Off the grid

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

s. x.

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

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

Stoned

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

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

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

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

He was a complete plonker.

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

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

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

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

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

s. x

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

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

Turn left?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And, what’s wrong with second class anyway?

s. x

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

Posted in Philosophicalisticality, RL, SL | Leave a comment

What’s in a name?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

s. x

I think about you all the time
But I don’t need the same
It’s lonely where you are, come back down
And I won’t tell ’em your name
Goo Goo Dolls – Name

 

 

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

Replicant

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But the sympathy can be welcome, too!

s. x

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

Posted in Philosophicalisticality, RL, SL | Leave a comment

Service with a snarl

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Me: No

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

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

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

Retailer: Have you used the paint?

Customer: Yes

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

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

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

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

s. x

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

Posted in Rants, RL, SL | Leave a comment

Downtime

I’ve arrived at a hiatus – things have, almost overnight, seem to have have come to something of a gentle repose. It’s not something I generally relish – I’d much prefer to be busy, getting on with the business of life, and wondering where all the time has gone, however at this particular juncture, it’s suiting me just fine.

In RL, for want of a better description, I suppose you could say I’m between jobs: My secondment and contract has ended, and I’m waiting on interviews to determine where my career takes me next. In the meantime, I’m tending to ‘work’ from home a lot, which has followed on from a couple of weeks break… It feels like I haven’t done a proper day’s work for a month! It’s not going to last, but whereas I’d normally be more than a little frustrated by the inactivity  I’m actually enjoying the opportunity to finally get around to all those things that have been nagging me for far too long. Things like, rebuilding the garden fence that blew down in February; giving the kitchen the proper clean and tidy-up that it’s needed for six months; and planning the redecoration of my bathroom and bedroom, both of which have been waiting for around three years for me to get started!

Inworld too, things seem to have slowed down a bit – perhaps it’s just my new, relaxed world view, but it does feel that things are not quite as manic as I’m used to.

Actually, it’s more than just a feeling – I know things have quietened down – the simple fact is, I’m getting stuff done that I wasn’t getting done before. After years of avoidance, I’ve finally got around to not only sorting out my ‘pending’ clothing folder, but I’ve also tried everything on, classified and filed every outfit, trashed all the superfluous sizes, appliers, notecards, LMs and all the other bloat that creators stash in their boxes, and I’ve even thrown out a pile of stuff that I know I’m never really going to wear, or simply doesn’t fit properly.

There’s more…

I’ve had spare time to rekindle my love of inworld exploring, in the process finding out that a disturbingly large quantity of the many landmarks I’ve accumulated over time now lead to empty plots, death-defying plunges through thin air, or far too frequently, popup messages informing me I’m not welcome and if I don’t head for the hills I’ll be summarily booted back home, (I just blacklist them – seems to do the trick). So, I’ve been thinning out my stock of useless landmarks too as I go along.

Then there are the pleasures of just dossing about doing nothing in particular: Something I’ve not really had a chance to do for quite some time. In particular, Monday evenings seem to be the time when everybody in my circle of friends disapear off to goodness-knows where on the Grid, and I’m pretty much left to my own devices and to do my own thing, which is great fun… It’s time well employed in shopping, fiddling around with bits and pieces, cruising the streets and skies in whatever vehicle takes my fancy, and simply chilling, enjoying the scenery and listening to music. Lovely.

The trouble is, I’m getting far too used to all this new-found downtime and I know that sometime in the not too distant future, life is going to return to it’s usual frenetic pace and I think I’m going to resent its intrusion, so as they say, I’m making hay while the sun shines, and my inventory is thanking me for it, and y’know what?

I feel pretty virtuous about it too!

s. x

Please, don’t spoil my day, I’m miles away
And after all I’m only sleeping
Keeping an eye on the world going by my window
Taking my time
The Beatles – I’m Only Sleeping

Posted in RL, SL | Leave a comment

Wipeout

Sometimes, I despair of the human race.

Wonko the Sane famously quit reality and constructed The Asylum so that he wouldn’t have to live in a world which had clearly gone bananas – for him, the final nail in the coffin was that humanity apparently required instructions for using toothpicks. In my case, it was discovering that the jumbo pack of toilet rolls I recently stocked up on included, on the rear of the pack, a set of instructions on how to wipe one’s bottom after attending to one’s business.

If a world that requires instructions to operate a toothpick is insane, then how the hell do you define a world that requires instructions for the use of toilet paper?

In comparison, SL can seem positively blessed with intelligence, even though we may sometimes convince ourselves to the contrary, and in fact, when you consider the various hoops you have to jump through, and daily challenges that face all of us inworld, you may come to the same – surprising – conclusion, that I arrived at. Just to cope with the basics of living in our virtual world takes more than a modicum of commonsense and practical intelligence. Indeed, one of the arguments often used against SL is that the learning curve for newbies is far too steep and can be responsible for the failure of some to engage and stay.

