SLazy days

slothI’m writing this on a bank holiday – one of those infrequent occasions that most people look forward to with a degree of relish, but which for as long as I can remember I have personally found something of a drag, if not something that I don’t look forward to at all. Who doesn’t like bank holidays, you might ask… A day off work, time to chill and relax, and generally make the most of the opportunity? Well, me actually.

After much reflection, I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m something of a workaholic. Not that I have any problem with switching off the phone, ignoring the emails and completely putting work to the back of my mind when I’m off the clock; that isn’t my problem. Where I’m not so good is taking a proper break – for many years, (to the irritation of my managers), I’ve not taken my full allowance of annual leave, at times only taking half the days I should be enjoying over the course of a year – it’s something that simply doesn’t cross my mind and the only time I’m likely to take a week off is when I’m told I have to, or that nagging feeling that I really am about to hit the overwork wall starts niggling me. Even then, I often waste the opportunity, rarely doing much that’s productive or worthwhile and spending an awful lot of that hard-earned free time thinking “I really should be doing something”, then getting annoyed with myself when I’m faced with the realisation I’ve just effectively wasted a week off. In the past, when I’ve not had only my own interests to consider, I’ve found myself immersed in horrendous arguments, simply because ‘you can never decide what to do when we have the day off!’

And that’s just the occasions when I’m able to take time off when I pretty much want to – bank holidays are far worse: They feel like an imposition, forced upon me, with no choice but to comply. I find myself faced with the prospect of a random empty day, during which I know I’ll do nothing worthwhile, won’t go anywhere – why bother, everyone’s on holiday – and will feel it’s been a complete waste of a day.

quiet spot_001That is, until fairly recently, when the realisation has started to dawn that there’s nothing actually that wrong with spending a day doing nothing; that pottering about, randomly re-arranging ornaments, drinking a million cups of tea, and watching rubbish Youtube compilation videos is an OK thing to do, and not something about which one should beat oneself up over. I suppose I’ve always been the sort of person for whom inactivity and idleness feels wrong, I need to be doing ‘things’, and when there’s nothing to be done and nowhere that needs to be gone, I get nervous and fidgety… it’s one of the very few things in life than can cause me to feel stressed.  However, that feeling is starting to fade and today I feel far more comfortable about being busy doing nothing.

Maybe it’s indicative of the way of life that many of us are compelled to lead, that we feel such a strong need to employ our free time in ways that are worthwhile, almost to the point we have to work at making every last minute count. How many times, for example, has that guilty feeling come upon you after spending ‘far too long’ in SL, that you really should be logging-out and doing something more important and productive? Even worse, how many times have you felt yourself at a loose end inworld, and become annoyed at yourself for not making the most of that time whilst you’re logged in? (No? Must just be me then!)

sleep1_001It’s this latter point that, perversely, I find far easier to deal with than I do faced with a similar situation in RL. Stuck with the prospect of a whole bank holiday stretching out in front of me, I may go into shock, panic-stricken at not having any plans and getting angry with myself for not coming up with any ideas about how to fill the time – however, faced with a couple of hours inworld, and no idea what I can do to make the most of them, I have no problem at all with just hanging around, doing nothing in particular. I may try on a few new clothes, make a half-hearted attempt to tidy up my inventory, throw a few prims around before giving up and deleting them, or even simply just sit around or loiter without intent inworld. It’s odd, but in the one environment that should be super-stimulating and productive, I’m perfectly happy to do naff all, and – to all intents – waste time.

But that’s just fine. If there’s one place that I really don’t want to have to plan, be organised and have to fall into routines and set tasks, it’s that one place that I head off to when that precious time in RL allows me sufficient leeway to escape to the virtual world. It’s a place I don’t have to be doing anything, and that is fine by me.

s. x

But I don’t mind
As long as there’s a bed beneath the stars that shine
I’ll be fine
If you give me a minute
A mans got a limit
I cant get a life if your hearts’ not in it
Oasis – The Importance Of Being Idle

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

Behind the times?

unfashionIf this were an SL fashion blog, it would be a complete disaster! To begin with, I have absolutely no interest in reviewing the designs and latest styles churned out by the fashion houses of the virtual world – which, I’m guessing is pretty much a pre-requisite of the job! I don’t even read SL fashion blogs, if I can help it. Then there’s my often too honest approach to saying what I think: I have no qualms at all about being blunt when I think something is crap or downright ugly, which again would probably not endear me to the SL rag trade, who – almost without exception, if you do read the aforementioned blogs – apparently never put a foot wrong when it comes to style, panache and trendsetting. Then there’s my complete inability to keep tabs on what I’m wearing – it appears to be the law, (even with non-fashion, non-review sites), that any picture must be accompanied by an exhaustive list of every single item of clothing, skin, hair and accessory worn, together with SLurl, price, inside leg measurement, Windlight setting, time of day, mood, and whatever the reviewer had for breakfast that morning. Most of the time, I have absolutely no idea where half the stuff I’m wearing came from!

And, just for a moment, let’s consider those glowing, perfectly composed, airbrushed to within an inch of their SLife images… Sorry, but ain’t nobody got time for that! (I lie… Many bloggers evidently do have the time, inclination and talent for that. I don’t!).Nothing against fashion bloggers and blogs – they have role to play, but it’s one that I’m quite definitely not cut out for.

