming hot bath, a sacrosanct moment, a haven of tranquility when I can put the woes of the day behind me, and take that all-important, precious moment to myself. Generally – inworld – it’s not a hot bath though, it’s usually an opportunity to fiddle about with my outfit, enjoy a spot of virtual pampering and enjoy the luxury of doing my own, uninterrupted, thing.

Unfortunately, far too often, that’s not how it happens. Instead, whilst barely out of the primeval curry cloud, when still surounded by a world of grey, formless shapes, and trying to find my bearings, there’s an ominous double-ping of an instant message. Yes, whilst still disorientated, dishevelled and in that pre-rezzed state of confusion, somebody has decided they want to have a chat. The real issue though, is that this isn’t some random IM that’s happened to coincide with my arrival inworld, no – it’s a carefully calculated, expertly-timed assault… Somebody who has been lurking in wait, ready to pounce the moment the message that I’ve logged in pops up on their screen. It’s a mugging!

This sort of IM comes from someone who clearly has no comprehension of the virtual equivalent of personal space: Somebody who puts their own wants and needs front and centre, demanding attention without first considering whether that attention is merited, let alone desired, by the recipient. To jump someone the second they arrive is reminiscent of walking into one of those supermarkets who insist on having ‘greeters’ to hijack you as you walk through the door, stuffing baskets and flyers into your hands before you’ve even had a chance to retrieve your shopping list. It’s like arriving at work, after a frought journey with rush hour traffic, only for someone to make a beeline for your desk, pile of papers for you to review in hand, and demanding your attention before you’ve even taken your coat off. It happens inworld too: When you arrive at a club for a night’s entertainment, and the moment you arrive at the landing point, you’re being hassled by ‘hosts’, proffering dance HUDs, contest entries and demands that you tip the DJ, dancers, host, barman, owner, and pretty much everybody else in the room, before you’ve even set foot on the dancefloor. It’s even more annoying when the process is automated – those shops that send a barrage of notifications on arrival: Latest offers, group invites, redelivery policies and requests to show your picture on the walls and you haven’t even walked through the door yet!

Just. Stop. It!

I think what annoys me most about being mugged by IMs on login is that the sender has no consideration for the recipient. They know you’ve only just arrived inworld, and surely they must also understand that – at the very least – it can take a few minutes to rez, find one’s bearings and settle-down. Yet those things don’t matter to them; their message is far too important to wait, and of course, there is every expectation that, having sent their message, an immediate response is required. Trust me, if you want an immediate reply from me, it’s likely to be two words, the second of which will be ‘off’!

Invariably, too, these irritating IMs tend to be demanding in nature. Rarely will it be a simple ‘hello’, and if it is, it will likely be followed by something with the expectation that your presence, and undivided attention – either in person, or in conversation – will immediately follow. That’s if you even get a cursory greeting. There have been occasions I’ve been mugged by what is effectively a demand that I get my butt from wherever I happen to be, to wherever the sender happens to be, right now! Oh, and there’s the obligatory TP request that accompanies it.

Such muggings are not appreciated by Yours Truly, and will almost invariably have the opposite effect to that intended. If you wait for me log in, then jump me before my body parts have had an opportunity to assemble, I’m going to make you wait for a reply, and you’ll be waiting for far longer than you would have, if you’d waited a reasonable amount of time before calling me up. That’s if I respond at all… You may well find I don’t want to speak to you at all, especially if all I really wanted to do was spend some time easing into SL for the evening, before properly chilling out.

Maybe I’m somewhat more antisocial than most, or perhaps not as patient as some, but the bottom line is – by any measure – it’s just downright rude to demand somebody’s attention without any consideration for the fact that they may want a bit of time to sort themselves out when they first log in. And I really don’t get on well with rude people.

Although, I daresay some of those who choose to mug me on login might well think it’s downright rude of me not to respond straight away too… But, I’m sticking to my guns!

s. x

When the cat took your tongue,
I say you took it right back
Your mouth is so big,
One bite could kill a Big Mac
Run DMC – Shut Up

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

Green Fingers

I’m a big fan of nature, especially when it comes to plants. Everywhere that I’ve lived, even when I was limited to a tiny, third storey flat, I’ve always tried to have some sort of garden and greenery, be that a window box, indoor plants, or – where circumstance and space have allowed – flower beds, shrubbery, and vegetable plots.

There’s something about plants that helps me reconnect with the important things of life, particularly when it comes to growing and nurturing them. There is simply nothing quite like a cob of corn, that you’ve grown from seed, freshly plucked and straight into the pan; ripe tomatoes that you’ve cared for and nourished to the point where their fruits are ready to do the same for you, or the perfume from a bunch of sweet peas, filling the room, freshly cut that morning and still wet with dew.

Of course, plants can be challenging too, and I have to admit that the last couple of years for me have been far from fruitful – quite literally. Some quite bizzare weather, lack of time, a degree of bodily decrepitude, and plain bad luck have all conspired to produce some of the worst harvests I’ve ever had… Apart from the weeds and brambles – they’re doing incredibly well!

Conseqently, this year I decided not to bother at all to let the ground lay fallow, and instead, because I’m an idiot, concentrate on something a lot more difficult: Growing tropical plants from seed.

I’ve always loved tropical plants, particularly the weird and wonderful varieties, almost all of which are insanely difficult to cultivate, but what is life, without a challenge? On reflection though, I do wonder if I’ve bitten off more than I can chew on this occasion, because it’s not your common old spider plants for me. Nope I’ve gone for exotic in a big way: Ravenala, Strelitzia, Amorphophallus and, perhaps the most ridiculous choice of all, Rafflesia! Yes, I’m nuts, and of course, to date I’ve had absolutely no luck at all.

Well, not entirely. You see, one plant I’ve tried to grow many times in the past from seed and always failed miserably is the humble banana, so I simply had to give it another shot… And, amazingly, three of them germinated! OK, so two of them died shortly afterwards, thanks to my over-zealous watering, but one has survived and over the last 12 months has taken over the house. It’s now over 7 feet tall, and 6 feet across, and showing no signs of slowing its growth. So, there’s an important life lesson I really do need to grasp: Seren should not grow plants, they’ll either die or become Triffids, hell-bent on taking over the world!