That, I suppose, is true to an extent, but the learning curve doesn’t stop there. Should you wish to pursue a particular avenue once signed up, you may find yourself embarking on a difficult journey that will challenge you in a whole manner of ways, sometimes more so than pursuing the same path in the real world. Fancy being a successful builder, retailer, fashion designer, photographer, entrepeneur or any of a myriad of business pursuits, or undertake them just for pleasure, and you can find yourself facing a range of challenging and demanding situations, problems that require novel and unusual resolutions and an enormous investment in terms of time, effort and even hard cash, if you want to reach the pinnacle of your chosen virtual career. And all of us thought, at one time, it would be a doddle to make it big inworld… Then again, nobody ever thought to give us any instructions on how to do it!

SL can still be mentally demanding for those who don’t have any aspirations to greatness and just want to have a fun time dressing up and dancing. Clothes shopping and even wearing what we buy can be horrifically complex: Unlike RL, where we can just throw on an outfit and head off, the fashion-conscious of SL have to juggle alphas, fiddle with HUDs and make sure that when they buy, their clothing is compatible with their body. If, like me, you’re an old fuddy duddy that has yet to succumb to the allure of mesh body parts, shopping can be a nightmare, especially if I’m after footwear, and I’ve had to develop almost ninja-like skills to ensure I’m not throwing away my money on an outfit I’ll never be able to wear, or that it’s a brand that I know I can get away with, provided it’s a certain type and my cobbled-together stock of spare alphas is going to work with it.

Then there are still additional things to consider before we head off to the club… Complexity, draw distance, scripts, graphics levels – it’s rarely as straightforward as it might be, and in the real world, some of the things that we just get on and do in SL would merit the awarding of a doctorate or two in arcane science, technology and engineering if we were to have to cope with the same in RL.

And the best part of it, of course, is that there are no instructions. Most of what we learn is by experimentation, trial and error, with a bit of sheer luck thrown in. There are sources of information that we can turn to, but they are rarely attuned to our needs, often rather dated, frequently unintelligable, and – far too often – wrong! So we’re left to our own devices and, by and large, we actually manage to do rather well, despite lacking any assistance.

And if we can cope with SL with the bare minimum of instructions, I’m pretty sure that we don’t need to be told how to use toilet paper…

Thank goodness!

s. x

though I saw it all around
never thought I could be affected
thought that we’d be the last to go
it is so strange the way things turn
Peter Gabriel – Don’t Give Up

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The light fantastic?

Any photographer will tell you that what fundamentally defines an image is light, they will wax lyrical about the quality of the light when it ticks all the boxes, and they will rant until the cows come home about the harsness of the midday sun and artificial illumination – and they are, of course, correct.

The same is true of SL: Whilst we may be under the illusion that the quality of a build, the cleverness of unique design and the colours of a versatile palette are what makes a fabulous inworld location, or the perfect screenshot, it reality it is almost always how the creator, or equally as often for the purposes of SL, the beholder, manages to employ the simulation of lighting that really makes the difference between a mediocre setting or a mindblowing image. We’re fortunate too, that we have so many variations to play with: We can adjust the time of day, play around with hundreds of Windlight settings and, adjust shadows, reflections and – coming soon – God rays, and even with some viewers, add artistic photographic effects and alter field of view and focus.

I’ve always felt that there’s an art to making good screen captures from SL – we are, after all, grabbing what is essentially a two-dimensional flat image, to which we usually wish to give the illusion of three-dimensionality, and the most effective way to do that is to employ lighting to good effect. We’ve all seen rubbish SL screen captures; washed out, bland and flat, taken in the full glare of simulated midday sun, and conversely, we’ve all seen photo-realistic and dreamlike images that you’d swear were real, even if some of them have received more than a modicum of post-processing, (but that’s no different to almost every photo you see in RL too).

Light, used well, is wonderful. A carefully moodlit inworld setting that the creator has spent hours lighting and preparing with Windlight, projectors, masks and ambient light can be awesome.

And then we destroy it all with facelights.

Now, don’t misunderstand me, I’m not a facelight nazi – they have their place and, used judiciously and sensibly, they’re fine. I have several of my own, my favourite being my Avid Light and Breath HUD, which gives me a range of subtle, minimalistic colours that enhance the good bits, and hide the blemishes. I’ve also been known to set up my own handmade ones – usually tightly-controlled projectors – for specific purposes, but you’ll never find me wearing one of those damned 20 billion candle-power arclights that so many people seem to adore.

Picture the scene – you’re admiring an artistically-lit and carefully designed location, when suddenly your pixel retinas are burned out by the arrival of a full beam halogen facelight. Which face is it supposed to be lighting? The whole face of the earth, apparently! As your graphics card screams for mercy, and the image burns out your monitor, the scene around you is bleached into submission – ruined completely.