There is another reason why I’d make a rubbish fashionista… My avatar is not exactly what you might call cutting-edge when it comes to current trends in fashion.

My skin – wait for it – is 2003 vintage; I still possess and regularly wear non-mesh clothing that I’ve owned almost from day one of joining SL; I own a huge number of shoes designed to be worn with, the now hopelessly broken, invisiprims, (but they work just as well with a well-fitted alpha mask). I have no mesh body parts whatsoever, which causes me to frequently boycott stores that only cater for Slink feet, hands and whatever else of that ilk it’s possible to wear; I have no idea how appliers work; I own more flexi hair than meshy hair and, although it’s far from perfect, nothing will induce me to part with my slider-crafted shape. From a fashion perspective, I am stuck in the digital equivalent of the Dark Ages!

sm2_001I don’t think I look all that shabby. I may be running round in the SL equivalent of jumble sale cast-offs, but in the main I think I manage to carry off ‘presentable’ fairly well – people don’t give me strange looks on buses, mothers don’t drag their prim kids to the other side of the street to avoid me, and babies don’t burst into tears at the mere sight of me. In all my time in SL, only two people have ever criticised my appearance – and I do realise I’m probably inviting disaster here – the first time was from an incredibly helpful and, alas long-forgotten, avatar who gave me – a complete noob – a telling off for looking grotty, then spent well over an hour introducing me to the joys of quality freebies, AOs and attention to detail, that turned me from a diaster to a halfway decent avatar. I’m still grateful to them after all these years, and the skin that they introduced me too, which I’m still wearing now, is testament to their good taste – well, I think so, anyway. The second attempted avatar ‘upgrade’ wasn’t nearly so successful: My critic managed to turn me from halfway decent to gaudy freak, and at a not-inconsiderable cost too! That’s the last time I’ll ever change my inworld appearance to please anyone. When I saw the result on screen, I actually cried in RL!

I realise we have to move with the times and take advantage of whatever new advances come our way, and I’m no luddite when it comes to doing so. I do wear mesh clothing frequently, I think it looks great for the most part, but I still get irritated when it alters my shape. I have no problem with people wanting to look good, and some do look stunning with all the enhancements and improvements that are available to avatars today, but there’s a thrifty part of me that rebels against the thought of all that perfectly good stuff confused12_001residing inside my inventory with years of life left in it, which progress says I should be consigning to the trash can. I really wouldn’t like to think about how much I’ve spent on clothes over the years, not to mention the freebies, gifts, hunt items and miscellaneous whatnots that I’ve collected and which now form my virtual wardrobe and ‘body shop’ – to throw them away, simply because fashion dictates them to be ‘so last season’, or not the ‘happening’ trend, is not something I can find myself easily doing. Why get rid of something that is perfectly serviceable and does the job that it’s intended to do?

I know that there will always be those who want the latest, most up-to-date and trendy goodness, but to say that it’s superior to what went before is – to my mind – short-sighted and not necessarily true. If, for example, I decide my system feet are so ugly I never want to see them again, then I’m effectively also deciding that the only shoes I will ever wear in future will be high, medium or flat – no options for any deviation, playfulness (yes, I have been known to wear clown shoes!), or the ability just to slip any pair of shoes on I want, without also having to remove my feet too. Perhaps I’m missing something here, but system feet may well be ugly, but boy are they flexible too.

You may accuse me of being stuck in the past and change-averse, nothing could be further from the truth, but I’d also like to think I’m pretty savvy when it comes to using the resources I have and getting the most from them, it may not mean that I’m the most up-to-date and fashionable avatar in SL, but that’s true for RL as well!

s. x

I wear your granddad’s clothes
I look incredible
I’m in this big ass coat
From that thrift shop down the road
Macklemore & Ryan Lewis – Thrift Shop

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SL skilled

skillAt the time of writing, I’m around three-quarters of the way through, what has been a somewhat challenging, but nevertheless enjoyable building project. Almost all the actual building has been completed and I’ve reached what I’ve sideways considered to be the most difficult phase – texturing all that plywood.

I don’t know how others go about this critical aspect of building – do you treat it like a plastic model kit, ‘painting’ the various components before assembly? Do you throw textures onto surfaces haphazardly, whenever you feel the need to get artistic? Do you slap textures on with a broad brush as you go along, then fine tune later? We all have our own particular method, and I don’t think there’s a ‘proper’ way to do things: As long as it works for you, it’s all good!

Myself, I tend to decorate my interiors first, leaving any fiddly bits for later, then exteriors, and finally it’s back to those trickier elements, to finish off. Often I’ll use stock textures, or knock up some simple designs of my own; when I have to, I’ll make the effort and put together something a little more complex, but the truth is, I’m no expert. I’m pretty good at manipulating photos, and I’m pretty nifty when it comes to finding my way around Photos hope, but when it comes to creating decent, realistic textures from scratch, that’s another thing entirely.

Sometimes however, there’s no choice. This particular build demands a large number of bespoke, original textures, and I’ve had no choice but to bite the bullet and start from scratch on most of them.

The writer’s nemesis is the pristine blank page, but that is nothing in comparison to the empty base layer you face when creating a texture from nothing! Mostly I’ve been working from photographs – not the best photos either – weird angles, dodgy colours, poor contrast, and a large number of them monochrome, almost all focusing on people rather than the building I’m interested in. And, of course, architects and designers don’t have SL creators in mind when they do their thing: they add frills and filigree, unique little touches that are almost impossible to replicate from a faded old photograph – I think they do it just to be awkward! Neither does nature help – all those shadows, weathering and subtle touches… It can be a nightmare.