Perhaps I should stick to virtual gardening instead? And, indeed, encouraged by my evil twin sister, Moon, I’ve gone and got myself a breedable plant. Now, I’ve always been a bit dubious about breedables, firstly because I’ve really never seen the appeal of them, and secondly – perhaps unfairly – my only real experience of them has been the occasional encounter with enormous sprawling pony, tiger, meero and wheat farms that uglify their surroundings with horrible multi-coloured hovertext, and server-sapping lag. Then there’s the wallet-emptying cycle of ‘special’ food and nutrients, without which your adorable little critter will curl up, wither, and die, meaning that you have a moral obligation to ensure the very best for your pixel pet, whilst your real ones make do with scraps and rubbish from the bin, neglected and forgotten. I could never really understand why people became so obsessed with them, to the extent of buying whole regions, just to show off their collection, and annoy the neighbours.

Maybe I’m exagerating a little, but for me breedables were always on my list of ‘things I’d rather not be associated with’. Until now.

Thankfully, my leafy breedable is a Plantpet – apparently one of the least obnoxious growables you’re ever likely to come across in SL. Unlike many others, there’s no irritating hovertext, no neccesity to mortgage your soul to keep them fed and watered to prevent them from shriveling up, and – provided you simply spend a couple of seconds to ‘water’ them (for free) when they get thirsty, they’ll reward you by growing and eventually by producing seeds, which you can sell. You might even get a super-duper-mega-rare-collectable-type seed, that you can sell for oodles of lindens, and – of course – that speaks to the business side of my brain. Many years ago there was a car advert – watch it here, I’ll wait – and that was me: I finally got into the idea of gacha resales about 10 years after everybody else, and about two weeks before The Lab pulled the plug on gacha machines! I reckon it could have been a nice little earner for me, or at least, it would have been if the supply hadn’t had its throat cut. I was gutted, and ever since then I’ve been looking for something to keep on the back-burner, ticking over and bringing in the occasional bit of pocket money, without all that tedious nonsense of having to be creative and mess around with mesh and textures. And, just maybe, this might be it!

Then again, it might come to nothing, and I just end up with a pile of seeds nobody wants to buy… but nothing ventured, and all that!

Anyway, must dash, I have a banana plant to placate!

s. x

Botanical creature stirs! Seeking revenge…
Royal beast did not forget
Soon they escaped, spreading their seed
Preparing for an onslaught
Threatening the human race

Genesis – Return Of The Giant Hogweed

Posted in RL, SL | 1 Comment

New at Neon Dreamz

I know you think I’ve been taking things easy lately, putting my feet up and enjoying the sunshine, whilst leaving the important business of virtual life to take care of itself. Well, I wish that were true, but life in both worlds has been rather busy recently, and I’ll have you know, just because things may have been a little quiet on the SL front, I’ve actually been beavering away on all sorts of things inworld, it’s just taken me a while to begin to consolidate my efforts and produce some outcomes.

To begin with, I’ve been pottering about on my Marmalade Skies plot, demolishing the odd building, here and there, and putting up some improvements. That’s very much a work in progress, but it’s coming together nicely and has also necessitated the creation of some shiny new bits and pieces, which will eventually find their way onto Marketplace, in due course.

I’m not the only one in the neighbourhood who’s had the builders in. My exceptional friend and neighbour, Moon, has been completely redesigning the neighbourhood into a veritable cybertopia, which in turn has inspired me to spend even more time in the workshop, coming up with new cyberpunk-inspired creations, many of which you’ll find adorning both my own land, and Moon’s parcel at Lunar Heights.

And, you too can own your own piece of cyber-goodness, by heading over to Neon Dreamz and bagging something new!

I’ve three new animated billboards on sale – think Bladerunner, neo-Tokyo inspired flashiness, designed to make a big impression. At a measly 3LI each, they’re not going to steal all your primmage, and they’re visible up to 1024 metres away, so brilliant for high-rise towers and elevated buildings. With copy permissions, you can have as many as you like too. I’m really pleased with these, and there will be more coming out in the near future, but you really do need to see them in situ to appreciate them, so please do come along to my land at Marmalade Skies, and whilst you’re at it, have a look around at Lunar Heights next door, to see just how good they can look. You’ll find them on Marketplace from today.

What’s that other essential piece of street furniture that no cyberpunk cityscape can do without? Erm… Waste bins! And I have 4 – all with cool illuminated signage and animated icons. Choose from, litter, organic waste, radioactive waste, and – of course – recycling! A steal at just L$175.

Plenty more to come, just give me a little time, and if in the meantime you’re itching to spend your hard-earned lindens, why not check out Moon’s store ‘Moon Bunny’, inworld and on Marketplace? She has a load of cool fun stuff too!

See you soon.

s. x

Posted in Builder's bum, HHI, Neon Dreamz, SL | 2 Comments

Nihon Shiki

I have a bit of an obsession with Japan. Always have, ever since my teens when, for a while, I was making serious plans to spend six months in the country on a cultural visa. Right through to the present day, I’ve had an ongoing fascination with the country, the people, lifestyle, customs, language and culture. On my Big List Of Things To Do Before I Die, visiting Japan is right up there in the top rankers, so much so that I fully intend starting to learn Japanese within the next year, (after I’ve finally managed to get a good grasp of Spanish!)

I know that, for some, one country is very much like another, but I think that view exposes just how shallow-minded, and wrong, it’s possible to be. I’m fortunate enough to have travelled to a number of countries in the course of my lifetime, and no one country has ever been remotely like another. You do need to scratch beneath the surface sometimes, of course, and get off the beach and meet the locals, but that way you discover the real joys of travel, and occasionally adventure: Something you’ll never truly appreciate if you’re not prepared to make the effort.

However, for now, I can only dream of the hustle and brashness of exploring the streets of Akihabara at night, slurping ramen in Shinjuku’s Piss Alley, or savoring the mingled smells of river water and cooking along Osaka’s Dotonbori, hiking on Mount Tsukuba or along the old trail of Nara, and so many more places and experiences I want to one day explore and absorb… But, that could be years away, although I live in hope eternal that it might be sooner!

