Alt.life: Unit 9

We were having a chat about robots last night. With the things becoming ever more common in everyday life, I was completely of the opinion that it would be awesome to have real life robocops; I mean, what could possibly go wrong?

Alright, I agree, quite a lot could go wrong, particularly since despite robot development now moving at pace, nobody seems to have considered what those of us who grew up reading old school science-fiction thought would definitely form the central core of robotics, AI, and all things related: The Three Laws of Robotics.

I can’t help thinking that might possibly have been a mistake…

Alt.Life: Unit 9

s. x

The time has come at last
To throw away this mask
Now everyone can see

My true identity

Styx – Mr Roboto

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Value for money?

Well, it’s been a fraught month in Second Life for creators, retailers, collectors, gamblers and buyers alike, or at least for those for whom the word ‘gacha’ was significant. Although, it’s not as if the demise of this particular method of commerce was unexpected: With sweeping legislative reform relating to this particular aspect of virtual economies gaining momentum, it was inevitable that wholesale change would be necessary if companies hosting platforms such as SL are to comply with the laws covering the jurisdictions they operate in. So, lootboxes, gacha and anything else likely to fall within similar categories are out, and another chapter in the ongoing saga of SL ends.

Or does it? This being SL, there were two rather predictable responses from the inworld community. First, outrage, whining and self-righteousness, then following hard on the heels of that, the scheming, machinations and much fudging about in darkened basements to come up with something that was pretty much, but not quite, almost gacha, but without actually being it. Leading this second wave of ‘sticking it to the Man’, we have the weird and sneaky ‘conveyor belt’ system, where you can see the crap you’re going to be forced to buy, whilst dangling the carrot of that elusive ‘rare’ you really want, a mere six plays ahead! I’ve no doubt the Lab will ban that too, in due course, only for it to be replaced by something even weirder and sneakier.

If shops worked like this in RL, would you buy from them?

Anyway, I wasn’t going to write about gacha – there’s enough spouting-off on the topic without me adding more to the morass. However, the whole debacle has brought to mind the words of a very wise person I once knew. “The price you’ll pay entirely depends on how much you value what is being sold”. He knew what he was talking about too, since his job was to write university economics degree syllabuses for developing countries. At the time, we were talking about bartering for goods at a market, where the seller will always start at an artificially high price, but the chances are that the buyer, simply by entering into the negotiation, has already indicated that they desire the object on sale enough to part with their money. In such situations, the more desirable the object in the buyer’s mind, the more likely they’ll pay more than it’s worth; and that’s where we find that there’s a world of difference between worth and perceived value.

You can see this principle everywhere in retail. Let’s consider printer ink: A new cartridge is worth pennies in terms of production costs and materials, yet the retail price of these items is hugely inflated beyond what anybody might consider to be reasonable. However, if you’re the end user who is unable to use their printer because they’re out of ink, you will attach considerable value to that cartridge, and consequently fork out way over the odds for a replacement… Increase the perceived value by throwing in an urgent and important document than must be printed as soon as possible, and the perceived value of that ink cartridge increases exponentially.

Rarity is also a powerful driver of value perception, as SL creators are well-aware. Tag an item as rare, collectable, limited-edition or exclusive and you’ve instantly increased its perceived value several times over, without even touching the product itself. Indeed, an object’s intrinsic worth may be exactly the same as its less-scarce relatives, in fact it may be indentical in all but colour, but that scarcity label magically ramps up how much we’re willing to pay. In the real world, a bottle of wine that tastes no better than one from a supermarket for less than a tenner, may sell for many thousands, simply because it’s a particular vintage – even if it tastes like brake fluid, that’s irrelevant, because its value has nothing to do with what’s inside the bottle, and everything to do with what we believe it to be worth.

It’s a funny old world in that regard, and SL is no different.

However, I do wonder why creators go to such lengths to come up with complicated methods of hawking their goods, rather than simply making quality desirable stuff and selling it at a premium price in the first place. If someone wants a dress so badly that they’ll pump a thousand lindens into a machine at 75 bucks a pop just to get it, then they’re equally likely to shell out the same amount for the same item in a simple cash sale, heck.. you can even hike up the value even more by making it a limited edition, and all without clogging up inventories and yard sales with masses of stuff that nobody wants. Even I – famously tight-fisted when it comes to shelling out my hard-earned lindens – have been known to part with large wads of cash for something I really, really, want, but if it meant collecting 76 over-priced pastel-coloured plushies in the process, forget it. And that goes for fatpacks too: I’m not going to pay an over-inflated price for something, just because it comes with a pile of other somethings I’ve no interest in owning.