However, I’ve learned a lot as I’ve struggled to get to grips with my little project. I’ve been forced to experiment with unfamiliar Photoshop tools and settings to get the results I’m looking to achieve, rather than simply using those I’m familiar with in the same familiar ways I’m used to, and it’s been a really interesting experience. I’ve learned techniques through trial and error that I would probably never have mastered otherwise, and I’ve discovered how to do things that, until now, have always previously eluded me. And, finding that I can achieve more than I supposed, has spurred me on to push further – so this will be the first materials-enabled build I’ve created, featuring both specular and normal mapping of my textures. I’m rather proud of this little achievement!

pshopIt’s one of the hidden benefits that digging that little bit deeper into SL can realise. Most of us have dabbled at a basic level, but there comes a point where we want to do something more – relying on other people’s work and efforts feels like cheating, or simply doesn’t fit the bill, and so we’re forced to go it alone, learn new skills and put them to use in order to achieve our aims. I imagine this is how many people develop their inworld skills – and often skills that are eminently transferable too. I’m guessing that relatively few of us join SL fully equipped with a skillset that will work to our advantage… These are things that only develop after we start to mature as virtual citizens. I’m sure that many 3D modelers, scripters, virtual designers, and inworld entrepreneurs either learn – from necessity or a desire to be creative – new skills and abilities, whilst others find that SL provides a perfect environment to build on and hone existing skills to meet the challenges that SL sets.

Certainly, I know that SL has encouraged me to become adept at things that i’d never have attempted in RL and I’ve picked up skills that I can apply outside the remit of the virtual environment, and for that I’m extremely grateful, but the best thing about it is that it’s been a whole lot of fun along the way!

I’m heading back into Photoshop now to tackle some more textures, but it’s no longer as daunting as it once was… Just as writing about SL means that the blank page is no longer something I face with trepidation, I’m starting to feel the same way about that blank base layer too!

s. x

I wanna see it painted, painted black
Black as night, black as coal
I wanna see the sun blotted out from the sky
I wanna see it painted, painted, painted, painted black
The Rolling Stones – Paint It Black

Posted in Builder's bum, Philosophicalisticality, RL, SL | 2 Comments

4D… OK!

ttravelIn my last post I considered SLife in the fourth dimension – a prospect that holds no real appeal for me and one which makes me feel a little queasy, if I’m honest. However, they do say there’s more than one way to skin a kettle, and what with all the uncertainty about what, where and who all these extra dimensions might be, I think there is at least some room for conjecture. Which is why I fully intend to contradict what I said previously regarding time.

Perhaps, as most people would suggest, time is in fact a strong candidate for being dimension number 4, and thankfully it’s also a concept that few of us have any difficulty in either understanding or dealing with. Few, if any of us, would argue that time cannot be plotted as a axis: It has a negative value – the past, and a positive value – the future; and where those two points meet, we have a nice big, fat zero – the here and now, or ‘present’, to give it the appropriate scientific term. The only major difference between our X, Y and Z axes is that when we plot a point against those, our coordinates remain constant, whereas the coordinates for any static point plotted against our time axis must be variables, since our point remains static, relative to the axis which is already travelling forwards, meaning that our coordinates suggest our point is, perversely, travelling backwards! Introduce a moving point and things become even more complicated, since both the axis and coordinates will be increasing at different rates, (and our point, relatively speaking, will be travelling into the past), unless we’re travelling at the same rate as time, in which case, everything is constant! Since travelling faster than time, or backwards through time is impossible, I’m not even going to go there! Simple.

So, yes, time can certainly be considered to be the fourth Dimension, even if it is a teeny bit bonkers.

usn6_001Unlike spatial dimensions, with which computers have no problem but people can struggle, computers aren’t so happy when it comes to time, whereas people have no problem with it, (unless the trains aren’t running on time). Computers – as opposed to commuters, who quite definitely do understand the nuances of time, especially when their trains are running late – really don’t understand time at all, they have no concept of the passing of time – as can be evidenced by them being completely unphased by messages that send us into a cold sweat, like Transferring files: 1 year, 8 months remaining’. For a computer to even cope with time, it has to first convert it into something mathematical – once it’s done that, it’s perfectly happy to tick away the microseconds until the end of time itself, but it’s rarely that simple. To begin with, we have to tell a computer what the time is, and explain to it how time works – ‘when the big hand is on the 2, and the little hand is on the 12, it’s time to make a cup of tea’. However, we have to cater for the built-in stupidity that every microprocessor is born with, if we miss something we end up with ridiculous situations like the world ending at the turn of the millennium, planes falling out of the sky because there’s too many zeroes in the date, and iPhone owners getting emails from 1970.

Despite these difficulties, computers have been handling time fairly happily since well before the first glowing red Casio LED watches appeared on people’s wrists in the early ’70s, (presumably those able to afford one sent emails to their friends’ iPhones to brag about it, albeit delivery was a bit delayed), and marking the passage of time in a virtual environment is nothing new. Starting with simple timers against which gamers would frenetically punch buttons, desperate to finish a level before the dreaded ‘Game Over’ legend appeared, and gradually progressing to those more sophisticated methods marking the passage of time. I was for a while completely addicted to Zoo Tycoon – one of the few things ever made by Micro$oft that I’d pay money for – what appealed most to me was the way that the passage of time was marked in a (fairly) authentic manner. Over time, animals would give birth and become overcrowded, fences would decay and fail, enclosures would require maintenance and poop would build up to monumental levels. It felt real, and that made it extremely compelling.