In the meantime, one of the joys of SL for me is the large Japanese contingent, who have succeeded in bringing a little bit of their homeland into the virtual world for us all to enjoy and explore. It doesn’t matter what you’re looking for, you’re almost guaranteed to find it, from the neon paradise of Neo Tokyo, to the city lights and back alleys of Kyori City. There’s the ultra-realistic urban settings of places like Mitsumi Town and Rieri, or the reconstructions of historical villages and townships, and the peace and tranquility of countless temples, shrines and retreats. Even if you’re not particularly a fan of Japanese style and utility, I’m pretty sure you’ll find something to your taste amongst the endless variety of settings scattered across the Grid.

Best of all, if I can’t find what I’m looking for, virtual living allows me to create my own version. And that’s precisely what I’ve started to do: I’m build my own unique, Japanese-inspired home in cyberspace. Loosely modelled on the sakura avenues of Saitama and the Mama River in Ichikawa City, with my own personal flavours and quirks, along with an old-fashioned, traditional house of shoji screens and tatami flooring, it’s a place I can escape to and pretend I’m really there. It’s great!

I know that I may be over-romanticising the country, and Japan – like anywhere else – is not without its faults and problems, but when I make comparisons with my own country, there is much that I find attractive about Japan and the Japanese, and I can’t help thinking that if I had gone all those years ago as a teenager, I’d probably never have come back; but that’s how it goes, and until I finally get to fulfil my dream, I’ll just have to make do with the virtual substitute… Although, that’s not so bad, either!

Mata-ne!

s. x

私のすべての思い出は彼女の周りに集まります
鉱夫の女性、青い水に見知らぬ人
暗くてほこりっぽい、空に描かれている
密造酒の霧の味、目の涙
Chelle – Country Road

Posted in Builder's bum, RL, SL, Tour Guide | Leave a comment

Friendly greetings!

It’s not very often that I get a friend request, maybe the serial killer vibe I tend to give out acts as a deterrent to those who might fancy their chances, who knows?

If requests from acquaintances and contacts are a rare event, then unsolicited random requests from a complete strangers are even more infrequent. Yet, the other day, for the first time in ages, whilst I was quietly relaxing, perched atop a stack of loudspeakers in an empty club, a friend request popped up on my screen from a complete stranger.

This was someone I’d never interacted with, seen, or was even in the same region as me. Yet, for some reason, they singled me out as someone they’d like to enter into a mutually beneficial shared social arrangement with. I declined.

I have a number of unspoken criteria that I usually expect people wishing to befriend me to meet. These aren’t set in stone, and – just because you can tick all the boxes – that won’t guarantee a successful request; I don’t collect friends routinely or just to be seen as popular, I value friendship too much and will always prefer a small number of real friends I can count on, over a bulging list of hangers-on that I lack any real connection to. So, just in case you are thinking of extending the hand of friendship, let me save you the trouble if you happen to fall into any of the following categories:

I’m not interested in being your friend if:

  • On our first encounter, you choose to turn up naked with your bits flopping about. I’m not particularly partial to guys who prefer to wander around shirtless, no matter what the setting, either.
  • Your introductory greeting is delivered by way of unsolicited IM, from the other side of the region, and goes something along the lines of ‘Hey babe, you look hot, wanna go somewhere?’
  • We’ve just met, mere moments ago, and you include me in a bulk friend request to everyone in the room.
  • You only want me as a friend because you want me to go to your shows, listen to you sing/DJ/spend hours telling me how great/awful your life is without even asking about mine.
  • You’ve made no effort to get to know me, my likes and dislikes, or it’s clear from the outset we have absolutely nothing in common.
  • We haven’t known each other and spent a decent amount of time in each other’s company for it not to be weird. (This, by the way, could take years!)

I’ve always been baffled by the attitude that there’s nothing odd about asking to be someone’s friend, having spent little or no time interacting with that person. The dictionary definition of ‘friend’, and one with which I wholeheartedly concur, is: ‘a person with whom one has a bond of mutual affection, typically one exclusive of sexual or family relations.’ That definition ties in nicely with my unwritten rules above, and – I’m sorry to say – is one which has been devalued to the point of being pretty much meaningless in the context of what seems to be the generally accepted norm in terms of what friendship is today. The bar is set perilously low, in my opinion.

The internet is, of course, to blame for this sorry state of affairs, and more specifically, the multitude varieties of social media which have confused the concepts of followers and friends, and thoroughly debased the latter by conflating it with the former, with no distinction between the two.

In social media parlance, the word friend can just as easily mean stalker, crowd-follower, attention-seeker, spy, enemy, fake, bot, or associate, in addition we have those who’ve been accepted into your social circle through dubious and tenous friend of a friend of a friend’s friend connections, those playing the numbers game, out to boost their own social status, and those who are friends on a purely transactional basis – I’ll be your friend/boost your numbers/feature your site if you do the same for me.

To me, this is weird, because the only people with whom I want to maintain regular contact and share my life are those I care about, I can rely on, and with whom I can bond. All of which makes me something of an oddball in this new-fangled brave new cyber world, where everyone is connected and unless you get a million ‘likes’ for any bit of content you dump online, you’re a big fat loser! Not that I could give a rancid baboon’s butt about any of that, I’d rather be Bella No Mates with just a few good companions, than Little Miss Social Superstar with billions of fawning followers.

I know that not everyone shares my opinion (OK, 97.3% of the world don’t seem to share my opinion, based upon any examination of what happens online), and that’s fine too, particularly in SL, where who you choose to mix with is entirely your choice – unlike the real world, we’re not forced to spend 8 hours a day working with people that, in any other context, we’d happily garotte with piano wire! Neither do we head back to our virtual home at the end of the day, to face another bunch of people we’re stuck with, but wish we weren’t – that’s one of the great benefits of SL, we can choose our family! However, I think it’s a little crass to impose your own ideas of what is an acceptable way to approach someone you’d like to know better, without at least checking with them first that it’s fine with them. Offering friendship, out of the blue, to someone you’ve just met, without even asking if it’s appropriate, appreciated and likely to be reciprocated, is a bit like chucking a brick through somebody’s window as a precursor to offering to sell them double-glazing!