Offer me something I value, and I’ll pay the going rate, perhaps more; but, if it has no value to me, I don’t want it.

The appeal of gacha does, of course, vary from person to person. I have one friend who enjoyed them because she could grab curiosities and quirky things at a reasonable price to put on display, or give away, but I doubt that’s the case for the majority. I suspect that for many, gacha were a cynical operation on the part of the vendors to fleece customers single-mindedly pursuing those elusive ‘rares’. However, it’s never the savvy-shopper that gets reeled-in to the ‘just one more try’ culture that this encourages, it’s the gullible, addicted, and easily-led, and those who just don’t realise they’re being taken for a ride…

And I guess that’s exactly why we’ve ended up where we are.

s. x

New car, caviar, four-star daydream
Think I’ll buy me a football team
Pink Floyd – Money

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Here’s looking at you?

As human beings, our brains are generally very good at filling in the gaps when we don’t have a complete set of information to go on, or even when the data that we have has been scrambled, most of us can attempt a fairly reasonable attempt at interpreting what we’re seeing. Take a look, for example at the following, and I’m pretty certain that you’ll have little trouble in working out the ‘hidden’ messages…

Of course, the more information we lack, the less accurate our interpretation, but even with the bare minimum, we can often come up with something that approximates what we’re looking for, even if it’s not quite right. In these circumstances, the quality of the available data can be crucial, as anyone who’s ever played ‘Chinese Whispers’ will readily understand.

So, if quality of data is crucial, what about those occasions when we have practically nothing to go on? Well, even then, we’re pretty good at fabricating missing information – as to its accuracy, however, that’s another matter entirely! How many of us, for example, have created a mental image of somebody that we’ve spoken to on the phone frequently, only to discover when we do finally get to meet them that they bear absolutely no resemblance, whatsoever, to the picture we’d painted for ourselves? The problem is that even though tone of voice, manner, and other circumstantial evidence such as their job role, may be useful indications of what we could expect them to be like, they are really of little value when it comes to giving us any idea of what they might look like. Whilst our spidey-senses might tingle and give us a vivid mental image of the person we’re speaking to, they are never going to be an adequate substitute for our eyes.

This is clearly something that we’re going to run across in SL, where – even though the Lab has thoughtfully provided us with a whole real life section for us to complete in our profiles – only a small number of us are ever going to take the opportunity to upload a nice, glossy studio-shot portrait, complete with detailed vital statistics and contact details, and even those who do provide a RL photo, tend to obscure the true picture, with sneaky filters, awkward angles, and obscuring objects, that hint at, but never disclose the whole story. It’s something that I find slightly baffling, when a large proportion of those same people have no qualms about plastering themselves all over social media outside of SL… But, that seems to be how it works.

Indeed, when it comes to the people we spend time with inworld, for the most part, we will only know them from their avatar and perhaps a few titbits of real-life information that they may choose to disclose. It’s inevitable that with so little data available to us, that – at best – any mental picture of our friends that we might create is likely to be wildly innacurate, and at worst, could be a total and thoroughly insulting character assassination!

It’s quite likely that where we have no visual clues, other than the avatar we see inworld, that our brains will accept that the avatar we see is, in effect, the real person, and any impression of what they might actually look like in reality is going to be strongly influenced by their SL appearance. That’s not so bad if people have made an effort to make their avatar resemble their real selves, (and it’s surprising, just how many do just that), but there’s no guarantee that will be the case and what we see inworld may be nothing like the real person, which can be confusing at times. For example, I vividly remember seeing someone at a tube station in London, who happened to be sporting an eye-patch. I was totally convinced that this stranger was somebody I knew from SL, the only basis for which was that their avatar habitually wore an eye-patch inworld. Logic battled in vain to tell me that the likelihood of this person being in London was minimal; that wearing an eye-patch did not automatically mean they were one and the same person; and that I had no idea what this person looked like in real life… None of that mattered in the slightest. My brain was seeing the avatar, and I’d convinced myself that was all the evidence I needed.

Thankfully, I resisted the temptation to say hello, and shortly afterwards when I saw a photo of the real person in question, I was mortified to find that they looked nothing at all like their avatar, and certainly didn’t have an eye-patch in RL.