I can’t help feeling that SL should include similar environmental functionality – something that could be turned on or off and managed under estate tools perhaps. I think it could be quite fun to have buildings that weathered and decayed over time, roads that developed potholes with age, and plants and animals that flourish naturally (without the need to talk to them, feed or otherwise lavish large sums on them to stop them pining) – essentially a 4-dimensional environment, moving through time in a natural progression.

rebourne prefabs5_001What would be equally awesome would be to have the ability to accelerate, slow down, or stop the inworld progression of time; save at your favourite point and have the facility to return to that state at will. Just think, you could build a castle from which to rule your virtual domain, age it a thousand years, and then explore the ruins, before reverting back to the way it was before, just in time for the night’s big feast. Alternatively, you might want to let your creations age naturally, gaining the patina of time and that hint of realism that is so often missing from from the things we build.

Maybe you disagree, but I think it could be fun, although it’s unlikely to ever happen… Yet, surely all it would take is a few clever algorithms, maybe a bit of scripting and perhaps a time-enabled viewer, and bingo! Four dimensional SL – awesome!

s. x

I have to roam, I’ve got no home
My mind is blown the truth is unknown
Time has come, time has come today
Angry Samoans – Time Has Come Today

Posted in Philosophicalisticality, RL, SL | Leave a comment

4D… OD?

dimensionWhen you consider that we live in a three-dimensional world, we are nonetheless pretty adept at representing a whole range of both actual and abstract constructs by employing fewer than the three dimensions that come more naturally to us.

We have little problem with expressing and employing two-dimensional concepts in everyday life – from maps and plans, to spreadsheets and crosswords, perceiving things in X and Y planes is something that few of us will struggle with. As for perceiving aspects of the world around us in a single dimension – whilst this may be more difficult for us to visualise mentally – it is something our brains do routinely and effortlessly. We are quite capable of appreciating the one-dimensional nature of a television picture, for example, without getting at all confused about its lack of depth; cats and dogs, on the other hand, are pretty clueless in this regard, and will happily chase a ball thrown into the distance on the screen, only to emerge puzzled at being unable to find it lying somewhere behind the TV.

Naturally, we are far more comfortable with three dimensional space – it is, after all, our natural state – and we take great pains to create the illusion, or capability, of 3D wherever this is perceived to be useful. Human beings have always depended on physical, three-dimensional, models to make sense of the world – whilst, for example a medical illustration of a body’s internal organs may be useful, a 3D physical model is a significantly more useful tool for a surgeon to understand where to make the crucial cut, and there is evidence of such models being employed as far back as medieval times.

With the advent of computers, we gained the means to create virtual models: 3-dimensional models on a 2-dimensional screen, viewed in one dimension… Crazy stuff! This is something that computers are extremely good at doing – because, although we are very good at comprehending three dimensions, human beings are not so well-equipped to undertake the crazily difficult and repetitive calculations that 3D modelling demands – even a simple virtual representation of a static 3-dimensional object is insanely complex because what we see will necessarily have to be completely redrawn every time our perceived position, relative to that object, alters. As the eye of the beholder moves through the X, Y and Z axes, so the object must change to reflect that changing viewpoint. Now throw in a complex 3D object that itself is moving through a 3-dimensional space, relative to a moving observer, and we are talking millions of calculations that need to be performed at ridiculously high speed, if anything is going to appear at all realistic! It’s no wonder that for many years computer games relied on wireframe graphics or the traditional platform format, rather than full-blown 3D!

3D however is now firmly established, and is far better than we might have ever imagined. With 3D headsets on the horizon we’re about to take another leap forward… But, has the death knell for 3D already sounded? Is the spectre of a fourth dimension already knocking on the virtual door?

There’s nothing new about pondering a fourth dimension, back in 1884 Edwin Abbott in his remarkable, (and for today’s audiences, insanely politically incorrect), story ‘Flatland’, competently posited and explained a theoretical additional dimension, and went further to suggest the existence of a possible fifth, sixth and even a seventh beyond that. We now know, of course, that there are actually eleven dimensions – ably explained by this bloke who lives just down the road from me, using an electric guitar, helium and bricks!

quiet spot1_001Most people, when asked to consider a fourth dimension will probably speak of ‘time’, and whilst that’s a perfectly respectable and arguably correct thesis, it’s also not strictly – mathematically speaking – a plane or dimension in the same sense as X,Y and Z. Competent though we humans may be at visualising data relating to one, two or three dimensions, when it comes to anything over and above that, our brains tend to nip off for a stiff drink, refusing to come back until we’ve come to our senses and returned to contemplating the real world instead. Computers however, relish such things, and it seems that we could soon start to see a new generation of virtual exploring that takes us into realms that previously we couldn’t even visualise. Whether or not they’ll achieve any measure of success is debatable, because frankly, the whole concept makes my head hurt! But, you decide – ladies, gentlemen, furries and others, I give you Miegakure!

If you’re a sucker for punishment, and your brain hasn’t yet turned to jelly, you might like to understand the process that lies behind this – clever, but it will turn you temporarily insane – check it out here.