I find that there are basically two types of people who randomly ask to be your friend – those who couldn’t give a toss if you accept or refuse – and, if that’s your attitude, you don’t deserve me as a friend. Then there are those who get all butthurt over a refusal, in which case you clearly haven’t a clue what makes me tick, and the whole thing would have been doomed from the start.

I suppose it’s really down to personal preference and your attitude towards those with whom you share your cyberspace. I know, for example, content creators who accept any, and all, friendship requests because they think it boosts their business – personally, I don’t think it necessarily works that way, rather than boosting your business, it just means that there are now hundreds of people who think they deserve discounts, freebies and extra-special service, whilst conversely, you now have a massive following to annoy with mass TP offers and to pressurise into buying your products, because… Well, you’re my friend, aren’t you?

Maybe I’m just not that into other people, and prefer to spend time alone, not being bothered by others, but that doesn’t mean I’m a dreadful person, just a bit reserved. So, by all means send me a friend request, if you must, but please – whatever you do – make sure you’re fully-clothed first, because you might not appreciate a friendly kick to the groin in response!

s. x

I could stick around and get along with you
Hello, oh, oh, oh, oh
It doesn’t really mean that I’m into you
Hello, oh, oh, oh, oh

Martin Solveig ft. Dragonette – Hello

Posted in Philosophicalisticality, Rants, SL | 1 Comment

Every day’s a school day

Had a bit of a surprise the other day, when I discovered a menu option in the Firestorm viewer that I didn’t know was there. Surprising, because – after over 10 years of using Firestorm, and before that, Phoenix, and its predecessor, Emerald, and also being a bit of a geek – I never knew it was there. I’m not going to say what exactly it is, because I’m pretty sure you already know about it and quite possibly use it routinely, without thinking, and that’ll just make me feel a bit of a twit!

It’s not an option hidden away in the darker recesses of the Advanced or Developer menus, neither is it an arcane debug setting; it’s right there, hidden in plain sight, in the right-click pie menu (although, albeit, in the second layer), and I have absolutely no idea how I didn’t know it was there!

I suppose that’s one of the joys of SL, and the insanely complicated viewers that are used to access it, no matter how familiar you might be with using them, there’s always a strong chance that there’s some function or setting that you’re completely unaware of, often as a result of the uniquely personal way you choose to interact with the virtual world. And, from time to time, these little nuggets of information surface, and you’ll think to yourself, “How on earth didn’t I know about that?” Only recently, for example, I learned from a friend, (who, in turn, learned it from a scripting expert), that there are built-in notifications to alert you when someone enters and leaves the Region… Great for nosey people like me, and if you’re also curious about who else might be coming or going around you, you can find the option right there in the mini-map settings – it’s fun!

It tends to follow that the more varied your inworld experiences, the greater your understanding of viewer functionality. If all you ever do is shop and dance, then there are relatively few options that you’ll need in order to have a good time in SL. However, once you start taking photo’s, having a go at building, trying your hand at landscaping, or decide to go into business inworld, your need for ever-more tools, aids and options is going to grow exponentially, and – thankfully – if you know where to find them, everything you could possibly need is almost certainly buried away somewhere in the viewer, it’s just a case of finding it, learning how to use it and then, making it your faithful servant!

Unfortunately, the steep learning curve that is often criticised as a barrier to progression for those new to SL can also be just as steep for the experienced user trying to break into new areas of creativity and experience, particularly when you start exploring some of the more advanced functions and playing with debug settings… In many ways, SL is just too tweakable! Pretty much everything you see and experience inworld can be tailored to your own needs and preferences, whether it’s the parcel lighting, quality of graphics, or even the ability to freeze your avatar, speed up or slow down animations, or record a series of movements for playback later. There are tools specifically aimed at photographers, cinematographers, scripters and builders, yet it’s surprising just how few of them ever receive more than the most basic attention from those they could most benefit, leaving a whole universe of tweaks and improvements that never get adequately explored.

I suppose you really don’t have to if you don’t want to, after all, we’re here to have fun, right? And, learning a whole bunch of boring stuff to become a viewer power user sounds like a whole lot of effort when most people seem to get along just fine with the basics. Well yes, I can’t argue with that, but my experience has been that having that additional functionality at my fingertips has served to make SL a lot more enjoyable and allows me to explore what’s available inworld in ways that I’d otherwise miss out on.

However, that’s not to say that I’m not aware that there are gaps in my own acuity when it comes to the viewer. There are a number of things that come to others as second-nature that rarely, if ever, figure in my SL skillset. Using the mouse to operate the camera, for example: Apart from [ALT]+click to zoom, it’s rare that I’ll ever use the mouse to ‘look’ at anything; I know how, I just don’t, and because I don’t I’m really, really rubbish at it! Yet, it’s a function that much of the SL user base uses routinely without thinking. Similarly, I know there’s a whole range of photo settings that allow me to adjust depth of field, focus and a bunch of effects and environmental adjustments with which I could take amazing screenshots, but I never use them. It just doesn’t occur to me to use them, and because I don’t, by the time I’ve worked out where to find them and set everything up, the moment has passed.

My ‘Outfits’ folder is a mess, because I’ve never used it properly, I hardly ever use links for wearables, much less the ‘restore broken links’ option. I rarely employ the gesture explorer, even though I know how much easier it makes my life, and there’s probably hundreds of other settings, options and functions that I’ve either never bothered getting to grips with, have forgotten about, or I’m completely unaware they exist. Such is SLife!

Then again, I’m more than happy to user viewer hacks to do things that they were never designed to do – changing keybindings, adapting the space mouse settings so I can navigate SL with a joystick, adding a foot switch to take photo’s on the fly, creating custom icons and clouds and exporting prims as mesh, to form building blocks and a starting point for my own custom meshes… To be honest, it’s all pretty nerdy stuff that I wouldn’t recommend anyone tries, but hey, what’s that maxim again? ‘Your world, your imagination!’

I suppose it all boils down to using SL your way, but it frustrates me to see people struggling with the viewer or doing things the hard way, when I know that 90% of the time there’s a quicker, easier and better way to do it, already built-in. The trouble is, nobody ever thinks to ask, much less have a poke around in settings themselves to see what might be there.