It’s a mistake I make time and time again: If the only point of reference I have is a person’s avatar, I will convince myself that it’s a faithful representation of who they are in RL. Consequently, I’ve been known to under-estimate people’s age, sometimes by decades, given them characteristics that are totally unlike the reality, and have – no doubt – occasionally visualised somebody in a way they’d find horribly insulting!

Not that it really matters that much. If I never get to see you in RL, then so what if my mental image of you bears no resemblance to the real thing? Is it really an issue if I think you look like your avatar, particularly as one of my friends points out, we tend to model our avatars on younger, fitter and slimmer versions of our real selves, (or, in the case of dudes, more muscle-bound, tanned, and tatooed – abeit, with tiny heads!). It’s the showroom model, if you like, as opposed to the clapped-out runarounds we might feel we are! So, at least – in my mind – I’ll be imagining you through rose-tinted specs!

As for me… Do I resemble my avatar?

That would be telling!

s. x

Sie ist ein Modell und sie sieht gut aus
ich nehm sie heut gerne mit zu mir nach Haus
sie wirkt so kühl an sie kommt niemand ran
doch vor der Kamera da zeigt sie was sie kann

Rammstein – Das Modell

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Walking into walls

We’ve seen a great deal of discussion over the years about the learning curve required to get to grips with SL, and in particular, mastering the viewer. Many will argue that this is the single greatest challenge that new users face, and a major reason that many fall by the wayside pretty quickly in comparison with similar online environments.

I don’t necessarily subscribe to that view, for a number of reasons:

  1. Getting started is actually pretty easy… Pick a name, pick an avatar and play with the controls. It’s not rocket science, and the new-user experience is far better today than it was when I first set foot inworld all those years ago.
  2. I’m pretty sure that the great majority of those who do sign up to SL have little interest in most of the viewer functionality and stick with the default settings – sometimes for years. It’s quite possible to get by inworld without ever changing a single setting, and many do exactly that. In many ways the SL viewer is like a microwave or a washing machine: Lots of buttons, settings and options, but almost everyone selects a setting once, and uses the same one for everything, forever thereafter.
  3. Navigating and controlling isn’t complex for anyone who has any experience in the most basic of concepts. WASD, arrow keys, page up and down, right & left click and scroll – all of which do pretty much what you’d expect.
  4. Most people – although not all – aren’t going to buy a plot of land, build their own home, settle down and have a family with 2.4 virtual kids and a Pixel Tesla in the garage on their first day. They wouldn’t do it in any other virtual environment, and they’re no more likely to be looking to do it in SL. If they are, then there’s a strong likelihood that they’ll already have a good grasp of how to do those things elsewhere, and it’s really not that different in SL.

What is more likely to send noobs packing is the major selling point of SL – that is, it’s an open-ended virtual world, where you set your own objectives – which isn’t one that resonates with a lot of people. Without alliances to join, orcs to slay, or fast-paced gameplay with a well-defined end point, many find themselves floundering and at a loss. It’s no wonder that the first words out of a noob’s mouth when arriving somewhere new are, “What is this place?” – because, most places are entirely a product of their creator’s whim, not an intrinsic part of some overall ‘gameplay’.

If that doesn’t put people off, it’s the unfriendliness of the natives, the need to speculate to accumulate – if it’s money you want to make, and the growing number of places that ban on sight if you’re less than 30 days old.

If I’m honest, I don’t think it’s a bad thing to have an interface that’s not entirely intuitive: I’ve always thought that if you can get to grips with the intricacies of the viewer, then you stand a pretty good chance of getting to grips with most of the weird and wonderful situations you’re going to find yourself landed with in SL.

Although, I’ll also be the first to admit, that there are some things about SL that, even after many years of experience, still leave me looking and acting like a total noob on their first day, and often in the most embarrasing ways.

I have never, for example, mastered the art of negotiating doorways. Last night, leaving my local inworld pub – and perfectly sober and in possession of all my faculties, I might add – despite aiming for the rather wide gap in the middle of the room divider, (wide enough to drive large car through), I completely missed and walked face-first into the wall instead. I then went on to compound the issue by completely failing to negotiate the exit door, and once again went crashing into the wall next to it instead. This is a common occurrence with me, and for extra comedic effect, I can usually manage to get myself stuck between an open door and the wall, unable to extricate myself. I’ve also been known to walk straight into large windows, under the mistaken impression that they’re store entrances – very amusing!

