Efficiency vs utility

railI spend a fair bit of time every week on trains, often travelling familiar routes and journeys. As a traveller, one fills the time with whatever diversions suggest themselves, and for me this will often lead to me looking up landmarks and points of interest that I’ll spot from the train window as I pass.

I do have a penchant for old buildings and industrial heritage, and one thing in particular I enjoy is digging out historical photos of places I pass through on the way, especially some of the architectural gems that proliferate across the British railway network. It’s a transport system that was clearly far more extensive in its heyday, and there are crumbling reminders of a more illustrious past to be found all over the place. Forgotten and filled-in station platforms, the ruins of outbuildings and engine sheds, and rusty, overgrown tracks running to nowhere alongside your train. It’s fascinating to see how these places used to look before they were abandoned, forgotten and left to rot.

It’s clear that Britain’s railways have been in decline ever since Beeching made the first cuts – that’s clear from the hundreds of abandoned stations and forgotten platform halts that my train passes on most journeys. You can see why – if trains were still to stop at every village and town on the route, they’d barely have time to get up to speed before having to apply the brakes, and journeys would be crazily slow and time consuming… Even so, there are some who no doubt acutely felt the loss of their service, and possibly still do.

Therein lies a problem that we can all find ourselves facing eventually – there will be times when we are forced to choose between utility and efficiency. It’s the car we’ve had for years, but is costing a fortune in repair bills versus spending our hard earned savings on a new replacement. Or, more pertinently, it’s trying to balance the wishlist of the SL user with the need to keep SL accessible to the masses.

If you want a virtual world that runs at 70fps, is lag free, loads textures super fast and renders landscapes in beautiful HD 3-Dimensional video, with full shadows, projectors, ambient occlusion and intuitive depth of field, there’s absolutely no reason you can’t have it right now – it’s not rocket science and it’s perfectly achievable. The only problem is that your going to have to splash out a huge amount of cash to upgrade your system before you can even think about SL without limits, and when you do get around to it, you’re going to find it a very lonely place… You and the other 300 or so other people who actually have systems that can cope with it!

SL has to strike a balance between becoming totally elitist and exclusive to those of us able to afford and maintain cutting edge technology, and being really accessible to everybody else. At the same time, the Lab has to keep pushing at the door of development to ensure that our virtual environment is sufficiently high spec to remain appealing and competitive, but without compromising the experience of users beyond acceptable tolerances.

rail1_001Inevitably, unpopular decisions sometimes have to be made, and those who are adversely affected as a consequence rarely appreciate the logic behind those decisions. In much the same way that the residents of Upper Bogglington are unlikely to appreciate being told their railway station is to close and that in future, if they want to catch the train, they’ll have to make the 30 minute drive to Buddlehampton instead, SL users are rarely enamoured of Linden Lab when improvements are made in the name of progress that, as a consequence results degraded performance for lesser mortals running obsolete operating systems on archaic hardware.

Protests that ‘we can’t afford to upgrade’ are, of course, perfectly valid, but sometimes we just have to accept that time and technology march on, and if we haven’t kept up, it is inevitable that one day we’ll be left behind. It’s not the Lab’s fault… It’s just the nature of the beast. And that also means that there will be occasions when keeping the status quo to appease those who are lagging behind isn’t going to help either. We may cling to that ancient viewer because it’s the only one that runs on our system, but one day it will break irretrievably, and there’s nothing we – or the Lindens – can do about it. By hanging on, we’re just delaying the inevitable: Keeping the station at Upper Bogglington open, come what may, will become a pointless exercise when the trains no longer stop there.

Sometimes you have to move with the times, inconvenient, annoying and expensive though it may be, because progress ain’t going wait for us!

s. x

Clocks go back railway track
Something blocks the line again
And the train runs late for the first time
Stereophonics – Local Boy In The Photograph

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