Then there’s the alternative situation: Everything seems to you to be absolutely fine, if a little washed out, then suddenly you’re plunged into inpetetrable inky darkness, causing you to think that your screen backlight has suddenly and catastrophically retired. Nope, someone with an atomic-powered facelight has just left the room.

For the average joe, it’s  pain in the back passage; for the perfectionist builder or landscaper, it’s soul-destroying, and – for everybody – it’s a completely pointless and unnecessary extravagance – something you’d expect a noob from 2009 to be wearing, along with sparkly bling, spray on underwear and a single prim shoe. As far as I’m concerned, any facelight that can put an average lighthouse to shame should be classed as an offensive weapon… It’s certainly offensive to me!

Yes, I know there’s a viewer setting where you can turn off everyone’s facelights, if you wish, but it’s indiscriminate and spoils the party for those who do have consideration for others, and why should I be put to the inconvenience of changing my carefully composed graphics settings, just to compensate for somebody else’s selfishness?

It certainly doesn’t light up my life!

s. x

Well she was
Blinded by the light
Revved up like a deuce
Another runner in the night
Bruce Springsteen – Blinded By The Light

 

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

Window shopping

There are some things I see in the real world that confuse me every bit as much as some of the more unusual things I come across in SL. Maybe RL isn’t quite as way out and bizarre as the virtual world, but there are still a wealth of weird things going on which I find hard to understand. I’m often bewhildered, for example, by shop windows without views.

I probably need to explain that… There’s a common practice adopted shops and stores that I see everywhere – everything from the local convenience store and newsagent, right up to the big brand supermarkers – whereby a large expanse of the visible frontage is glass, but rather than being employed for its obvious use – as a window – it is instead completely obscured by a full size printed hoarding. In the case of local stores, it’s likely to be advertising cheap international phone cards or money transfers; for the larger establishments, it could be just a logo or even a plain, blank design. All of which, for me, begs the question, why bother with a window there in the first place?

It’s always struck me as a bit odd that someone should install a transparent plate glass window, and then fail to use it for it’s fundamental function. There are, of course, reasonable arguments for it: I suppose, installing advertisements indoors through a transparent surface, makes for easier maintenance and cleaning, but it’s always seemed such a shame to me not to use a window as a window! Maybe it’s a sign of our changing shopping habits? Back in the days of the bustling High Street, competition between shops was stiff and window displays were the key sales tool, displaying the best of the store’s wares, artfully arranged to tempt shoppers away from the competitors. Today, that’s all changed: The small independent shops have been mainly driven out of business by the bigger concerns who don’t need to tempt shoppers by creative window displays; you can’t find a window big enough, to start with!

So now we have faceless, bland shop fronts, and the only way of knowing what’s inside is to walk through the door.

It struck me that there’s something of a parallel in SL – we’ve all come across, and moaned about, those faceless profiles consisting of little more than a rez date, a few groups, and all but the most basic of introductory information. There’s no picture, virtual or real, no picks and practically nothing for us to go on in terms of understanding the avatar to which the profile belongs. If you’re a profile perv, like me, there are few things more annoying. It’s the shop window without a view, that tells us practically nothing about what’s inside and does little to answer our questions or give us any insight into the owner.

Such a profile leads me to making what could well be the wrong assumptions about the owner. I’m immediately drawn to wondering what they have to hide, especially if the profile is more than a few weeks old. Are there nefarious reasons behind them purposely hiding their identity? Is this the sort of person I should tread carefully around, in fear of upsetting unknown sensibilitiess? Are they purposely being obstructive and awkward, and want to avoid attention and interaction?

Perhaps I need to reassess my own response to such a lack of information? Should I instead consider this an invitation to seek out those missing details, to make contact and get to know the person through interaction, rather than interpreting what has been put into a – possibly out of date – profile? The virtual equivalent of walking through the shop doorway and seeing what lies inside. That probably makes a whole lot more sense than trying to second-guess somebody’s personality based on my own assumptions and little more. It isn’t, however, my style: I really don’t like to go into any personal interaction cold – if I turn up at an unfamiliar venue, it will always take me some time to suss out the people around me and the atmosphere before I’ll become anything like my usual talkative self, and when strangers turn up, I always like to find some common ground so that I can strike up a conversation, rather than simply take a shot in the dark.

If nothing else, if you’re going to have a blank profile – at the very least, put something in it to give me a clue… ‘Say hello!’, or ‘Bugger off!’ will more than suffice, and will let me know exactly where I stand.

Perhaps the Lab should give us the option to turn off profiles completely, rather than wander around SL with an empty one – otherwise, it’s a bit like those big plate glass windows whose only function is not to be a window!

s. x

And so I wake in the morning
And I step outside
And I take a deep breath and I get real high
And I scream from the top of my lungs,
“What’s going on?!”
4 Non Blondes – What’s Up

 

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