One thing you will never find me doing is getting changed in public because experience has taught me that I don’t have the first idea about how to do so without indecently exposing myself to anybody else present. Whilst I’m proud to say that I rarely make the obvious noobish mistake of wearing a box, I find it disturbingly easy to make the mistake of suddenly wearing nothing at all whilst fumbling to slip on a different pair of shoes. I’m also astonishingly good at accidentally rezzing inanimate objects, which – once removed – for some reason manage to steal whatever clothing I happen to be wearing at the time. On more than one occasion I’ve ended up starkers when doing a spot of building, which believe me does nothing to preserve my modesty, neither could it be considered appropriate work-safety wear!

There are other simple things that I struggle to do properly too… I type rude comments about people in the wrong chat box; I’ve yet to master flying in a straight line, and I’m hopeless at landings; and activities that other people seem to master with ease, such as wearing clothes that actually fit, continue to elude me, no matter how hard I try.

But none of those things have ever put me off SL, made me want to ragequit or even for one moment made me think that this whole SL thing is just too hard to master and I’d be better off playing World of Warcraft instead. In fact, if anything, it is these very things that make the whole thing fun… And, every now and again, on those rare occasions when I do manage to swap my shoes without losing my hair, it’s a source of great pride and achievement.

Doesn’t take much to please me!

s. x

Let’s dance in style, let’s dance for a while
Heaven can wait we’re only watching the skies
Hoping for the best, but expecting the worst
Are you gonna drop the bomb or not?
Alphaville – Forever Young

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Horror vacui

Things have been very quiet just lately on my home sim – the past year has seen a considerable amount of upheaval for both the land and the occupants, for a variety of reasons, with land changing hands, extensive remodelling and a big change in the overall demographics. The end result of all of this change seems to be that we’ve hit a bit of a visitor hiatus and, when in the past, you could rely on there being a decent crowd – certainly at specific times and locations – at the moment people are few and far between.

Personally, I’m not one for being surrounded by crowds at the best of times, so I’m not hugely bothered by the scarcity of visitors, but it does feel a bit odd, and not at all the lively, ‘happening’ place that I’m familiar with, and I know that others are a little conscious of the lack of company too.

Second Life isn’t however as teeming with life as many seem to think. Certainly, if most of your SL experience is of the kind where you drop in to a busy club or venue, stay for an hour or so, and then TP off to the next party, and that’s about it, you might be forgiven for thinking that everywhere inworld is swarming with people. In fact, the reality is very much the opposite. SL is, for the most part, empty space and on any given day, when there may well be between 30000 to 50000 logged in, unless you know where to find them, you might be forgiven for thinking those are just made up figures.

I know from my own exploring, that the vast majority of islands, along with hundreds of square kilometres of mainland can frequently be devoid of life, and even when there are other people about, it’s usually in the single figures, and they are often to be found hidden away on sky platforms, or simply not interested in passing the time of day with random strangers who turn up in their backyard. Even those places you might expect to see groups of people gathered can often be surprisingly empty – nightclubs, shops, airports and galleries, to name just a few.

So, in many ways, my home Region is just a reflection of the overall state of SL, and even in those locations where you will find gatherings of people, I’d be willing to bet that if you stepped outside the room and had a look around the surrounding area, you’ll quite likely find that the cluster of green dots where you are is an anomaly on an otherwise empty map.

I don’t feel particularly dispirited by that. Although it would be lovely to see wall-to-wall avatars wherever I go, I’d miss the chance of being able to find solitude, without sneaking off into the sky or under the sea somewhere, and I’m also of the opinion that having abundant space, even abandoned, unpopulated and empty land is something that a virtual world needs, just as much as it needs built-up, busy and densely-populated areas too. It’s no different to the real world: Although we may think of our planet as overcrowded, the proportion of empty space to populated is significantly greater. When you add all the deserts, the oceans, ice caps, plains, forests, mountains and wilderness together, out cities and metropolises pale into insignificance. Undeveloped space is an important and integral part of any world, real or virtual.

Even though I have my own – decently-sized – parcel inworld, it’s expanded appreciably over the years from a single room to a plot of land you can get lost in… Even so, sometimes it’s just too small, and I feel the need to find a wide-open, empty space to escape to, and thankfully, there are plenty of those to be found, so I’m not going to complain about that.

What about my hometown though, where once there were regular gatherings and opportunities to socialise; have the glory days passed forever, and will they ever return?