Personally, I really don’t think we’re ready yet for 4D platforms: Let’s take an existing 3D platform that we know fairly well… SL, for example. Even in three dimensions, our virtual world can become ridiculously complex, perhaps more so than even RL – after all, most of us don’t really have to think about what’s happening in the sky in the real world, whereas inworld, we probably spend a fair amount of time poking around up there. Even if we stay on the ground it can be tricky – after nearly six years, I still manage to walk into doorposts, fall off stairs and get stuck underneath buildings – only last week, I managed to embed myself upside-down, gently spinning inside a wall, to the great amusement of those around me – and I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one who regularly has these experiences. Now, let’s imagine 4D SL: A world in which we can step outside the 3-dimensional box into a wholly different, but sort of familiar plane, take a jump to the left, and step back in to the more familiar world at a different point. Not only would that become completely and utterly confusing, but it would also require designers, builders and landscapers to think in four dimensions when putting together their parcels and content… Just imagine being given a plot of land and trying to design something that looks good, achieves what you want it to, but also allows anybody visiting to be able to step into another dimension of it at will and experience something completely different, but complementary to the original. That way, madness lies – and, if you did watch the second video, you may have noticed a key point that was made: The world of Miegakure is created procedurally, by computers, simply because human beings cannot do it.

doomedship1_001So, any 4D virtual world could be user-conceived, but would have to be procedurally generated, and unlike a tightly-controlled and finite gaming environment, would have to be scaled up to encompass a much more diverse and massive world than what is envisaged. How many more server farms would that take? How much more processing power? How much more expense?

Even if those technical problems could be resolved, I still don’t think we’ll ever see a 4-dimensional virtual world of the SL kind ever coming to fruition – us human beings are just not conditioned to think in that way, and although it might be fun and challenging to dip into the occasional 4D foray, I think it would ultimately be a frustrating, unwieldy and disorienting experience.

I’ll stick to three dimensions.

(Or will I?…)

s. x

I’ll take your brain to another dimension.
I’m gonna send him to outer space,
to find another race.
The Prodigy – Out Of Space

 

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

A local pub, for local people

pubRemember ‘Cheers’? There was always something incredibly appealing about somewhere you can go, where everybody knows your name. I guess most of us need some sort of social life, no matter how socially awkward we may be, and that sort of unpressured, relaxed, friendly and congenial environment is one of the easiest means to that end.

It’s the sort of place where you can happily sit quietly in the company of people that you readily relate to, without any pressure to do anything in particular, contribute to the conversation, or be anything other than yourself. An environment where you’re not expected to ‘perform’ and where you can let down your guard, just a little, and nobody is going to criticise you for doing so.

There are occasional moments in SL where that can spontaneously occur, but to find somewhere inworld where this is the norm is somewhat rarer. In that respect I’ve been very fortunate, finding myself in the happy position of having found such a place right on my virtual doorstep. Better still, the resemblance to the Cheers Bar doesn’t stop at the convivial atmosphere, for this is a proper pub, with beer on tap, a comfy lounge and a jukebox that plays everybody’s favourite tunes.The best thing about my inworld local however is exactly the same as what makes for a great pub in RL: sometimes you’ll drop in after a long day to find a couple of friends chilling out, ensconced with their drinks, just passing the time of day in idle chat. Or maybe there will be a fervent group of gaming devotees, hunched over a table in the corner, willing their dice to fall propitiously. Another time might find the bar full, a party atmosphere and a bunch of people getting into the groove to the music. There’s nothing forced about it, no structure, no scheduled events – people just turn up and do their thing, and nobody really worries about much of consequence at all. And there are occasions – often towards the end of the evening, after a long, hard day – when conversation wanes and those present fall silent, just enjoying the ambience and the company of others, and as a friend recently remarked, it’s pretty cool to be in a situation inworld where no-one feels the need to type or speak, simply to appreciate that sense of being with friends and feeling comfortable in their presence – much as friends in RL might sit quietly around a table for minutes at a time, simply contemplating the moment over a cold beer.

moon1_001Opinions are aired, debates conducted, problems shared and jokes exchanged – some stay until Last Orders, whilst others pop in, stay awhile, then head off to pastures new. Occasionally a stranger will wander in: “What is this place?”, they ask, bemused – some wander straight back out, others stay for the evening, and some enjoy the company so much that they go on to become regulars themselves.

The beauty of my local virtual pub is that it is so close to home – with a glance at the map, I can see whether it’s a quite night or a crowded bar; better still, I don’t need to bother with all that new-fangled teleporting and flying stuff because the pub is just a short walk from my home parcel, and there’s something remarkably ‘normal’ about taking a stroll in the evening, down to the harbour to meet up with friends for a ‘drink’.

However, I am faced with something of a dilemma – having extolled the virtues of my local watering hole, I’m now in two minds about whether I should invite you along… I’ve seen far too many cosy, friendly pubs in RL become commercial, corporate, characterless places full of people out to drink too much and without a care for the more traditional appeal a pub should have. I’d hate my local to become a stopping-off point for residents who have no interest in enjoying the local ambience and friendship that can be found there.