So, give it a go, if nothing else, you’ll find some crazy stuff that you never knew was there!

s. x

Went to school and I was very nervous
No one knew me, no one knew me
Hello, teacher, tell me what’s my lesson
Look right through me, look right through me

Tears For Fears – Mad World

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

Get your kicks on Route… 9A?

I enjoy driving. As soon as I was able in my teens, I started driving lessons and I’ve never looked back. After passing my test, through an extensive and eclectic selection of cars, and numerous roadtrip adventures, I’ve been driving – and enjoying the experience – ever since. I love the freedom of the open road, and the joys of exploring both at home and abroad, without being compelled to follow itineraries and plans, or travel the well-worn routes determined by others, when other more interesting options are available.

Times have become harder for the motorist in recent years however, especially when it comes to driving for pleasure. With over-zealous traffic-calming measures and ridiculous speed limits in urban areas, fuel prices at an all-time high, and – in Britain – changes to the Highway Code that seem designed to increase uncertainty and potential accidents for all road users, rather than improve safety, there’s really not a lot in terms of pleasure that can be derived from getting behind the wheel any more.

However, moaning aside, at least in SL driving can still be pleasurable, although I’m always surprised at how few people actually seem to hit the virtual open road. There are, of course, first a few considerations that you need to take into account if you want to burn rubber inworld: Notably, not all vehicles are created equal. Some are an absolute dream to drive, whilst others are practically unmanageable – still, that’s all part of the fun, as far as I see it. Then, you have to find somewhere where you can first rez a vehicle and have sufficient roadway to enjoy driving it – most sims are just too small, and even those that have roads are often not constructed to be of any practical use for virtual traffic. However, the mainland is absolutely crammed with roads you can play on, and if you fancy a bit of offroading too, there are miles of abandoned and empty land that are just begging to be utilised! There is one huge drawback with mainland, however: Border crossings! Despite vast improvements to server handovers, you’ll still run into occasions where you’re unceremoniously dumped underground, whilst your vehicle has dissappeared into the ether, only to be returned the following day by an irate resident who’s found your 32-ton truck lodged halfway through their bedroom!

There is much to be appreciated from mainland driving though, if you’re willing to put up with the inconveniences. And, if you’re the sort who’ll happily splash out a few thousand bucks on a flashy virtual sports car, only to use it as a decorative item in your SL driveway, then it’s high time you charged up that battery, filled the tank, and took it for a spin – you’ll thank me for it, I promise you!

There’s a vast array of fun vehicles you can play with. In my virtual garage, I’ve everything from kiddie-cars to big rigs and military hardware, and I have hours of pleasure taking them all for a spin from time-to-time. They’re an enjoyable, quick and efficient way of getting the most in terms of sightseeing and exploring some of the lesser-know regions of SL. There’s a surprising amount to see, especially on the mainland, where the extensive road network can lead to a few surprises… Huge suspension bridges, undersea glass tunnels, snow-covered mountain passes, extreme roadworks, ferry crossings, quaint japanese village streets, viaducts with hidden roadways inside them, checkpoints leading to secret establishments, and olde worlde cart tracks! There’s also plenty of places to pause along the way, including stores, attractions, even museums, and a wealth of the quirky weirdness that crops up all over SL.

It doesn’t matter all that much if, like myself, you’re a pretty rubbish virtual driver. Apart from the embarrassment factor of driving in a permanently wiggly line, with the occasional diversion into the side of somebody’s house, you’re not going to cause a lot of harm, even if you’re the world’s worst, and with SL’s roads having so little traffic, the chances of a prang with another driver are pretty low too. I’ve driven for hours on occasion and never come across another road user, of any description, apart from the occasional automated bus or tour pod, and even with the relative popularity of GTFO in recent times, you’re still going to be unfortunate to run into other vehicles on your travels, which I reckon is a good thing… There are few things more frustrating than sitting in traffic going nowhere in RL, and I really don’t want to have to do so inworld too!

It seems to me that the nature of SL is slowly changing. When I first signed up, everybody wanted to explore and discover what the virtual world had to offer; some people even embarked on mammoth, cross-grid expeditions on foot, documenting their discoveries in blogs and online forums. Noobs would travel all-over to find money trees and their elusive fruits, and the allure of camping for lindens ensured a steady ebb and flow of travellers all over the Grid. However, today those enticements are things of the past, and so, apparently is exploring and travelling the highways and bi-ways of SL. It’s no longer cool to be an explorer, and for many, the entirety of SL is a small bubble of the same stores, events and venues that they visit and revisit, time and time again; anything further afield just doesn’t appear to exist for them. I’ve even known people to visit the same store or club for years, and yet remain completely oblivious to what might be present outside those four virtual walls.

When you consider the vastness of the virtual world that we have, and the amazing things you can find if you search them out, it’s a great shame that people don’t explore it as much as they used to. Perhaps it’s a matter of having the time to do so – after all, walking in SL is a slow process, and if you choose to fly instead, well you’re going to miss out on an awful lot. It seems to me that driving is the perfect happy medium: Faster than walking, but closer to the action than flying, and you can do it from the comfort and coolness of a flashy Italian sports car! Or, maybe if you’re more the Easy Rider type, perched on the saddle of a badass Hog! So, if you haven’t tried it before, why not give it a try?

And, if you’re not a fan of driving yourself, find someone who is… And ride shotgun instead!

s. x

Stay on these roads
We shall meet, I know
Stay on my love
We shall meet, I know
I know

A-ha – Stay On These Roads

Posted in RL, SL, Tales of the Road, Tour Guide | Leave a comment

Search me?

Ihave an enquiring mind, and because I do, I spend a great deal of my time investigating, probing, questioning and exploring, using whatever helpful tools may be at my disposal. I can often be found punishing multiple internet search engines and ruthlessly comparing results; poring over Google Maps and Earth; and seeking out the advice and experiences of others to inform my own understanding.

However, it’s a long-established principle of computing that rubbish in equals rubbish out, and that if the data you’re relying on is poor quality in the first place, the results you’re going to get will also be poor quality. Poor quality data can have many causes – a lack of information, erroneous knowledge, misguided helpfulness, and even saboteurism and disinformation. Just to get a feel of the outcomes of those scenarios, imagine you’re on the way to the airport, lost, and running late – would you want to ask for directions from someone whose knowledge fitted into one those categories?