Well, I think that things will perk up eventually. It seems to me that much of life happens in cycles; that’s true for both real life and SL. Fashion trends come and go, only to re-surface again years later; popular music, movie genres, literature and lifestyles come and go, get re-invented, re-purposed and re-visited over time; even our towns and cities go through periods of decline and revitalisation. I view it as a natural process and an essential part of life’s constant reinvention of itself. In much the same way as a field should be left fallow for a time, if it is to remain fertile and produce harvests in the future, sometimes we have to allow time for things to regroup and re-establish themselves according to natural law in order for them to flourish. And we can learn from nature in other ways too… A raging bushfire may raze a plain to the ground, leaving desolation and seemingly barren land, but no matter how destructive and damaging the fire may have been, it’s an absolute necesity for clearing away all the dead wood and rubbish, and within a remarkably short time, new growth will start to appear, stronger and fuller than before. So, yes, I’m hopeful that the lean times are just a temporary blip, and better times are yet to come.

Let’s see what happens, but in the meantime, let’s also enjoy the peace and tranquility!

s. x

What shall we use
To fill the empty spaces
Where we used to talk?

Pink Floyd – Empty Spaces

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Alt. life: From our correspondent

Here’s another short that came out of a prompt from the writing group I’m a member of. It was one of those prompts that I found singularly uninspiring, and consequently – as I occasionally do, when faced with a challenge I really don’t fancy, I cheated!

I don’t think there’s necessarily anything wrong with cheating in such situations – far better to have a decent piece of writing, thanks to having the freedom to follow one’s own direction, than something stilted and disappointing, due to being constrained by an uninspiring topic.

And, this is what I came up with…

Oh, you’re wondering how I cheated?

Well the prompt was ‘Potters Corner’ – so I simply made it a location, completely independent of the topic. A bit of a cop-out, I know, but writers do this sort of thing all the time!

Alt. life: From our correspondent.

s. x

You hear footsteps in the night, see shadows on the wall
And the ghostly sound of silence, as the mist begins to fall
Then a scream rang out like thunder, but the lightning was too late

Billy’s Got A Gun – Def Leppard

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

Look who’s come to visit

Bot or not?

That’s a question I’ve found myself asking frequently, especially just recently, after a friend introduced me to one of Firestorm’s lesser-known settings, which produces a chat notification whenever an agent enters or leaves the Region. I suppose this might well perform a useful function if that’s the sort of data that you can use productively, but personally, I only have it turned on because I’m nosey, or perhaps more justifiably – an inveterate people-watcher.

What I didn’t expect was just how much passing traffic the average Region, particularly the one I call home, can attract – and an awful lot of it is very transient indeed.

I don’t think that I’d be exaggerating if I were to suggest that an average of 40+ fleeting visits are made to the Region every hour, and we’re not talking people turning up for an event, popping over to do a spot of shopping, or calling in to take at look at who’s been cruising their profile at the local digital dating agency. We do see a steady stream of visitors doing all those things, although perhaps not as many as we’d like, but the vast majority of callers turn up – usually somewhere random in the sky – stay for just a moment, and then vanish. It’s the inworld version of ringing the doorbell and running away, and I’m at something of a loss to work out exactly what’s happening here.

Occasionally, if I’m quick off the mark, I can check out their profile before they head for the hills, and it’s clear from the lack of any details at all, and from bizarre names like ‘1590969600’, ‘thcrinfi’, ‘TYYNAAA’, ‘JOIAAAA’, and ‘XAEAA12’, that a large number of these are indeed bots of some description… But, why so many?

Surely there can’t be that many Grid surveys taking place at any given time, and are there really that many people who have such an interest in the metrics of SL, that they’ve no issue with spending shedloads of cash to shell out for armies of bots to poke around and pry? Although, I’m not entirely convinced that they are all bots, after all. A surprising number of these itinerant visitors who hang around for literally a second or two before poofing, do indeed possess fully-fledged profiles and rational names, even more weirdly, some will make multiple visits, always rezzing in the same place, before disappearing once more into the ether. Indeed, some will stay a while – maybe five to ten minutes – before zooming off again, only to return a little later… Rinse, and repeat.

“So, why don’t you take the bull by the horns and ask them what they’re up to?” I hear you say. And it’s a very good question, to which I have some not particularly good answers! Firstly, whether you choose to believe it or not, I’m incredibly shy, and I rarely make any overtures to engage with anyone, even friends I’ve known for years will attest to the fact that it’s not often that I’ll initiate a conversation, and I tend to wait until I’m addressed, rather than speak up myself.