So, rather than give you a landmark, I’ll simply say, look me up inworld sometime – and if you’ve an hour or two to kill and fancy somewhere with a great welcome and relaxed atmosphere, you can drop in for a drink and some pleasant, old-fashioned company.

pub_001

s. x

You wanna go where people know,
people are all the same.
You wanna go where everybody knows your name.
Gary Portnoy – Where Everybody Knows Your Name

Posted in RL, SL, Tour Guide | 1 Comment

(Very) Rough Guide

tourIt’s no secret that navigating around SL can be pretty hit and miss. Landmarks have an infuriating habit of becoming out of date almost before you’ve saved them, places move and change with perplexing rapidity, and there’s very little rhyme or reason to the way in which SL is laid out and organised.

It can be difficult for noobs and more established residents alike to navigate the virtual world and locate places that we know we’ll enjoy, with any measure of success, and most of us resort to relying on word of mouth recommendations, tip-offs gleaned from the profiles of other residents, and the occasional random stroke of luck as we stumble upon an inworld gem.

I’ve always felt it to be a great pity that there are so many potential inworld attractions that we miss, simply because there’s no easy way to discover them.

I can hear you protest: “What about the Destination Guide?” Well, what about it? Because here we have a fantastic tool at our disposal that, unfortunately misses the mark completely. Yes, it can be useful up to a point, but that usefulness is severely compromised by the rather hapless way the Guide is administered.

In many ways, the Destination Guide reminds me of The Hitchhikers’ Guide to the Galaxy – often apocryphal, seldom useful, wildly inaccurate, and could lead to you being eaten or imprisoned under dubious circumstances. Whilst this can be a lot of fun, it’s about as much practical use as a Lonely Planet Guide to Columbia, written by someone who’s never moved out from the confines of San Francisco!

Why is it that the Guide so badly tends to miss the mark? Firstly, it’s partly down to a limited pool of information – if you’re a regular visitor to the Guide, you’ll know that the content isn’t exactly dynamic. Much of it doesn’t change from one year to the next, (you can even find places in there that are long gone!), and a significant part of what remains tends to be made up of the ‘usual suspects’ – those destinations that crop up time and time again, under slightly different guises. Even the ‘Editor’s Picks’ that appear on the viewer start up page tend to feature the same places with monotonous regularity.

destinationThe second, more significant reason that the Guide is far less helpful than it could potentially be is simply that the content is determined by the person submitting it and therefore whatever they want to say about their destination – whether accurate, objective, truthful or otherwise – is what will be published. To return to the analogy of our SF based Lonely Planet reviewer, they could cheerfully give a glowing account of Medellín’s barrios… their vibrant nightlife, exciting culture, colourful locals and interesting architecture, only for the trusting traveller to find out – far too late – that surviving to tell the tale is somewhat more challenging than they might have been led to believe!

So, if I was the Linden in charge of tourism, how world I improve the Destination Guide?

To begin with, I’d change the process for submitting destinations for inclusion. Applications would have to be reviewed, and if necessary, descriptions rewritten before publication by a third party who would have personally paid a visit beforehand. That way, we’d have a far more objective, unbiased review, and we’d probably see A Guide less dominated by locations and venues using it as a marketing tool, and featuring more interesting and varied destinations, with far more in the way of constructive information to aid us in our travels.

The Lindens, of course, wouldn’t be doing the leg work, nor should they. We have a resident-created world, and the residents who want to explore it should be the ones providing their opinions on what is being offered, but I see no reason why this shouldn’t work – there are more than enough people who spend their time reviewing inworld fashion, (some would say far too many), and I’m sure there are plenty who would happily undertake the same task for inworld locations.

Inevitably, there’s always the potential for abuse, whether by those wishing to act maliciously, or by self-promotion using alts. Personally, I don’t think that’s a huge issue, and the gains that could be realised from a more informative, vibrant and representative Guide would far outweigh those concerns.

SL is a big and complex world, with a huge number of undiscovered places that can enrich and surprise us in our virtual lives, yet it seems – although we could make it more accessible, and have the means at our disposal to do so, we haven’t seized that opportunity and made the best of it.

Perhaps one day?

s. x

I’m gettin’ bugged driving up and down this same old strip
I gotta find a new place where the kids are hip
The Beach Boys – I Get Around

Posted in Rants, RL, SL, Tour Guide | 2 Comments

House arrest

angryI’m writing this on a Saturday. I never write on a Saturday, but sometimes you just need to vent – and this is one of those occasions.

Generally, I’m a very even-tempered sort of person: Things that would drive most people up the wall merit little more than a raised eyebrow on my part and it takes a considerable amount of frustration to bring me to the point of losing it. This wasn’t always the case – I used to have a foul, and I do mean sensationally horrendous, temper; however it’s something I’ve managed to tame over time, and now I’m the complete opposite… Laid back to the point of being horizontal.

So, when I do flip you’d better take cover – I become a cross between William Foster and Harry Callahan – and today I am incandescent with rage!

I’ve written recently about my inability to make a fuss or complain, even when it’s merited. However, that doesn’t mean that I cannot or will not, when things have gone badly wrong, because there comes a point at which the worm really must turn, even if any hope that something might be done to put things right is fated to be completely in vain. I’m also a great believer in naming and shaming those who offend me, and I take no prisoners.

When it comes to customer service, I think most of us have a pretty clear idea of what’s good and what’s bad. Many would cite Linden Lab as a baseline measure for what constitutes doing it badly… Poor communication, unresponsive to feedback, lack of engagement with users, secretive – all valid reasons for marking them down, although in some circumstances, I do feel they get a bad press and suffer a great deal from having a userbase who feel terribly entitled and who bear far too many grudges for far too long. You may still be fuming that the Lab took away last names, but come on… That was six years ago, and you stopped going inworld in 2013! May I suggest you get a life?