We wouldn’t, of course, but unfortunately we’re often in situations where we have no choice and we have to rely on whatever sources of information we have available to us. Worse still, we have no real means of ascertaining the credibility of that information, other that just hoping it’s right.

There are however a few more criteria that can affect data quality that anyone familiar with SL will have found themselved frequently frustrated by: misrepresentation, poor design, and obfuscation. These are one of the ongoing banes of virtual living, costing us wasted time and a great deal of irritation. The misrepresentation and obfuscation is generated by SL residents, whilst the poor design – which, in part at least, facilitates those other problems, sits firmly in the hands of Linden Lab.

I’m specifically talking about the search functionality that the Lab has recently ‘improved’ – which apparently only stretches to cosmetics. Nothing has changed about how it works, or rather, doesn’t work. If there was ever something that really should work well for something as complex and extensive as a virtual world, it should surely be the one thing that enables people to find what they’re interested in, without hassle or fuss? Which is precisely what we don’t have for SL, either with general search or Marketplace.

Let’s start with the Marketplace, perhaps one of SL’s greatest assets, and certainly streets ahead of any other grid in terms of content and quantity, yet absolutely hopeless when it comes to finding whatever it is you’re looking to buy. The search categories are baffling, botht for buyers and vendors – even after 12 years, I still don’t know the difference between avatar accessories, appearance and components, or why hair is an accessory, but eyes, skin, tattoos and make-up are components, yet I can find all of those, along with complete avatars in avatar appearance. This is clearly because nobody else has any idea where they should go either, so it’s just an arbitrary choice and pot luck, basically. Then you have sub-categories in apparel for costumes, even though there are independant categories for ‘communities’ covering many of the same types of item, and what the heck are ‘Heaven & Hell costumes’?

The end result is not only confusion, but inconvenience for the shopper, who may have to search in multiple categories, just to find what they’re looking for. If only LL would curate or properly moderate their Marketplace, it would be a much simpler process, but they don’t – it’s left up to individual creators to set their own search metadata, and therein lies another problem – misinformation and obfuscation. Ever noticed how you can search for raincoats, and get pages of underwear; or search for traditional costumes and receive results for latex bondage gear and noodle carts? Yep, it’s rubbish, and entirely down to unscrupulous creators cramming every search term they can think of into their item descriptions, or assigning completely incorrect categories. They may consider it to be ‘marketing’, but to anyone searching MP, it’s a real pain in the butt!

Whilst we’re talking about pains in the butt, let’s ask why, when I exclude demo items from my search, I still get loads of demo items coming up? Well, once again it’s the fault of sellers who choose to bypass the filter by not specifying an item as demo, in a cynical attempt to take advantage of the search function. You can, of course, attempt a Boolean search, but this powerful tool is rendered pretty useless too, in the face of such shameless gaming of metadata.

Marketplace is fundamentally broken and really needs a complete revamp and rebuild to make it a meaningful and effective element of the SL experience.

Much of the same is true of general search, both web and inworld. What is the point of categories if the first few pages of every search result is filled with sex clubs and nude beaches? Why bother with a ‘places’ search, if half the results lead to non-existent landmarks? And, why rank results by traffic, rather than relevance, or even alphabetically, that way giving everyone equal opportunities, rather than piling up the most popular results at the beginning?

Search could be so much better if the Lindens were to invest a little more effort into really improving it, rather than just giving it a snazzy new interface, and – heaven forbid – if they took a look at it from the perspective of the end user! At the moment, I wouldn’t be surprised if most people simply don’t bother with search, because it just keeps bringing up the same old places and things, no matter what you look for, and the one thing that should be a logical extension of search – the world map – simply does none of the things that we’d want it to. I’d love to be able to click on any point on the map and have it bring up the location profile, but no, all I get is a button letting me visit the location: How do I know if I want to visit it, if you haven’t told me anything about it? Imagine if you could drop links, and images of locations on to the map, so that others could get a feel for what a place is like, just like Google Maps lets you? But, wait a minute, the map API is Google Maps, so why on earth can’t we have those functions? It defies reason.

So, searching for all those things we want to buy, would like to enjoy, or want to visit is a task only for those persistent, (or in my case, stubborn), enough to keep trying, despite the odds stacked against them… But what about that other element of search that each of us face with growing frustration almost every time we feel like changing our clothes?

We turn to the brooding horror of inventory search, and this time, the blame for the wholesale mental and emotional carnage it manages to inflict upon us sits squarely with content creators who, for some evil and unknown reason decide to make it as difficult as humanly possible for us to find those objects of desire we’ve splashed our hard-earned lindens on once they hit the morass of our bulging inventories. ‘Not a problem’, we think, scrolling down to the letter Cs in our ‘Summer Dresses’ folder, confident that we can easily find that lovely little number we picked up from ‘Chatterbox Fashion’… But it’s nowhere to be found, because some twit thinks that it’s cute, clever or cutting edge, to spell their store’s name with a variety of idiotic unicode characters, presumably so that it stands out amongst all those other dull and boring, alphabetic names, when in point of fact, it’s doing the exact opposite!

I am never going to think to search for ֍࿈࿇ ©hatterbox Fashion ࿇࿈֍ when looking for that pair of socks I fancy wearing, because I don’t speak blooming symbols! Neither, if your store is called Chatterbox Fashion, do I understand the logic of labelling every folder and its contents as ‘CF’. If you don’t like typing your store name, then don’t expect me to make up for your deficiencies.

Oh, and whilst we’re talking about labelling, how about including a clue as to what we’re looking at in the name. If I’ve searched for ‘Blue’, how on earth am I supposed to know what ‘Emily in blue’ is? Is it a dress, a pair of shoes, a skirt, a content creator’s expiring corpse gasping for air as I dangle it from a noose? Give me a clue! It’s easy… ‘Emily Dress in blue’ – simple!

I think I should stop there, before my blood pressure becomes cause for alarm!