Also, perhaps because of my own reticence to be sociable, I tend to feel that if someone feels like turning up halfway across the Region, doesn’t engage in any way with what’s going on around them, and then clears off, there’s a good chance that they’re not the sort to engage in small talk and would probably want to be left alone.

And finally, I know from experience, that many of those who are just passing through with their own agenda and reasons for being there will, very often, completely ignore any conversational advances made to them, and will simply get on with their own business, without engaging in any pleasantries with those who might attempt to make contact. So, by and large, I don’t bother.

Maybe I should make a bit more of an effort though? After all, enquiring minds have a need to know, and if there’s one thing that makes me itch, it’s knowing there’s mysterious goings-on, right in my backyard! In fact, that’s possibly the one time I might break my own self-imposed reticence to approach strangers: When it’s literally happening in my backyard.

I recently had a bit of a run-in with someone who I’m pretty sure wasn’t a bot, and had decided that part of my own private domain would make an ideal spot to secure for their own nefarious purposes, without going through the niceties of first asking whether I minded!

Now, to be clear, all of my parcels on the ground are freely accessible to whoever wants to explore and spend time enjoying them, and as long as they behave themselves, anyone and everyone is more than welcome to spend as much time there as they wish. I do also have a couple of personal dwellings on the ground, which I hope people would naturally respect – it’s pretty obvious that they’re my own private space, and in the main, people do. Up in the sky though, I operate a different regime – this is my space to escape interruptions and where I do my building, and I don’t encourage visitors or other distractions. I haven’t exactly plastered big notices around saying ‘Keep off! Visitors will be severely murdered’ or anything like that, but again, to anyone who has half a brain, it should be pretty clear that it’s an industrial complex and not a playground for passers-by. Which is why I found it mildly irritating to find it being used, several days running, by an uninvited tourist who thought it was the perfect spot for calling a friend over and indulging in a bit of pony-play!

In the end, I resorted to turning my build platform phantom from a distance and taking, possibly too much, pleasure in seeing them plummet to earth. However, this failed to stop them, and eventually I banned them, after which they seemingly took the hint!

Returning to bots though, or suspected bots, there is one I’ve become rather fond of. Practically every day, for the last couple of years, at around 10:30pm, she’s appeared in the middle of the road at Marmalade skies; stays put for around ten minutes, then disappears. When she first appeared, I simply ignored her, but over time she’s become such an enigma that she’s now pretty much part of the furniture. Her profile doesn’t give much away, but I get the impression she’s not an English speaker (if indeed she’s a real person), and she’s been completely unfazed by me putting up cutout images of herself next to where she rezzes, or changing the landing point – she just appears there instead. The trouble is, after all this time of never attempting to strike up a conversation, it just feels embarrassing now to make the first move, and so, I just let her get on with whatever important business she has, and she lets me get on with mine, and radio silence is maintained!

Bot… Or not?

I think it’s safe to say that, bot or otherwise, after all this time turning up, unmolested, she’s now acquired squatter’s rights, and I think it would be churlish to deny her access, whatever it is she’s up to.

Then again… Maybe she’s under the impression that I’m the bot!

s. x

And if you hear me talking on the wind
You’ve got to understand
We must remain
Perfect Strangers

Deep Purple – Perfect Strangers

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Gone walkabout

From time to time, I’m pretty sure that every one of us has had the urge just to take off, shun the constraints of everyday life, and ‘find’ ourselves. Most of us probably lack the wherewithall, resources and opportunity to actually go ahead and do it properly, and although I’ve known one or two who have literally headed-off into the unknown in pursuit of self-actualisation, I’ve known a far greater number – myself included – who have taken a somewhat watered-down path to enlightenment when it’s been needed.

Although, having said that, I’m not one to rule it entirely out of the equation. We never know what life may throw at us, and how we respond can sometimes be completely out of character, depending on the circumstances. Maybe, one day… Who knows?

I’ve always been fascinated by the aboriginal concept of walkabout: Putting aside the routine and rituals of normal living, and heading off into the unknown to commune with nature and rekindle ones relationship with the earth. An opportunity for reflection, self-discovery and enlightenment, without the distractions that otherwise place constant demands on us. I’ve always been attracted to the wilderness, and on the few occasions I’ve been fortunate enough to spend time in places, unspoiled and far from population, I’ve truly felt at home and one with nature.