However poor LL may be, there are companies out there in comparison to which the Lab is a shining example of virtue, and I have had the unfortunate experience of dealing with one such company in the course of the past week.

The company is Yodel – which many non-Brits may be unfamiliar with, but if you fancy quickly Googling them you’ll rapidly come to the conclusion that they have a serious PR problem. When it comes to customer service, professionally it’s a subject I know a fair bit about, I’m also extremely clued up about project and contract management, and logistics – so I’m very aware of the difficulties that companies can face in delivering a service that meets the expectations of their customers within the constraints within which that service operates. However, Yodel is a company that does just one thing – deliver stuff – which, presumably, means they should be experts in the field.

They are not.

Here’s the deal: I bought a new double bed and, since I have no way of collecting a large and heavy item of this nature, arranged for it to be delivered. I picked the only date available that I would also be able to take delivery – last Friday. So far, so good. Text message Thursday night ‘Your delivery is scheduled for tomorrow between 07:00 and 21:00’ – cue a whole day off work, stuck in the house, waiting for a delivery that never happened.

I used their website to track it, which confidently told me on every occasion ‘On track – delivery by 21:00’. At 21:20 another message popped up: ‘We’re sorry we missed you, we’ve left a card’, a statement that completely falls down on all three counts – no, you’re not sorry; no, you didn’t miss me – I was here, practically camped behind the front door; no you didn’t leave a card. (Unless of course Yodel’s delivery drivers are ninjas who tap gently on doors with feathers before posting invisible cards through the door and sneaking quietly away!)

I did what any reasonable person would do – I poured a stiff whiskey and contacted customer service. I won’t relate the full extent of the conversation, other than to mention that despite numerous attempts to get the message across I could only come to the conclusion that James – name not changed, I refuse to protect anyone at this disaster of a business – was in fact an AU (Artificial Unintelligence), programmed to repeat the same thing, parrot-fashion, no matter what the customer may be saying. Here though are some of the edited highlights:

Me: Can you tell me why the delivery hasn’t been made?
James: I don’t know

Me: Why is your company telling a blatant lie about missing me and leaving a card? I’ve been here between 07:00 and now, and no-one has called.
James: I’m sorry to hear that. This will be delivered tomorrow for you though between 9am and 5pm.

Me: I’m not available tomorrow – I’ve taken today off specifically to take delivery.
James: This will be delivered tomorrow for you though between 9am and 5pm. This can be left with neighbours if you are out though. I will try my very best to get this to you as soon as possible tomorrow.
Me: The conversation with my neighbours, ‘Please can you give up your Saturday to wait in and take delivery of my double bed?’ is not going to happen! I repeat, I am not available tomorrow, I am available now and your depot is only a half hour drive away.

So, I’ve now wasted a day, rearranged my weekend and I’m once again under house arrest, waiting for James to make good on his promise to ‘try my very best to get this to you as soon as possible tomorrow’ – since it’s now Saturday afternoon, I’m not holding my breath!

freakshow16_001This is not over. Whether or not my bed makes an appearance, I’ll be writing a complaint and I’ll be going straight to the CEO (mike.cooper@yodel.co.uk), who I’m sure will be as happy about having his time wasted by me as I am about having my time wasted by his company, and I suggest that if you’ve been on the receiving end of shoddy service from them, you do the same. I’ll also be invoicing them for my time, including a Saturday premium – nothing will happen of course, but sometimes you’ve got to make the effort.

And James, if you’re reading this… 0/10 for customer service.

Update: Now Monday, still no sofa, and no communication from Yodel.

s. x

I strike terror among men
I can’t be bothered by what they think
I bare my cross, my soul, myself
I forgive but I never forget
My Ruin – Terror

Posted in Rants, RL | 5 Comments

Childs play

childhoodMuch like Peter Pan, as a child I never wanted to grow up – not because being young was particularly fun, it was more a case that the thought of becoming an adult, with all the attendant grown up things that adults are expected to do, like going to work and paying bills, absolutely terrified me (they still do!). As, inevitably, I did grow older my feelings changed. I did waver however between wanting to be older still and wanting to stay put throughout my teenage years, which I have to say were not the best, and if I had the chance I’d leap at the opportunity to go back and do it all over again, but properly, this time!

No matter how hard you try, you can’t stop the march of time, neither can you – unless you have extraordinarily good fortune, or lashings of hard cash handed to you on a plate – avoid those things that mark adulthood for what it is. These are the serious things, which many of us would gladly trade if it was at all possible: the daily grind, feeling stressed and tired, paying bills, coping with the ups and downs of family life, car insurance, pensions, broken washing machines… The list goes on forever.

These days however, more than ever before in the past, we are permitted some respite from all those grown up things that take up so much of our lives and energy, and it’s only really in the last few decades that adulthood hasn’t automatically meant losing any hope of leisure time and being able to do fun things, just as we used to as children. Pursuits and pastimes that might once have been considered purely the preserve of the younger generation are now equally considered to be just as appropriate for grown ups as they are for kids. Everything from dressing up as our favourite superheroes or Star Trek characters, through going to music festivals, riding bikes along dirt trails, video gaming and even trampolining for fun are as popular with the adult population as they are with the youngsters who would, in the past, have had exclusive rights to such frivolous entertainment.