Although, now that I’ve written this, it does make sense of a few things that have puzzled me for a while. I think I now understand why so many people never seem to go anywhere in SL and are always wandering around half-naked… It’s because they can never find anywhere to go, or anything to wear, and have decided it’s simply easier just to stay put as they are, rather than foolishly attempt to try and use search!

s. x

I believe in the Kingdom Come
Then all the colors will bleed into one
Bleed into one
But yes I’m still running

U2 – I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For

Posted in Rants, RL, SL | 2 Comments

Generation X

Aging is a funny old thing. As a youngster, we want to be grown-up, and look foward to being older and knowing more about the world; birthdays are fun and occasions to be looked foward to and celebrated, and it seems that life is full of excitement and interest.

Over time, as we grow older, we see a reversal of our feelings occurring: We look back on our childhood with fondness and wish we could hold back the advancing years, birthdays become markers of growing older – something we’d rather not think about, and less of a celebration, than an unwanted reminder than we’re not getting any younger. Life loses some of its gloss and mystery, becomes more predictable and less interesting, and the future never looks quite as rosy as it did when seen through youthful eyes.

Today is my birthday. It’s not a notable or ‘special’ one, just another notch on life’s bedpost, confirming that I’ve survived the ravages of another 12 months, and a reminder that it’s time to rinse and repeat, all over again for the next 12. I’m not particularly distressed or depressed about it – but it does cause me a little concern that I seem to have reached an age when – if asked that irritating question, ‘what do you want for your birthday?’ – there is absolutely nothing that comes to mind. When my sister asked me that question last week, I was determined to come up with a decent answer, rather than just ‘errrmm…’ and I spent a good hour poring over the pages of Amazon trying to spot something that I’d really like, but all to no avail. That’s rather disappointing, don’t you think? All the more so, because now I’ll inevitably be the recipient of at least one book I’ll never read, chocolates I really shouldn’t eat, or some sort of ornament or home decor that will have to be placed on display, but which I would never have entertained buying for myself in a million years!

I’m not ungrateful. Just getting old and grumpy!

To be fair, I’m glad that I’m not younger, (or older, for that matter!), 10-15 years either way and I think I would have missed out on the best period in recent times to grow up in. A little older and I’d have been a ‘Boomer’, which although would have seen me exposed to the joys of psychadelia and being a free spirit, I really don’t think I’d have fitted in, and then to be thrust thereafter as a young adult into the austerity of the 70s, along with Cold War fears and a somewhat grey and unappetising world, isn’t something I’d have relished. As for more recent times, who’d want to be a Millennial, all wrapped-up in cotton-wool, and full of entitlement and misplaced attitude? No thanks!

Fortunately, I grew up during the remarkable sweet spot in between those two periods that saw me able to thoroughly enjoy the late 1970s through to the 90s as my formative years. Yes, I’m a proud and fully paid-up member of Generation-X, and I consider myself extremely lucky to be part of it. We, hands-down, had the best music: From the tail-end of proper punk, denim-clad heavy metal bands and grunge, all the way through to new wave and some of the greatest and most enduring music that’s ever graced the pop scene. We enjoyed the first pioneering days of digital entertainment, and the excitement of the birth of the internet, and nobody cared that unemployment and interest rates were sky-high, apart from our parents, because we had cheap Special Vat cider! Political correctness hadn’t been invented, and women’s lib, meant that Sarah Jane Smith had more ballsy roles and less screaming in Doctor Who, although – thankfully – there was never any chance that the Doctor himself would ever grow boobs! (How times have changed).

Happy days indeed, and a time that I probably appreciate far more now, than I ever did when I was growing up through it. In comparison, the world today is a lot less colourful and very bland: Everything today mirrors everything else, we’ve become a cookie-cutter, McDonaldised, watered-down version of society, where everything appears in muted tones, and any sharp edges and rough surfaces have been smoothed-out, for our own protection. Everything is standardised, categorised and stabilised, practically euthanised! Originality and creativity are frowned upon, and everything feels very, very safe boring.

Today’s world is one where rock concerts are viewed through an iPhone held shakily aloft, photographs are meaningless, unless duck-pouting selfies or following meaningless trends mimicking the latest nonsensical viral meme. Whilst ‘news’ is filtered through the lens of censorship, popular opinion and ‘mother-knows-best’ pseudo-mentality. Cars are grey and shapeless, silent and follow routes planned by satelite… Safe, unadventurous, on-time and with no interesting diversions with all their potential for discovery and exploration.

Perhaps that’s why growing older is such a disappointment to a Gen-Xer? The world today pretty much sucks. Yet we grew up during a time of hope and imagination – the future we dreamed of was exciting and visionary; the music that accompanied it was daring and mould-breaking. We wanted cyberpunk… And instead, we’ve got spam! When we look back, we see how things could have been, and we wonder where it all went horribly wrong?

Small wonder that so many Gen-X refugees find solace in SL. Here, at least, is a world that still dares to dream, where innovation, diversity and creativity are valued, and where any one of us can explore as far as our imaginations dare to take us. This is the future we expected, this is the cyberpunk that was promised, this is Snowcrash, Neuromancer and Otherland smashed together and on a collision course with the unholy offspring of Bladerunner and The Fifth Element! It’s just that, somehow, the rest of the world never caught on, so we happy few, the rag-tag, yet glorious band of escapees from reality, we dreamers, ensconced and terminally embedded in our little niche virtual world are quite definitely in the minority… But how fortunate, how utterly blessed, are we?

I feel for those unfortunates born too early, or too late to be part of Generation X, I don’t think they can ever truly appreciate what that means for those who are in Team X. In the same way, those avatars inworld who joined bearing the name ‘Resident’ can never really understand the allure of those old-fashioned second names, and the sense of belonging to something bigger that they gave us. I suppose, like ‘Nam, they simply won’t ever really understand… ‘You weren’t there man!’

Traditionally, one receives gifts for one’s birthday, but today here’s a gift from me to you. Pick it up on Marketplace for free, and if you’re one of us (and even if you’re not), put it proudly on display to proclaim your impeccable heritage!