I suppose the urge to drop everything and disappear can occur at any time, but often it can be our natural response to stressful times and a method of dealing with challenges when rationality and objectivity have departed us. That doesn’t necessarily mean that when times are tough we should run away and hide, but sometimes I think it can do us good to remove ourselves from the pressure zone in order to regain focus and allow time for healing and recovery, when it’s needed.

That, of course, can be difficult enough at the best of times, but in these days of travel restrictions and ever-changing rules, escaping to anywhere isn’t without its challenges. However, SL holds no such difficulties, particularly in terms of wide-open, empty spaces where you can spend as much time alone as you need with little chance of interruption or disturbance – you just need to know where and how to find them. It’s not the same as going walkabout in the real world, of course, but you shouldn’t overlook the therapeutic possibilities that SL opens up to anyone who simply has a need to escape to a place where they can reconnect to their inner self, and to the virtual world at the same time.

Recently, I’ve felt that need.

I should probably mention here that my inworld friends list – pretty underpopulated in comparison with most others – is nevertheless busier than my real world friends list, and you should also know that the majority of those who do make it onto my SL list I’ve known for years and the friendships that have grown are every bit as strong as those in RL. That friends list has seen considerable turmoil over the course of the last 18 months, with a significant proportion of those relationships being tested, broken and changed in ways that are pretty upsetting. These things happen – I accept that, and there’s little that can be done about it – yes, they do happen, but not often in such a sustained and prolific manner as I’ve experienced in a relatively short space of time. I’ve also seen other friends go through difficult times, which is never easy to witness. Add in the craziness of a world pandemic, a complete change to my work routines and environment, and a huge amount of real life challenge. I felt I was on the verge of losing the plot. If ever I’ve had the need to go walkabout, connect with my inner self and forge a deeper bond with the things that really matter, it was now!

So, although I’ve been logged in lately, I’ve pretty much been MIA and out of circulation. I’ve spent a great deal of time re-acquainting myself with places I’ve not visited for years, randomly wandering vast tracts of abandoned mainland with no real plan or purpose, and sitting quietly whilst staring at the horizon for hours on end. It’s been an interesting time – a large number of landmarks saved from years back are now defunct, or point to entirely different locations now, but some have led me back to the sights and experiences of my early days in SL – when, much as I have been recently – I used to spend most of my time alone and exploring, with few plans or connections. I’ve also found myself doing slightly odd things that I’ve never thought of doing before; for example, I’ve spend a lot of time underwater, exploring the depths of the SL sea. There is, of course, very little there, but I’ve found it fascinating to find that even in the middle of the oceans, the Linden Moles have made their mark with shipwrecks, shells, fish and kelp, and it’s struck me that in some cases I may well have been the first person to ever pass that way since their creation. It’s a very peaceful, calming environment and it’s allowed me to decompress and find a degree of tranquility that’s been missing for a while.

Earlier this week, I spent a while back at my own plot of land, gazing out to sea under a sky full of stars, and I realised I was beginning to feel more like myself again. Maybe it’s time to begin to seek out civilisation once more, even if much of it will mean starting again from scratch?

Knowing that there is still much that is constant, hidden away and peaceful inworld has managed to ground me somewhat, and if I ever need solitude and space… Well, there’s plenty of that to be found too.

It feels good to be coming back to life.

s. x

Wasted and wounded, it ain’t what the moon did
Got what I paid for now
See ya tomorrow, hey Frank can I borrow
A couple of bucks from you?
To go waltzing Mathilda, waltzing Mathilda
You’ll go a-waltzing Mathilda with me

Tom Waits – Tom Traubert’s Blues

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

Unnoticed

Unlike many people would have you believe, not everything in SL is broken, creaky, wobbly and dysfunctional. Some things work extremely well and do exactly what they’re supposed to – although often this is balanced out by the people who use that functionality, who are often as broken and dysfunctional as those things they so much enjoy pointing the finger at.

One such thing is SL Groups, which for many of us are as ubiquitous and – in many ways – as annoying as subscriptions and junk mail in the real world. I will add a small caveat here: I completely accept that group chat is broken, always has been, and probably will still be broken when SL finally shuffles off it’s virtual coil and goes off to that great server farm in the sky… But apart from that, groups work really well.