It might explain why SL hasn’t totally faded into the background noise of the internet too. I don’t think that any of us are under any real illusion that SL is at all ‘down with the kids’. Much as the Lab would love the younger generation to be flocking to their virtual world in the thousands, the reality is almost certainly more mundane – there may well be a fair number of youngsters for whom SL is their number one escape, but they’re far more likely to gravitate to the worlds of Grand War Scrolls Fantasy, or whatever is the current happening favourite. By far the greater number of SL adherents that I come across in my travels happily admit to being in their thirties, forties and upwardlies, but that hasn’t resulted in SL becoming any more adult in consequence, neither do we see grown ups in SL doing typically grown up things.

bounce_001By its very nature, SL frees our inner child – all those things we used to fill our time with as children we can do in SL, even more so than we could get away with in RL. So, whatever it may be that helps us recapture our lost childhood we have free rein to rediscover inworld… Is playing ‘dress up’ with our avatar really any different from dressing up our dolls as children in RL? Is furnishing our inworld home really any different to playing with dolls’ houses, wendy houses or tree house dens in the real world? Is playing silly games with banana guns, cake throwers and anvil chuckers so different to messing around with water pistols, flour bombs and spud guns in RL?

All those things that were once an integral and important part of our lives – those things we lost when we had to put aside our childish ways, grow up and become serious, stressed and wishing for the past… SL lets us have them back.

For me, it’s not just Second Life, it’s a second childhood!

s. x

“From the child’s point of view, the things which the adult considers irrelevant to survival are perfectly important. And so children collect pebbles and colored glass, and all sorts of trivia which they
consider as precious as diamonds. The adults say, oh pff! Frippery. But they really have the secret.”
Alan Watts

 

Posted in Philosophicalisticality, RL, SL | Leave a comment

Full Immersion

unrealThis was always going to be the year of the 3D headset. It seems that the fully immersive virtual experience is finally coming of age, and those wishing to be first in the queue are already in the process of pre-ordering their precious new kit.

I am not amongst that number. To begin with, the cost is prohibitive – I can neither afford, nor justify the expense. However, even if these things get to be as cheap as chips, they’re simply not high enough on my wish list to merit real consideration at the moment.

Maybe if I was into gaming, I’d think differently, and that’s where I think the real 3D VR market lies – high speed, action-filled, hyper-realistic games. And, in every respect, not one of those descriptions really applies to SL.

Try this little experiment: Pay a visit to a typical and popular sim – one with a few people scattered about. Turn on the mini-map and ‘look at’ targets… Now, observe for a while. I’d happily bet that very little changes over the course of your visit – avatars will tend to remain fairly static or, if they do move, will take their time and cover only a small area; similarly their attention will be caught by relatively few points of interest, and apart from the occasional glance at particular items, there won’t be much in the way of wandering eyes. This is typically how avatars experience SL: slowly, and deliberately.

Compare this with the typical sort of game experience likely to draw the attention of 3D gogglers… Fast-paced, first person perspective scenarios, involving rapidly evolving interactions across a quickly shifting field of view. Here is the domain of high frame rates, live action head mounted displays, verbal communication, and action-packed movement – an environment perfectly suited to 3D headsets and a world away from the average users’ needs in SL. Headsets are designed to be highly responsive to rapid head and eye movement, such as those required for dodging bullets and annihilating enemy snipers in first-person shoot-em-ups; they are designed to enable the user to vicariously experience the thrill of car chases, crashes and sweeping powerslides around your favourite rally stages… What they are not designed for is clothes’ shopping at your favourite SL stores, inworld camp fire chats with virtual friends, or dancing the night away to the local music scene. If anything, complete virtual immersion in such scenarios could be horribly disorientating, headache inducing and even bad for the health, if not downright dangerous.

rift1_001

The last thing that your average SL user wants is a severe case of whiplash as a result of turning their head to greet a friend arriving at the club; neither do they want to suffer the nausea of sea-sickness, as the screen bobs up and down in time to them nodding their head to the beat of the music, and they certainly don’t want to be fumbling for the glass of wine that they know is somewhere next to their keyboard, but can no longer see! I’m also pretty sure that few people are going to want to remain stock-still in their seats, just so they can make sense of the chat scrolling up their screen, or to make out exactly how much that must-have pair of boots is priced. Throw in the unrealistic frame rates that VR headsets will demand of SL, and I think it’s safe to say that the reality is that SL residents are not the primary market for the new technology.

That isn’t to say that immersion won’t work inworld in some specific scenarios. Used to explore a well-crafted roleplay sim or art installation, I think that headsets will offer an unparalleled virtual experience, but in everyday interactions, where badly proportioned avatars populate badly proportioned builds, on laggy, congested sims, the benefits are rather dubious.

3D is great, so is immersion, but for either to work well it must complement the means by which it is experienced, not jar with it. In real terms, this means designed from the bottom-up with such a purpose in mind, and whilst we should applaud developers for creating ways and means by which SL users can experience the new revolution, we should bear in mind that that is not how our virtual world was meant to be and, in consequence, it will never quite work in the way that we would wish when we try it.

I will, of course, avail myself of a headset at some point in the future, but even then, I doubt I’ll be using it much for SL.

s. x

“You can’t live at all, unless you can live fully now.”
Alan Watts

 

Posted in SL, Techietalk | Leave a comment