And finally, according to Judas Priest, you don’t have to be old to be wise, and I guess I’m not that old really. So, perhaps you’ll take this pearl of wisdom from a mere ‘youngster’ to heart: However old you may be, whenever you happened to grow up, appreciate and treasure it because nobody knows what the future holds, but you’ll always have your past.

s. x

Identity
Identity is the crisis, can’t you see?
Identity, identity

X-Ray Spex – Identity

Posted in Musicality, Neon Dreamz, Philosophicalisticality, Rants, RL, SL | 1 Comment

$999!

Awise accountant once told me that we pay for those things that we value. If we see no value in something, or perceive something as overpriced, we’ll pass on by.

This is something that Linden Lab really need to appreciate, since they are running the risk of pricing themselves out of the market in some respects, and are definitely failing to understand their core user base. Let’s put aside, on this occasion at least, the ridiculously expensive (and needlessly complicated) land tier system, which is long overdue for a complete overhaul and simplification, if they ever want to attract more people to aspire to land ownership on mainland – instead, I want to consider the Lab’s latest offering in the arena of private regions.

First, let’s get the congratulatory stuff out of the way. Well done Labbies, for recognising some of the flaws that have always caused issues in SL, and using your new-found, cloud-based, Amazon webbiness to find some clever solutions. So, ten out of ten for creativity… Minus several million for coming up with a sensible approach to implementing it.

I’m talking about the all-new, sparkly and shiny, Event Regions. Yes, finally the Lab has tackled the annoying problems experienced when you bring together a massive number of avatars, (OK, technically a maximum of 100, but usually 40, so not so massive, really), in a single region, all of them wearing billion-triangle mesh bodies, performance is going to take a huge hit. Anyone who’s been to a shopping event, expo, or SLB will have experienced the joys of being unable to move, surrounded by a mass of curry-cloud companions, whilst your hair hovers somewhere in the air off to one side and your clothes stubbornly refuse to even think about rezzing, will appreciate the problems that large-scale gatherings pose for SL; and so… Event Regions.

These all-new private islands allow an extra 75 avatars, 10k extra primmage, and a few other bells and whistles including ‘white glove concierge service’ – whatever that is (presumably, a step up from the ‘latex glove, bend over and brace yourself service’ the Lab normally offers!). All of this, with a promise that you’ll get improved performance, (unless you happen to be using all those extra prims, in which case, you probably won’t).

Wow. How cool is that? Just one small thing, how much is that going to cost me?

Well, let’s skip the – month of June only – ‘cheap’ introductory offer: Most events are months in the planning and preparation, so won’t be in a position to take advantage of this until it’s at its normal full price, which is just US$999 set up fee, and a mere US$899 every month thereafter.

How much?

Yep, only triple the cost of a normal full region to set up, and over four times the monthly cost to keep it running… And those aren’t linden dollars, that’s real hard cash, and a disconcertingly large amount of the green, folding stuff at that.

Who on earth at the Lab thought this was a bargain, and one that will entice event organisers in their hoardes to part with all their profits just to have a bit less lag? Let’s face it, anybody with a grain of common sense would have shot that idea down in flames without any hesitation. Nobody in their right mind will be paying that sort of cash for land, and here’s why:

Let’s imagine a typical conversation at Sexy Themed Clothing Events Inc as they plan their next inworld expo…

Sexybeach Resident: ‘So, there’s these new Event Regions. Gonna cost us, like megabucks and completely wipe out our profits, but hey, no lag, extra prims, white gloves… Whaddya think?’
Beachsexy Resident: ‘Are our existing regions always rammed, but people keep trying until they get in, anway?’
Sexybeach Resident: ‘Yep’
Beachsexy Resident: ‘Are they laggy as hell, but the punters still come?’
Sexybeach Resident: ‘Yep’
Beachsexy Resident: ‘Any creators bugging us for more prims, so they can make even more lag?’
Sexybeach Resident: ‘Nope’
Beachsexy Resident: ‘And they don’t cost us a grand a month?’
Sexybeach Resident: ‘Nope’
Beachsexy Resident: ‘I say, we stick with the deal we’ve got, and rake in the profits.

Like I said: Perceived value.

What baffles me is the thought process behind such massive fees in the first place. What do the Lab think they’re selling here? It’s literally just a little bit of space on a hard disk, and a few inconsequential maintenance costs on top; it’s not like they’re selling real land, studded with gold nuggets and vast quantities of buried treasure!

I can’t help thinking that maybe the Lindens have managed to get caught up in the metaverse virtual land explosion hype, where chunks of virtual real estate are apparently being bought and sold for thousands, even millions, if the stories are to be believed. However there’s a huge difference between ‘virtual worlds’ which have been set up (almost certainly) as vehicles for large-scale laundering of highly volatile crypto-currency, and good ol’ SL, where all land is ultimately owned by Linden Lab and is merely a convenient solid surface to dump a store on… But, clearly the Lab have a completely misguided understanding of their own commodities and on this occasion I predict, with a high degree of confidence, will end up with yet another virtual product gathering dust on the shelf.

Now, I don’t dabble in other virtual worlds – proper ones, that is, as opposed to those of the ilk of Decentraland and Sandbox – but I’m also pretty confident that there’s nothing else out there comparable to SL that comes even remotely close to charging the sort of sums that the Lab is asking for here, and I really don’t understand why the Lindens are seemingly blind to this fact. So, a word of advice that the new CMO at the Lab should really focus hard on: Come on, guys, get with the programme, won’t you? How about being reasonable for once? What about some competitive pricing that incentivises people to invest in land, explore their creativity and make the most of the virtual world? I, for one, would love to have more land to play with, but my budget is already maxxed out, and that’s purely down to the obscene cost of land inworld that estate owners are forced to pass on to their tenants. If land was more competetively priced, more people could afford it and the economy would receive a huge boost.

If you’re still unconvinced, just pick a random mainland spot on the map and count how many abandoned parcels proliferate in almost every region; how about the thousands of parcels up for sale for years on end, with nobody ever buying? Bring down the land prices, chaps, and just watch how that changes.

Or, on the other hand, you could just introduce a new type of region, and price yourself out of the market with it. Your world, your choice.

s. x

I’ve got the brains
You’ve got the looks
Let’s make lots of money

The Pet Shop Boys – Opportunities (Let’s Make lots Of Money)

Posted in Events, Rants, SL | 2 Comments