People create and join groups inworld for a variety of reasons. Content creators, vendors, parcel owners, venue hosts and artists, of course find groups a simple and effective way to publicise and promote their services and events; whilst others may have equally creative reasons for setting up groups that don’t require other members, other than the bare minimum to keep the group up and running. Groups also have a number of useful functions related to land use, deeding and access, which can be invaluable – particularly for those on a budget who need land and are happy to share the burden of tier and ownership with others.

I, myself, have a couple of groups set up for various purposes, although they’re mostly redundant at the moment, but who knows, maybe they’ll be re-purposed and see a new lease of life in the future?

One of the most useful aspects of groups, I’ve always thought, is the ability to send group notices. It’s a great way of keeping people up to date with what’s happening, knowing that you’re reaching an established audience who already have an interest in what you’re doing, and have signed up to keep in touch.

Group notices have to be properly managed, however, if they are to work effectively. There are few things more annoying that to face a barrage of multiple notices about the same thing in succession. Sure, I understand that people may not be around when the first one is sent, but there’s absolutely no need for reminders every half hour, especially when you consider that as soon as somebody logs in, they are going to see that first notice on their arrival… And then have to also deal with the aftermath of all those reminders piling up behind it too! Once, is enough!

Unfortunately, it’s things such as logging in to a mass of group notices, and the constant pinging-up of new ones that drives many people to hit the bulk delete button, without even reading what they’ve been sent. I can understand that, to some extent, but it seems – based on my own experience, what others have said to me, and anecdotal evidence – that a lot of people don’t even bother to read any notices, at any time. I know of at least one person who has turned off notices for all the groups of which they are a member, and I’m sure that’s not an isolated example. I’m also pretty sure that a huge number of people just don’t read notices, and hit delete, by default whenever they receive one – it used to annoy me no end, back in the days when I ran music venues, when group members were oblivious to what what going on, when events were taking place, or turned up totally unaware when it was a special occasion, all because they couldn’t be bothered to read the notices I’d sent. And I know, from conversations I’ve had just this week, that it happens to other group organisers too.

I can’t help wondering what the point is of joining a group if you’re simply not going to bother to stay abreast of developments in the group. Now, I’m fully aware that there are other perks to group membership, for example accessing group-only deals and such like, but there are a great many groups that don’t offer those sort of benefits and whose owners are very much reliant on getting messages out to their members in order to maintain a vibrant and enjoyable community. If you’re not interested in what they have to say, then what really is the point of being a group member? You’re deriving no benefit from it, you’re not contributing to the group, and you’ll be the one who turns up for the ‘Best dressed as a vegetable’ night at the club, only to moan you knew nothing about it and have nothing to wear!

If that describes you, then what’s the point? You may as well leave the group and use the slot for something you can be bothered with instead – ‘Sexy nude beach’ or whatever!

Now that I’ve got that off my chest, there’s another sort of group – one that has a special poignancy and a sadness associated with it that doesn’t fade. It’s a group whose owner will sadly never log in to SL again, because they have gone to a better place: A place where lag doesn’t exist, textures rez instantly and ban lines are not tolerated, a place not of this world, but of the next.

There are now two groups of which I’m a member, where this is the case; one very recently.

I suppose, without their raison d’etre, they serve little purpose, other than to host the occasional exchange between those who remember the good old days and wish to reminisce about the founder’s life and work. Nevertheless, these are groups that I will never leave, no matter how silent they fall, because, in a way, they are reminders of the person who brought them into being. I’ve never liked the word ‘memorial’, so instead, let’s say they are a testament to the person who was inspired to create them. And how, that person shared their time and energy and vision for the benefit of others; someone, who managed to build a little community of like-minded people; someone who will be missed by those who knew them.

And what would I give to be able to moan about their group notices? just one more time.

s. x

The colors of the rainbow are so pretty in the skies
Are also on the faces of people walking by
I see friends shaking hands saying
How do you do?
They’re really saying
I love you
Joey Ramone – What a Wonderful World

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

New at Neon Dreamz

You know how it is when you have a daft idea, and you decide to see if it works in practice? That’s when you end up with something equally daft, but now it doesn’t just exist in your mind…

And that’s how I ended up with ‘Spex’.

They kinda speak for themselves. If they don’t, then clearly I need to go back to the drawing board!

All re-sizeable with a click, 1LI (as rezzed) and L$220 – you can find them on Marketplace, or check them out inworld at the HHI Mainstore, if you want to see them in action.

s. x

Posted in Builder's bum, HHI, Neon Dreamz | Leave a comment